The Mathildenhöhe artists’ colony was founded in 1899 by Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. By 1914, a unique Art Nouveau ensemble had been built and put on display in four exhibitions. In 1908, an exhibition venue and the Wedding Tower designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich were also built. The Grand Duke brought together artists such as Hans Christiansen, Peter Behrens, and Rudolf Bosselt in order to promote industry through the arts and crafts, and offered them the Mathildenhöhe elevation in Darmstadt. By the time of the first exhibition A Document of German Art (1901), eight artists’ houses and the Ernst Ludwig House had been built. With one exception, the houses and interiors were designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich. Peter Behrens, a self-taught architect, was the only member to plan his own (very first) home.
A group of three houses, again designed by Olbrich, was constructed for the second exhibition in 1904; two of the houses were rebuilt, and considerably altered, after being damaged in an air raid in 1944. A small residential colony was constructed for the third exhibition in 1908, which was later dismantled. Three workers’ houses built for the show were also taken down after the exhibition and rebuilt in Erbacher Strasse. The most important buildings remained the three surviving Olbrich structures: the monumental exhibition venue, the Wedding Tower crowned with a stylized hand, and the Upper Hesse Exhibition House, which now houses the Institute for New Music and Music Education.
For the fourth exhibition in 1914, Albin Müller constructed eight apartment buildings, of which only a studio building survived the bombing of 1944. The exhibition closed prematurely when war broke out in August 1914. Work on the colony came to an abrupt end with the abdication of the Grand Duke in 1918. It was officially dissolved in 1929. Interest in the forgotten ensemble of buildings grew in the 1950s. The Mathildenhöhe attracted much attention in 1960 when Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus Archiv, which was located in Ernst Ludwig House until 1971.
Despite its brief period of operation and the destruction of several buildings, the Mathildenhöhe remains a valuable architectural ensemble. Renovated in the 1980s and 1990s, this center of Art Nouveau is currently on the official list of UNESCO World Heritage Site recommendations. [KS/HY]
- UNESCO world heritage site