The Fagus Factory, begun in 1911 in Alfeld, Lower Saxony, is regarded as one of the earliest examples of modernist architecture. It is the first factory building by the future founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, in collaboration with Adolf Meyer. Shoe lasts are still produced at the Fagus Factory.
The still-unknown young architect Walter Gropius was commissioned by the factory’s founder, Carl Benscheidt. He had initially been working with the experienced industrial architect Eduard Werner, but the latter’s functional design for the Fagus Factory did not seem sufficiently up to date. Gropius and Meyer revised Werner’s building permit application—already submitted and approved—to alter the building’s outward appearance. Benscheidt was so persuaded by the building that he went on to use Gropius’s firm exclusively for future work on the factory.
The focus of the ensemble is the main building with its strikingly large glass façade, which extends across three stories. Its corners, where the two glass walls meet, are entirely without supports: an absolute innovation in the early twentieth century. This was made possible with steel reinforcement, invisible from the exterior, inserted in the roof over the corners, in a building otherwise built of conventional brick masonry.
Not only the main building, which for the most part houses offices, but also the one-story factory hall are light-flooded workspaces. Both Benscheidt, a progressive factory owner, and Gropius, an architect with interests in social issues, aimed to create an attractive working environment, which at the time was far from usual. Glass would become for Gropius a promising material of a new era both architecturally and socially. The culmination of the use of this material in Gropius’soeuvre was the Bauhaus building in Dessau.
Since 2011, this elaborately restored and modernized building complex has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fagus Factory is the only World Heritage Site in the world that is still used for production. It is open to visitors daily and offers tours as well as exhibitions in the company’s own visitors’ center. [FE/DK]
- UNESCO world heritage site