Michaelsen Country House
In 1923, architect Karl Schneider completed what is probably his most famous work, the Michaelsen House. This private country house, set high above the Elbe in Hamburg’s Blankenese district, is an idiosyncratic, L-shaped building collaged from varied building elements skilfully embedded within the Elbe landscape. It is an early work in the style known as Neues Bauen, or New Architecture. Initially its new formal language made it very controversial, but it soon attracted a great deal of acclaim.
Karl Schneider was once considered one of the great architects of modernism, on par with Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, but after he emigrated to the US in 1938, he was increasingly forgotten. He completed his most important buildings in Hamburg during a period of only ten years, and the Michaelsen House was one of the first. With its plasticity and clear composition of volumetric forms, the building speaks Schneider’s characteristic architectural language.
The multi-part ensemble extends far into the Elbe landscape and relates to the topography. The two-storey main building culminates with a rounded terrace on the upper floor. This east wing is connected perpendicularly to a terrace wing, likewise with a rounded end, by a four-storey tower at the corner. Depending on their use, each of the residential spaces was given different visual connections to the outdoors. A panorama window of curved glass in the east wing was unique at the time of completion.
The reduced, clear form of the building is accentuated by its whitewashed façade. Only the dark frames of the windows and doors stand out. In addition to the mixture of cubic and rounded forms, one salient feature is the combination of flat roofs with a rather traditional-looking hipped roof.
After the war, the Michaelsen House was bought by publisher Axel Springer. He initially planned to demolish the building, but it was instead left to decay. Gallery owner Elke Dröscher extensively renovated it in the mid-1980s. Due to her initiative, the country house has been listed as a historic monument since 1986. Today the building houses the doll collection of the Puppenmuseum Falkenstein and is partially open to the public. [KS/DK]