Deutscher Werkbund Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Deutscher Werkbund envisioned an ideal of a revitalized industrial Germany expressed through a total approach to architecture and the applied arts.

Summary of Event

During the first week of October, 1907, the inaugural meeting of the Deutscher Werkbund (the name means “German alliance of craftsmen”) took place in Munich. Munich was chosen as the meeting place because it was the home of the Werkbund’s first president, Theodor Fischer; Fischer, Theodor later, the Werkbund would be moved to Berlin. Only one of the Werkbund’s founding fathers, Friedrich Naumann, was present at that first meeting. Architecture;Germany Deutscher Werkbund Art;applied Design movements;Deutscher Werkbund Industrial design;Deutscher Werkbund [kw]Deutscher Werkbund Is Founded (Oct., 1907) [kw]Werkbund Is Founded, Deutscher (Oct., 1907) Architecture;Germany Deutscher Werkbund Art;applied Design movements;Deutscher Werkbund Industrial design;Deutscher Werkbund [g]Germany;Oct., 1907: Deutscher Werkbund Is Founded[01950] [c]Architecture;Oct., 1907: Deutscher Werkbund Is Founded[01950] [c]Fashion and design;Oct., 1907: Deutscher Werkbund Is Founded[01950] [c]Arts;Oct., 1907: Deutscher Werkbund Is Founded[01950] Muthesius, Hermann Velde, Henry van de Naumann, Friedrich Behrens, Peter Gropius, Walter Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig

The Werkbund was a society of architects, craftsmen, and manufacturers that formed a new ideal of German industrial design. The organization was originally supposed to last eight years, and its founders intended it to raise the quality of life of the German public. The aim of the Werkbund was to promote functionalism in German life by producing designs for the newly evolving mechanized Germany. Prior to the founding of the Werkbund, the Jugendstil movement (the German version of Art Nouveau) was influential in Germany, but Jugendstil Jugendstil promoted an aversion to the machine. It became the mission of the Werkbund to compete with England in the production and export of industrially produced goods.

The founding of the Werkbund marked a move to combat conservative trends in architecture; moreover, the architects who were involved in the Werkbund viewed architecture in terms of total concepts, not only as the design of buildings. That is, they saw architecture as including a building’s interior space and the objects that would be utilized within the space. In terms of the applied arts, one only has to look at the lighting fixtures designed by Peter Behrens to discover their architectonic structure.

Other design movements in Germany preceded the Werkbund, such as the Künstler Kolonie Künstler Kolonie (artists’ colony) in Darmstadt, which was founded by Ernst Ludwig, grand duke of Hesse. The group of artists involved with the Künstler Kolonie included Joseph Maria Olbrich, Olbrich, Joseph Maria from the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese workshops), and Peter Behrens, who would later play a great role in the Werkbund. The Künstler Kolonie mainly utilized elements of Jugendstil, yet it was still a center for emerging industrial design. The Wiener Werkstätte were important to the founding of the Werkbund as well, because the Werkstätte had direct contact with the English Arts and Crafts movement Arts and Crafts movement and with British Art Nouveau Art Nouveau through the visits to Vienna of Charles Rennie Macintosh, a highly influential architect and designer from Scotland. The Werkstätte promoted experimentation and collaboration among artists and craftsmen.

Hermann Muthesius, a Prussian civil servant and architect, was the foremost spiritual father of the Werkbund. He spent a great deal of time in England, practically as an industrial spy, taking notes on design, architecture, and even art education. His activities brought about social and educational reforms in Germany, and his experiences in England were eventually published in three volumes. Muthesius foresaw the totality of design that would be a visual elevation of the German culture, an elevation in everything from architecture to table service. He wanted to form a link between German artists and industry in emulation of the English Arts and Crafts movement.

Muthesius’s vision influenced artists to work together as a whole to reflect German culture. His views were well defined, and they exerted a strong presence over the fledgling Werkbund; Muthesius, however, chose to stay away from the organization’s first meeting in Munich for fear of unduly influencing its character.

Henry van de Velde, an architect, designer, and lecturer, was another founding member of the Werkbund. He was Belgian by birth and had come to Germany in the 1890’s; he quickly became one of Germany’s leading designers. Velde helped give birth to the Jugendstil movement, and he saw himself as cast from the same mold as William Morris, the founder of the English Arts and Crafts movement. He initiated reforms in Germany that dealt with art education and helped incorporate applied and decorative arts into art curricula. Velde was appointed head of the Weimar Art Academy in 1902, and while in that position he promoted a dialogue between artisans and manufacturers. In his autobiography, however, he claimed to be the true spiritual father of the Werkbund and made no mention of Muthesius or Naumann.

Friedrich Naumann, who had been present at the first meeting of the Werkbund, was a former pastor who was politically active in the German parliament and as a founder of the National-Social Party. It was Naumann who wrote the Werkbund’s first pamphlet, which laid out the organization’s principles. Naumann also was a proponent of the idea that economic and political growth increase together. It should be noted that he had artistic aspirations before the formation of the Werkbund, as he was associated with the Dresdener Werkstätte Dresdener Werkstätte (Dresden workshops). During his time with the Dresdener Werkstätte, he was in close contact with one of the members, Karl Schmidt-Hellerau. Schmidt-Hellerau, Karl Schmidt-Hellerau had spent time in England and had been exposed to the Arts and Crafts movement; he had witnessed the progress being made in design and educational techniques. Naumann developed ideas for the Werkbund based on his dealings with Schmidt-Hellerau.

Muthesius, Velde, and Naumann, the primary founders of the Werkbund, were all strong personalities, and each had a different point of view concerning what the Werkbund could be. Before the founding of the Werkbund, German architecture was highly conservative, except for the emergence of Jugendstil. The Werkbund broke with conservative ideas of architecture even more radically than Jugendstil had.


After the Werkbund was founded, the organization’s members held many exhibitions, and slowly the targeted public began to get more and more involved. In 1909, Behrens, the architect and designer who had been associated with the Künstler Kolonie in Darmstadt and was then a member of the Werkbund, became the artistic director for the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), one of the world’s largest manufacturing concerns. Behrens designed both applied arts and architecture for the AEG, including a large turbine factory AEG turbine factory Architecture;AEG turbine factory in Berlin. The turbine factory design was initially considered a reworking of the neoclassic form, as strong, externally visible beams and concrete piers were used to support large panels of glass, yet Behrens’s design utilized glass and iron as expressive materials. The factory’s interior was equally revolutionary, exemplifying a new concept of space in its use of a large, uninterrupted central hall and an overhead gantry. This engineering aesthetic meant freedom from the old tradition and was highly praised by the Werkbund.

Walter Gropius, an architect associated with the Werkbund, lauded Behrens’s aesthetic vision. Gropius finished his apprenticeship in Behrens’s offices and claimed that the designs made by the members of the Werkbund helped him to grasp the nature of what a building could be. In 1911, Gropius designed the Fagus shoe-last factory. Architecture;Fagus shoe-last factory[Fagus shoe last] Fagus shoe-last factory[Fagus shoe last] An internal steel-and-reinforced-concrete skeleton was visible in Behrens’s turbine factory, which represented a decidedly nontraditional approach to form and construction. Gropius’s Fagus factory, in contrast, had no support visible from the exterior walls. The panels of glass appeared as though they were hanging, and so they were called collectively a “glass curtain.” In keeping with his vision of design, Gropius used no corner piers of concrete but only the simple, clean enframements of the glass panels. The interior of the Fagus factory, like that of the turbine factory, served the building’s function well. The Fagus factory housed large, well-lit work areas, and the whole building was efficiently ventilated.

Another important Gropius design for the Werkbund was the pavilion for the 1914 exhibition of the Werkbund in Cologne. The pavilion was to house examples of the new German ideals in industrial art. The entrance portion of the building reflected a neoclassic scheme, except that it was flanked by two glass-curtained staircases. Nothing like it had been designed before. The pavilion was dignified, yet it expressed the engineering aesthetic favored by the Werkbund. The central hall again was designed with an eye to emphasizing space. Attached to it, and thus breaking up the external horizontal planes, was the Deutzer Gasmotorin pavilion, which held (as though it were a sacred object) a gas-driven turbine engine. The shape of this pavilion was a cross between a tempietto and a stepped pyramid. Once again, Gropius utilized the glass curtain.

During the Cologne exhibition, the Werkbund almost disintegrated over a debate sparked by then-president Muthesius and Velde that quickly developed into a standoff. The essence of the debate was the division of the Werkbund between members who were advocates of freedom of creation and experimentation, represented by Velde, and those who, like Muthesius, held that all artists and craftsmen should work together to attain greater quality of existing designs, making experimentation unnecessary. Muthesius’s desire was to perfect and refine forms already in existence, whereas Velde saw Muthesius’s stance as stagnation and believed that new forms and solutions were needed.

Young, vital artists such as Gropius disagreed with Muthesius’s view and found themselves in alignment with the “old guard” from the Jugendstil period such as Velde. There were calls for Muthesius’s resignation and, finally, a bid for secession strongly backed by Gropius. Even Velde, however, did not want to break up the Werkbund; he merely wanted to steer it to his views. Behrens helped bring about some calm within the Werkbund, but as it turned out, what perhaps ultimately saved the Werkbund as an idea was the outbreak of World War I, which cut short the Cologne exhibition of 1914.

The formation of the Bauhaus Bauhaus was a direct result of the Werkbund. In 1919, Gropius established the Bauhaus at Weimar as a blending of two existing institutions: the Kunstgewerbeschule (industrial arts school), of which Velde was a founder, and the old Academy of Fine Arts. The Bauhaus held to the ideas of the Werkbund concerning a visual experience of the German culture; however, the Bauhaus was more realistic about pursuing its intentions, especially after World War I.

Gropius promoted the ideal of collective thought, using as an example the Gothic cathedral as a symbol for collective thought in the Middle Ages. In fact, the word “Bauhaus” originally meant a stonemasons’ workshop set up at the base of a cathedral construction site. Another major aim of the Bauhaus was to unite everyday life with the industrial ideal. One building that expresses the aims of Bauhaus architecture and functionalism is the Bauhaus building at Dessau, which opened in 1926. Gropius designed the Dessau building to encompass the variety of activities held within it, from photography to cabinetmaking. The interior space was designed with movable walls and dormitory rooms that served as studio space as well. The support structure was of reinforced concrete, and the external walls were composed of glass curtains.

In 1927, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was appointed first vice president of the Werkbund. Under his guidance, the group participated in the Weissenhof Siedlung (Weissenhof homestead) exhibit Weissenhof Siedlung exhibit in Stuttgart. The Werkbund section of the exhibition was called “Wohnung und Werkraum” (living and working areas). Originally, all the areas were to flow together. Major young architects participated, including Gropius, Behrens, and Le Corbusier. Mies van der Rohe’s apartment house, for which he adapted the steel skeleton to the housing arena, dominated the whole area. Some of the steel supports could be seen in the interiors of the apartments. Elements such as this freed the architecture of Weissenhof from the traditional. All the works at Weissenhof, moreover, were designed to be quintessentially functional and economical, as the amount of living space in these dwellings was not great.

The Werkbund lasted until World War II, although it took a hiatus from late 1915 through 1918, during World War I. The Werkbund brought together artists and craftsmen with different personalities who shared similar ideals, and together they laid the groundwork for modern architecture and design. Architecture;Germany Deutscher Werkbund Art;applied Design movements;Deutscher Werkbund Industrial design;Deutscher Werkbund

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Benton, Tim, and Charlotte Benton, eds. Architecture and Design, 1890-1939. New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1975. Anthology of original articles, including the writings of Muthesius, Velde, and Gropius. Of particular interest are the writings of Muthesius and Velde concerning the 1914 argument in Cologne. Includes many articles by Gropius, among them “The Development of the Modern Industrial Architecture” and “Programme of the Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar, April, 1919.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burckhardt, Lucius, ed. The Werkbund: History and Ideology. Woodbury, N.Y.: Barron’s, 1980. A collection of thirteen essays on different aspects of the Werkbund, such as social reform, architecture, and the organization’s aspirations. Essays of particular note are “Between Art and Industry: The Deutsche Werkbund” by Julius Posener, which offers an overview of the Werkbund, and “The Thirties and the Seventies: Today We See Things Differently,” by Burckhardt. Supplemented with black-and-white photographs and architectural drawings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Campbell, Joan. The German Werkbund: The Politics of Reform in the Applied Arts. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978. A scholarly work detailing the history of the Werkbund from its founding in 1907 to 1934. Highly informative in terms of the political and personal struggles that took place within the Werkbund. Includes appendixes concerning leadership of the Werkbund, statistics on annual meetings and membership, and principal Werkbund publishers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giedion, Sigfried. Space, Time, and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition. 5th ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003. Contains a chapter that covers Gropius in the Werkbund and the Bauhaus. Also discusses the influence on Gropius of other artists, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso. The chapter on Mies van der Rohe contains solid information on the Weissenhof Siedlung.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gropius, Walter. The New Architecture and the Bauhaus. Boston: Charles T. Branford, 1955. To read this informative book is to have a conversation with Gropius himself. The slant is toward the Bauhaus, but Gropius discusses the Werkbund as well. He explains his rationalization of architecture, his use of nontraditional materials, his Bauhaus curriculum, and even his views on town planning. This personal philosophy is supplemented by excellent black-and-white photographs of the Fagus factory and the Bauhaus that aid in the understanding of the impact of the glass curtain.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jaeggi, Annemarie. Fagus: Industrial Culture from Werkbund to Bauhaus. Translated by Elizabeth M. Schwaiger. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000. Focuses on Gropius’s design for the Fagus shoe-last factory, a seminal building in the history of modern architecture. Presents materials from the factory’s archives, including original correspondence and blueprints. Numerous photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sembach, Klaus-Jurgen. Henry Van de Velde. New York: Rizzoli, 1989. Offers insight into Velde’s work from the applied arts to architecture. The chapter titled “Permanence in Changing Times” provides thorough information on Velde’s Werkbund theater for the Cologne exhibition of 1914. Excellent photographs and architectural plans.

Hoffmann and Moser Found the Wiener Werkstätte

Completion of the AEG Turbine Factory

German Artists Found the Bauhaus

Categories: History