Hans Scharoun as architect of the “Neues Bauen” movement

Professor of Technische Universität Berlin and honorary citizen of Berlin - this double distinction perfectly sums up the life and work of Hans Scharoun. His most distinguished works include the post-war Berlin Philharmonie and Berlin State Library located on Potsdamer Straße. “An independent architect should be guided by his reflections and not the desire for sensation,” was the guiding principle of his life.

The fruitful years

Scharoun was born the son of a brewery owner in Bremen on 20 September 1893. He grew up in Bremerhaven and completed his schooling at the city’s Humanistiches Gymnasium. In 1912 he came to Berlin to study architecture at the Königlich Technische Hochschule zu Berlin. His studies were ended by the outbreak of war in 1914 and he joined a military construction detachment for reconstruction in war-damaged East Prussia, where he worked as a freelance architect after the end of the war. In 1923 he took part in the international architecture exhibition at the Weimar Bauhaus. Then in 1925 he took up a professorship at the Akademie für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe in Breslau (Wroclaw), where he remained until 1932. He would later refer to these years as the most fruitful of his life.

“Neues Bauen” and Hans Scharoun.

Scharoun was part of the Neues Bauen generation, which also included figures such as Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut, Erich Mendelsohn and Hugo Häring. The Neues Bauen movement was marked by an energetic dynamic and a new conception of material and environment. From 1926 on, he was part of the progressive architects’ association “Der Ring”, which also included Mies van der Rohe and Bruno Taut. Scharoun was one of the architects of the Weißenhofsiedlung housing estate in Stuttgart. This project was regarded as a landmark of modernity but was not without controversy. In the last years of the Weimar Republic, he designed many buildings in Greater Berlin, including the Siemensstadt residential complex. In 1932 he settled permanently in Berlin. Although the Neues Bauen style was denounced as “un-German” during the Nazi era, Hans Scharoun remained in the city, where he built modern detached homes for private clients. These included clients who would later become colleagues at TU Berlin, including  the landscape architects Hermann Mattern and Herta Hammerbacher.

Visionary of an urban, social and philanthropic city

After the Second World War, the Soviet military command appointed him first post-war head of municipal planning for Greater Berlin. Drawing upon the experiences of the Neues Bauen movement and the vision of an urban, social and philanthropic city, Scharoun drew up plans for new constructions for Berlin which were also displayed in the war-damaged Stadtschloss in an exhibition entitled “Berlin plant”. Both radical and modern, Scharoun’s plans were not well received in Berlin at the start of the Cold War. He turned his attention to redesigning teaching operations at Technische Universität Berlin, where he held the Chair of Urban Planning from 1947 to 1958. His “Laubenganghäuser“ flats in Karl-Marx-Allee in East Berlin were erected next to the kitsch and ornate buildings designed by Hermann Henselmann, the so-called “Zuckerbäckerbauten”. After being awarded Emeritus status, he continued to have a strong influence on architecture in West Berlin for a number of years. He was also involved in the cultural-political life of the city as president and then later honorary president of the Akademie der Künste. Hans Scharoun died on 25 November 1972 with a number of honorary titles, decorations and awards to his name.