Brick Expressionism

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Chilehaus, Hamburg (finished in 1924)

The term Brick Expressionism (German: Backsteinexpressionismus) describes a specific variant of Expressionist architecture that uses bricks, tiles or clinker bricks as the main visible building material. Buildings in the style were erected mostly in the 1920s, primarily in Germany and the Netherlands,[1] where the style was created.

The style's regional centres were the larger cities of Northern Germany and the Ruhr area, but the Amsterdam School belongs to the same movement, which can be found in many of the larger Dutch cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht.[2] The style also had some impact outside the areas mentioned.


Brick Expressionism developed at the same time as the "New Objectivity" of Bauhaus architecture. But whereas the Bauhaus architects argued for the removal of all decorative elements, or ornaments, expressionist architects developed a distinctive form or ornamentation, often using rough, angular or pointy elements. They were meant to express the dynamic of the period, its intensity and tension.

The most important building materials were the eponymous bricks and clinker bricks. Hard-fired clinker was very fashionable, especially for facades. That material was especially well adapted to the difficult environmental requirements of industrial buildings, particularly in the Ruhr area. Its characteristic rough surface and rich variety of colours, from brown via red to purple, also contributed to the material's popularity.

A striking feature of Brick Expressionism is the liveliness of its facades, achieved purely through the deliberate setting of bricks in patterns. This helped to enliven large, otherwise monotonous, walls. In some cases, even brick wasters (pieces that had been damaged during firing, or had been fired too long, or not long enough, leading to uneven or undesired colouring) were used as decorative elements, exploiting their individual appearance. The angular bricks were combined in various arrangements, creating a rich ornamental repertoire, including specific forms of sculpture. Horizontal brick courses that alternate between protruding and being slightly recessed are another common feature, e.g. on the Hans-Sachs-Haus in Gelsenkirchen (1927).

The facade designs were enhanced by the use of architectural sculpture, made of clinker bricks or ceramics. A well-known representative of this form of art was Richard Kuöhl. Ernst Barlach also created clinker statues, such as the frieze Gemeinschaft der Heiligen ("community of saints") on St. Catherine's in Lübeck (completed by Gerhard Marcks).

Occasionally, elements from other architectural styles were referenced, translated into the brick repertoire of forms. For example, Fritz Höger's Chilehaus in Hamburg is dominated by Art Deco aesthetics. The Anzeigerhochhaus in Hanover quotes oriental architecture. Brick Expressionism also created its very own, often quite idiosyncratic forms, such as Parabola Churches (Parabel-Kirchen), e.g. the Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche at Gelsenkirchen-Ückendorf.

Northern Germany[edit]

Some outstanding examples of Brick Expressionism are found in Hamburg. Here, Fritz Höger created the highly innovative Chilehaus, with its pronounced vertically oriented design and near-playful use of material. Other examples are the neighbouring Sprinkenhof (by Hans und Oskar Gerson (in German) and Höger), the Broschekhaus and the Zigarettenfabrik Reemtsma (Reemtsma cigarette factory).

Another important Northern German representative of the style was Fritz Schumacher. He created numerous public buildings in Hamburg, such as the financial offices on the Gänsemarkt, the crematorium at Ohlsdorf Cemetery, the Walddörfer-Gymnasium secondary school in Volksdorf and the Jarrestadt school.

Böttcherstrasse at Bremen is a further important example of the style in Northern Germany.

The Ruhr[edit]

Brick Expressionism had its densest distribution in the Ruhr area, developing the character of a regional style. The material could withstand difficult industrial conditions and permitted the creation of well-balanced and varied facade designs with relatively little effort. Hard-fired clinker was comparatively expensive, so many buildings were designed with part-clinkered and part-whitewashed facades. Examples were created all over the Ruhr, including industrial architecture (assembly halls, office buildings, water towers, etc.) and residential buildings. Brick was also used for representative buildings, such as town halls, post offices, churches and villas.

An important example is Alfred Fischer's Hans-Sachs-Haus in Gelsenkirchen, planned as multi-functional a building but eventually used as the city hall. Its comparatively simply brick facade and rounded corners characterise it as a synthesis between expressionism and New Objectivity.

Also in Gelsenkirchen, in the Ückendorf area, is the main work of Josef Franke, the Parabola Church of Heilig-Kreuz (Holy Cross). Its vault has the shape of a tall parabola. The top of the square tower is crowned by a brick-built figure of Christ. The church was deconsecrated on 18 August 2007.

Other important Brick Expressionist buildings in the Ruhr area are the police headquarters, Bert-Brecht-Haus and city hall in Oberhausen, Alfred Fischer's offices for the Regionalverband Ruhrgebiet (regional development authority) in Essen, the BOGESTRA building and the police headquarters in Bochum, and the pediatric surgery ward of Dortmund city hospital.


Berlin examples include the Kreuzkirche (Evangelical Church of the Cross) in Berlin-Schmargendorf and Fritz Höger's Evangelical Church at Hohenzollernplatz (1933).



Other prominent examples of Brick Expressionism include the Grossmarkthalle in Frankfurt am Main, the Technical Administration Building of Hoechst AG in Frankfurt-Höchst, and Grundtvig's Church in Copenhagen

Notable architects[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Rauhut, Christoph and Lehmann, Niels (2015): Fragments of Metropolis Berlin Hirmer Publishers 2015, ISBN 978-3777422909
  • Backstein-Expressionismus, brochure by Gelsenkirchen City (Can be ordered free of charge) (in German)


  1. ^ Bob Lodewijks and Ronald Elink Schuurman, De Amsterdamse School in Utrecht (2014).
  2. ^ Bob Lodewijks and Ronald Elink Schuurman, De Amsterdamse School in Utrecht (2014).
  3. ^ Cf. Ernst-Erik Pfannschmidt, another architect employed with Höger, in his Letter to Eckhardt Berckenhagen, 29 June 1977, who then prepared the exhibition on the occasion of Höger's 100th anniversary in the Kunstbibliothek Berlin, an institution of the Berlin State Museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.