Designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer; completed 1911, with subsequent
expansions Alfeld-an-der-Leine, Germany
In 1910 spurred on by a dare from his former employer, Behrens Hannoverian Carl
Benscheidt had visions of opening a competing shoe factory. After he secured a site just
across the road from his former workplace in Alfeld, Germany (but with better rail access
and three hectares to build on), Benscheidt founded Fagus GmbH in March 1911 and
approached the Hannover architect Eduard Werner (1847–1923) to design his new
factory. Not only had Werner designed the plans for the Behrens factory in 1897 (which
was three times larger than Fagus would be), but he had the invaluable experience of
knowing the calculations and work involved in building a shoe last factory. In Werner’s
plan, the Fagus complex would amount to a row of brick buildings (or half timbered in
the case of the warehouses), all with different functions along the production line. With
the exception of the administrative rooms, the production houses were fairly utilitarian in
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nature. Benscheidt had already expressed his dissatisfaction with this aspect of Werner’s
slightly Gothic design, and in 1911, he commissioned Walter Gropius (1883–1969) and
Adolf Meyer (1881–1929) to redesign the facades of the entire complex. Gropius had
done some exemplary work for the AEG Motor Company years before in Berlin while
under the tutelage of architect Peter Behrens, and the buildings there had not only set new
standards in factory design—practically making them works of art—but, in keeping with
the time, had also created architecture as advertisement. It was decided that Werner
would remain in charge of the project as a whole and in charge of the interior spaces and
“outfitting of the buildings.” However, it is the influence of Gropius and Meyer that gives
meaning to a contemporary understanding of the Fagus Werk. Gropius viewed this
opportunity in Alfeld as the perfect collaboration between industry and the arts—the
primary aim of the Deutscher Werkbund—and it would turn into a long-term project that
would occupy Gropius and Meyer until the end of their partnership in 1925. Because of
Gropius’s media presence during the building of Fagus, his adopted leadership of the
building program, and his frequent writings within the Werkbund on the Fagus Werk, he
is often credited solely with the design of the factory; indeed, it has been difficult to trace
exactly what Meyer’s contributions were. However, Meyer considered the
conceptualization of the factory a truly collaborative effort and kept a personal archive of
drawings throughout the life of the project.
In the spring of 1911, Gropius and Meyer submitted their plans for the complex; these
deviated from Werner’s in the positioning of the different buildings, creating courtyard
space rather than the static row of structures proposed in the Werner plan. Their plan
gave the building a much broader exposure toward Hannover and, thus, to the trains that
frequently passed the factory’s property. Benscheidt never agreed to this plan, and the
building was executed with its facade in a competitive stance toward Behrens’s, as
originally conceived. The pair ended up making few changes to the original Werner plan
and retained the overall layout of the factory complex.
However, they succeeded in carrying out a more unified scheme through their use of
materials and color. All Fagus buildings, for example, have a 40-centimeter-high purpleblack
brick base that projects from the facade by four centimeters and seems to allow the
yellow-bricked rising walls of the building to float; windows in all the buildings appear to
be cutouts from the cubical structures that contain them, although the window shapes and
sizes differ from building to building. Perhaps the most daring design feature of the
Fagus Werk—and the one that makes the building so significant and recognizable—is the
vertical bands of windows that wrap around the main building, creating the illusion of a
floating curtain wall. It was presumed that to accomplish this, the architects would have
to employ some new construction technology, when in fact the frame construction was
based entirely on Werner’s original projections of a brickwork building with an iron
ceiling beam. A staircase on the clear-span side of the building acts like a stabilizing
column to the glass-clad structure. Buildings in the Fagus complex—other than the
famous, often photographed main office building—included the production hall, sawmill,
warehouse, and punch-knife department. All these buildings were visually unified with
their yellow brick, terra-cotta roof tiles, gray-slate roofs and glazing, and black bases.
The interiors of the public spaces of the office structure and the production hall were
planned by Gropius and Meyer down to the smallest details. The waiting room exuded
order, lightness, and success; glass panes offered views of the main offices from the
Entries A–F 823
waiting rooms, which were friendly and informal. The architects designed dust-free work
conditions and placed the machines in sequence with the production process in a lightfilled
work environment. The design offered employees a commissary, washrooms,
lockers, and later, housing.
An expansion to the Fagus Werk, led by Gropius and Meyer, began in 1913. Additions
were attached to existing structures, and the main building and production hall were
enlarged, the latter to three times its original size. Although hardly a challenging job for
the architects, the expansion allowed them to suggest the application of a glazed facade to
the production hall and the punch-knife department. This permitted them to provide a
unified appearance to the entire complex. During World War I, the work progressed
slowly as Gropius enlisted and Meyer took a job with a steel company. However,
Benscheidt continued to make plans for the expansion, and drawings continued to be
made. In 1915 some construction was allowed to commence, and the dominant
characteristic of all Fagus buildings emerged: the floor-to-ceiling glazed and enclosed
building corner.

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