Konrad Wachsmann

The architect Konrad Wachsmann was born in 1901. After an apprenticeship as carpenter he studied at the arts-and-crafts schools of Berlin and Dresden and at the Berlin Academy of Arts, with the architect Hans Poelzig in Berlin and Potsdam, who was one of the main representatives of expressionistic architecture in Germany. Wachsmann was chief architect with the back then greatest wood construction company in Europe, Christoph & Unmack AG in Niesky, Lower Silesia from 1926 on.

In the early 20s he developed an industrial prefabricated wood construction system for single family houses and after travelling to the USA and met Albert Einstein, Wachsmann designed Einstein’s summer house in Caputh near Potsdam:

“In spring 1929 Konrad Wachsmann got to know of the birthday present of the city of Berlin to Albert Einstein (50th birthday) and that Einstein in this connection was interested in a wood house. Thus he went to Berlin to Haberlandstrasse 5 and offered Einstein to build this house for him. After some conversations with Einstein and numerous construction proposals Wachsmann received the order to build the house.”

In the 40s Wachsmann worked with the architect Walter Gropius (1883–1969) and together they developed the general-panel-system (prefabricated house system) after Gropius endorsed Wachsmann’s desire to embark on a charrette for an industrialized housing system, which they eventually called “The Packaged House.”

It was, in fact, the X-shaped wedge connectors that linked each panel vis-à-vis a set of metal plates housed in the panel edge that proved to be the inventive, and consequently commercially noteworthy, element of the system. The wedge, which was essentially flat, replaced the standard Y-shaped connector that, because of its three dimensionality, proved harder to manufacture and easier to damage.

Image from The Packaged House System (1941-1952) Konrad Wachsmann, Walter Gropius and Michael Tower. Perspecta, Vol. 34, (2003), pp. 20-27 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of Perspecta.

Later on, in 1951 Wachsmann received from the American Air Force the comission to design a large span aircraft hangars. The resulting projected building should be dismantled without any loss of material and should be completelly reusable. The really special requirement for the structure was “a very large column-free space”. The final project was a space grid system that incorporated a relatively complicated universal connector, made from a combination of four standard die forged elements which allowed up to 20 tubular members to be connected at each joint.

We can read that in 2008, during the Return Emigrations conference at Columbia University, Wachsmann was presented as a design thinker who, in trying his hardest to find an architectural solution to his own ideas, pushed the limits of some as-yet-undetermined epistemological boundary.

We have no more comments about that, just wanted to remark how important is the architectural thinking that goes beyond the limits of the practice and allows forward-thinkers as Wachsmann to desing in the boundaries of engineer, architecture and industrial design to find the best ways to solve architectural problems.

More info and some great images about Wachsmann systems and projects, here.


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