During WWI Mendelsohn also sketched observatories and it was the Einstein tower in Potsdam that marked the beginning of his career and made him famous. Opened in 1924, the tower was regarded as the icon of expressionism and the shapes and forms used were revolutionary. Mendelsohn characterised the style visible here as „functional dynamics,“ but how did a tower like this come to fruition?
Well, in 1919 the Einstein Trust commissioned Mendelsohn with the construction of a new solar observatory on Telegraphenberg, or Telegraph Hill in Potsdam. The observatory was to be proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Preceded by an exchange of information between Mendelsohn and the astro-physicist Erwin Finley Freundlich about the building of observatories over many years, Mendelsohn had already prepared a series of sketches from 1917 onwards that he transferred to models.
A timber-framed tower forms the centre of the building and it carries the Coelostaten, which is a system of mirrors that vertically reflect the suns rays down into an underground laboratory. The Coelostat has no contact with the exterior architecture.
Mendelsohn originally selected iron and concrete building materials, but he was way ahead of his time. Nobody was able to execute his design vocabulary into the ferro-concrete style of building. So only the apse, exterior walls of the extensions, terrace and terrace steps are concrete. The tower was built in brick. The building only achieved homogeneity with the overlaid ochre-coloured spray render.
Mendelsohn, the technical and design innovator, wasn’t happy with these compromises, he was heard to say, „Never again,“ but also, „and yet it’s good that the tower is standing.“
The Einstein tower has survived the passage of time, is still used for scientific monitoring purposes today and is open to the public. In this building Mendelsohn combined scientific requirements with his own ideas of shape and design to create a unique construction. The organic forms visible here were indicated in his sketches years beforehand and were the subject of much discussion in specialist journals. They made Mendelsohn famous and the tower was Mendelsohn’s ticket to international architecture business.