Erich Mendelsohn German, 1887-1953


Erich Mendelsohn was born in Allenstein, East Prussia (now Poland) in 1887. He studied in Berlin and Munich where he became involved with Expressionism. These early experiences generated a personal philosophy of “Dynamism” that demonstrated an attitude that was both expressionistic and personal in nature. Mendelsohn used no historical precedents in formulating his designs. He conceived of his building designs through the use of iconic and schematic sketches that became literal roadmaps for the development of all aspects of its exterior form. His early buildings avoid the eclectic borrowing which characterize so many of his contemporaries. Consequently, his architectural ideas were derived from expressionistic sketches and romantic symbolism which recognized that the qualities of modern building materials should dictate a new architecture.


Mendelsohn immigrated to the United States in 1941 and was given membership with the American Institute of Architects upon his arrival in the US, but he received the permission to practice only in 1946. He went on to establish an architectural practice in San Francisco. His best known buildings in the United States are the Maimonides Hospital in San Francisco and a number of Jewish Community centers. In 1947 he was appointed a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Architecture.

Currently, only a small number of institutions hold significant examples of Mendelsohn’s work including the Erich Mendelsohn’s architectural collection at the Kunstbibliothek, Berlin, a contribution of his sketchbooks to the University of California, Berkeley, a collection of eighteen architectural renderings held by MoMA in New York, the Erich and Luise Mendelsohn papers held by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, four renderings held by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and just two renderings held by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


Mendelsohn died in San Francisco, California in 1953.