The persistence of design in the midst of even the severest persecution is one of the most remarkable aspects of classic mid-century European Architecture. Even under forceful Nazi discrimination during their rise to power between world wars, Erich Mendelsohn was able to design the De La Warr Pavilion with Serge Chermayeff during his exodus to Britain before both ultimately fled to the United States.
Mendelsohn’s insistence upon the plasticity of concrete and welded steel frame construction was unprecedented in Britain at the time of his arrival. Being on the forefront of Architects who were fleeing to Britain in avoidance of Hitler’s ever-expanding Third Reich in mainland Europe, Mendelsohn saw a great response (both positive and negative) from his newly acquired British peers and colleagues concerning his revolutionary designs. While much of his work was considered more expressionistic than modernistic, his understanding and passion for new materials and construction techniques made him an integral part in spearheading the modernist movement throughout the world.
The influence of Erich Mendelsohn was felt in the United States before he ever actually set foot there. California modernist hero Richard Neutra had worked as Mendelsohn’s assistant in Germany from 1921 to 1922 before coming to America; once in the states, Neutra worked with Mendelsohn’s hero, Frank Lloyd Wright. Neutra’s employ under Mendelsohn was also during the time that his most famous project, The Einstein Tower, was completed. By 1930, Mendelsohn had one of the most successful Architectural practices in Germany.
When Hitler was named chancellor in 1933, modern architectural commissions in Germany were all but non-existent. Mixed with more open Jewish persecution, Mendelsohn knew he had to leave the country. England became the perfect new home for him, as Chermayeff was already an admirer of Mendelsohn’s and needed his experience and expertise in his practice. Mendelsohn’s reputation would have probably eclipsed any other partner, but Serge Chermayeff was already upheld as a leading Architect of his time in England. Together the two were able to assimilate into the British elite and find acclaim among their commissions.
One of Mendelsohn and Chermayeff’s first projects together was winning the competition for the De La Warr Pavilion, which would have been a significant step for any architect at that time, and gave Mendelsohn the perfect opportunity to boast his modernist ideals. Herbrand Sackville, the 9th Earl De La Warr, was the patron and namesake for the project. Sackville was a refreshing mixture of centuries old aristocracy with relationships to leading intellectuals of his day. His sympathies toward his fellow man led him to convince the council at Bexhill (of which he was mayor at the time) to develop a public building that would include an entertainment hall, restaurant, and lounge.
The De La Warr Pavilion saw degradation during World War II through its military occupation and attacks from German bombers, and any resulting renovation efforts were inconsistent with its original aesthetic intentions. It was not until 1986 that the building was appropriately protected by the British government against any improper renovation. since 2005, the building has been fully restored and open to the public as an arts centre, becoming a destination point for Architecture lovers the world over.
Architect: Erich Mendelsohn, Serge Chermayeff
Location: Sussex, England
Project Year: 1935
References: De La Warr Pavilion, A Field Guide to Landmarks of Modern Architecture in Europe, Wikipedia
Photographs: choctaw_ridge, Flickr, Stephen Fulljames, Handolio, killsurfcity, Antony J Shepherd, Alan Stanton, Super tourist, vince2012, Brian Whittle, Wikimedia, John Winfield