The Siemens architect

Hans Hertlein, creator of lasting values

The name Siemens is not only associated with major technological feats in the fields of electrification, automation, and digitalization, but also with impressive factory buildings, prestigious administrative buildings, and attractive employee housing complexes. These buildings are still in use and continue to contribute to the public’s awareness and perception of the company today. One man in particular is responsible for these masterly architectural achievements: Hans Hertlein. 

Hans Hertlein was born in Regensburg on July 2, 1881 and studied architecture in Munich, Dresden, and Berlin. He initially worked for various building authorities and in 1909, joined the Directorate General of the Bavarian Mining, Smelting and Salt Works as a government master builder. In 1912, Hertlein submitted a design to the architectural competition for Grosskraftwerk Franken. The drawings were presented to Carl Friedrich von Siemens, a fortunate circumstance since Carl Friedrich, who became Chairman of the Managing Board at Siemens-Schuckertwerke in 1912, considered the restructuring of corporate architectural policy to be a personal matter. For too long the company had been trailing behind the competition – particularly Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) – in this area. The designs for the new main administrative building therefore had to be produced in-house and had to be in perfect alignment with the company’s requirements. This task was given to Hertlein.

New management, new style – Hertlein takes over the Siemens Construction Department

When he joined the Siemens Construction Department, Hertlein broke with the prevailing tradition of historicized façades. In particular, he vehemently opposed the first generation of Siemens buildings built in 1898 and 1899. He developed his own modernist style of architecture that made him the defining Siemens architect for many years. For him, “honesty” was especially critical when designing industrial buildings: The outward appearance of a factory building should mirror the logic of production and translate into functional ground plans, clear structural volumes, and material-compatible designs. Hertlein implemented this architectural idiom in his designs for “Siemensstadt” and “Wernerwerk.” He even implemented corporate social policy through architecture and fathered a long-term construction project that included employee residences, recreation centers, and recreational facilities as an expression of the employees’ connection to the company.

Hertlein’s masterpiece: the Schaltwerk high-rise building – Europe’s first high-rise factory

Hertlein’s first major project for Siemens-Schuckertwerke was also his greatest success. In order to concentrate switchgear production in Siemensstadt, Europe’s first high-rise factory, a ten-story structure, was built between the production halls and the main administrative building – an unusual decision at the time because there had never before been an industrial building in which people worked “one above another.” The Schaltwerk high-rise building became the new building type that embodied economic power and the dawning of a new age. It was a sensation, and it earned Hertlein the admiration of experts and catapulted him to the top echelon of architects working in industrial architecture. Seldom had the chairman of a construction department enjoyed such recognition.

 

This fame also won Hertlein many awards – and not just in Germany. He had long been designing buildings for the company internationally, including Siemens buildings in various European and South American countries – the best-known example being the white Siemens building in Buenos Aires.

A new beginning after the Second World War and departure from Siemens

During the war, it was necessary to expand factories and to establish “resettlement plants” to relieve Siemensstadt. Siemens & Halske moved its headquarters to Munich. In the postwar era, Hertlein recognized the necessity and the opportunity of creating a bridge to the Berlin years with new buildings in southern Germany and at the same time linking the old and new sites. For example, Hertlein based the administrative building that he began in 1948 in Erlangen on the Wernerwerk high-rise building in Siemensstadt. Employees and inhabitants of Erlangen referred to it somewhat deprecatingly as the “Himbeerpalast” (Raspberry Palace) – but over the decades it has become a genuine city landmark.

 

Hertlein was pensioned on March 31, 1951. An extended employment contract expired on March 31, 1956. He died at a spa on Lake Constance on June 14, 1963, a great architect who contributed to the visible success of Siemens through his extraordinary architectural style. A majority of the buildings built according to his plans – suitably modernized – are still in use and continue to contribute to the public’s awareness and perception of the company.

 

 

Dr. Johannes von Karczewski

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Further information on this topic

Further Reading

  • Elektropolis Berlin. Architektur- und Denkmalführer, hrsg. v. Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Berlin 2014 (German only)
  • Wolfgang Ribbe / Wolfgang Schäche, Die Siemensstadt. Geschichte und Architektur eines Industriestandortes, Berlin 1985 (German only)
  • Berlin und seine Bauten, hrsg. v. Architekten- und Ingenieur-Verein zu Berlin. Teil IX: Industriebauten und Bürohäuser, Berlin 1971 (German only)