Karl Janisch

A far-sighted planner

A look at Karl Janisch's work

He would lend his own unmistakable stamp to an entire district in northwestern Berlin: up to 1914, engineer and Government Master Builder Karl Janisch would build a great many factory facilities for Siemens on the Charlottenburg bank of the Spree River, and in Siemensstadt. His architectural style, oriented to the needs of rational production, is still reflected today in his well-preserved industrial buildings. 

Born in Berlin – Karl Janisch shaped his city

Karl Janisch was born in the Berlin district of Wannsee on November 6, 1870, the son of a laundry owner. After completing his secondary schooling at the Königstädtisches Gymnasium in Berlin-Mitte, he enrolled in a course of studies in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering at the Charlottenburg Technical University in 1888. 


He was not only a gifted student, but a very ambitious one, and completed several of his qualifying examinations before the 1890s were out. Both the university and the German Association of Mechanical Engineers (the Verein Deutscher Maschinenbau­ingenieure) recognized his talent and achievements even before he had completed his degree. In July 1897, still short of his 27th birthday, Karl Janisch passed the Master Builder’s examination – with honors.


His last phase of university training was paralleled by practical work. In August 1896, even before he had been officially appointed a Government Master Builder, Janisch was hired by the Prussian government to work for the Royal Prussian Railway Directorate in Berlin.


Within just a few months, he had taken leave from that government office, switching – initially as an independent contractor – to the Department of Overhead and Underground Railways at Siemens & Halske. We have no reliable sources to tell us what prompted the change. But it’s clear that in January 1897 he began working on operating and transportation-equipment issues in planning the company’s rail projects.

A step into industry – A permanent position at Siemens & Halske

In August 1898, Managing Board members Heinrich Schwieger und Carl Dihlmann arranged for Janisch to be hired as a permanent employee. At the same time, the rising 28-year-old was reassigned to the Charlottenburg plant, where he deputized for Dihlmann as plant manager. In those days, the construction engineer was concerned primarily with reorganizing Siemens’ fast-expanding power engineering business. 


He was also in charge of construction across an area of more than 200 hectares at the “Nonnenwiesen” – a rural zone between Charlottenburg and Spandau. An entirely new part of town was arising here; known as Siemensstadt, by the time of World War II it would become the company’s largest site. When Janisch took on the position as Dihlmann’s deputy, his future as the construction supervisor with sole responsibility for the new location was a foregone conclusion. 


In the summer of 1899, Janisch was appointed construction supervisor for all the company’s new building projects. He would finally advance to Siemens & Halske’s “house architect” in 1902, when he was placed in charge of all construction and operating-equipment issues for all of Siemens, including all its branches and subsidiaries. That advancement went hand in hand with the conferral of a limited power of attorney for the company, followed two years later by an appointment to the high-level position of an executive signatory known as a “Prokurist.” 

Building for Siemens – The company’s unmistakable “look” 

Between 1899 and 1915, the company’s in-house construction department under Janisch built a great many production facilities that lent Siemensstadt its unmistakable “look.” One of the first buildings opened for business in 1905, a plant for producing telegraphs, telephones and telecommunications switching systems, as well as other telecommunications products. This was the “Wernerwerk,” so named in honor of the company founder. 


It was quickly followed by the small-equipment plant for the production of installation and switching equipment (1905), an automotive plant (1906), the “Dynamowerk” for building large electrical machines and railroad engines (1906), and an iron foundry (1907). The administration building, constructed between 1910 and 1913, was in part also the work of Janisch’s successor, architect Hans Hertlein. 

The buildings have been constructed in a way that differs from the previous design, and from an architectural point of view, they offer a magnificent sight.
Friedrich Koeltze, Lord Mayor of Spandau, 1913

Buildings need to serve a use – Functionality reigns supreme

The architecture of Janisch’s buildings was dominated less by aesthetic concerns and the desire to impress than by functional considerations. The trained mechanical engineer primarily designed utilitarian structures whose ground plans permitted optimized, cost-effective production. Depending on needs, the individual buildings could be put to flexible uses and expanded without difficulty. Janisch drew some of his ideas in this regard from other countries – his basic concept was significantly founded on his experiences during an eight-month study tour of the USA in 1901, during which he visited a great many American industrial installations.



More commissions from outside Siemens – Switch to Bayerische Stickstoffwerke

Alongside his work for Siemens, Karl Janisch also carried out construction projects for other companies, including the chemical manufacturer Bayerische Stickstoffwerke AG. As the significance of the chemical industry grew during World War I, with the resulting need for new factories, the focus of his work shifted more and more away from Siemens and toward Bayerische Stickstoffwerke, where he ultimately joined the Managing Board in April 1915. By now, Janisch had advanced to the position of Royal Construction Councilor, and building large nitrogen plants was occupying so much of his attention that he left Siemens early in February 1917. 


Janisch remained a Managing Board member at Bayerische Stickstoffwerke for more than 20 years. In 1946, he died unexpectedly in Schwegermoor, near Oldenburg, where he had most recently joined the Managing Board of Hannoversche Kolonisations- und Moorverwertungs AG.



Dr. Frank Wittendorfer


You might also find this interesting

Further information on this topic

Further Reading

  • Thorsten Dame, Hans Hertlein (= LIFELINES, vol. 6), ed. Siemens Historical Institute, Berlin 2017
  • 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)