Adolf loved architecture. It was his first choice for an occupation. Because they wouldn’t accept him to study architecture, he decided to try his hand at ruling the world. They should have accepted him in architecture school.
After he got started down the road to ruling the world, Adolf could do anything he wanted--including architecture—but now that he was busy preparing to rule the world he just didn’t have the time; preparing to rule the world took all his waking hours. So he got his good buddy, Albert, who had been allowed to study architecture, to do it for him.
Adolf knew what he wanted, and Albert was pretty good at making it real; so Adolf told Albert what he wanted, and Albert would see to it that it materialized after a while. Adolf and Albert became soul brothers, united by their enthusiasm for architecture. Adolf, who was high-strung, irascible and mistrustful, mellowed out in the company of Albert. Albert was his only friend.
"Albert Speer’s life during the Third Reich can only be understood in the context of his strange relationship with Hitler. Working on this book for more than a decade showed me there were singular parallels between Hitler and Speer. Not parallels, of course, in historical significance, but parallels in psychological traits, which so decisively influenced historical events. What is to be learned about these two men should make us ponder the nature of love and the perils of emotion." --Gitta Serenyi: Albert Speer- His Battle With Truth.
They shared enthusiasms, but between them there was also the attraction of opposites. Albert was cultivated, educated, middle class, suave and good-looking. Adolf was a boor who physically resembled (nobody dared tell him)… Charlie Chaplin.
Adolf planned to do big things both before and after he ruled the world, so he liked things to be big. He liked big armies and big cars and big highways, and he told Albert he wanted big rallies and of course, big buildings in which to have the big rallies. So Albert obliged. For Nuremberg, he designed the Zeppelin Field. It was big, and it looked even bigger:
This place was either packed to brimming or eerily deserted. Either way it was mighty impressive because both ways it looked so big. It looked big partly because it was big and partly because it was cleverly styled to look even bigger than it was. It photographed well with solitary sentries standing around, so you could see how big it was and how small they were. Albert understood scale, the relative size of a thing.
All things are the size that they are, and can be measured in feet and inches; but some things appear to be bigger or smaller than the tape measure indicates. That difference is one definition of scale: the size that a thing appears to be, compared with the size that the thing actually is.
Another aspect of scale is the relative size of the part to the whole. Generally, the larger the parts used to make the whole, the larger the whole appears to be. This is why the enormous taillights on the original Lincoln Navigator made that car look so big.
Albert understood scale and used big parts in his buildings: big blank walls, big columns, big banners, big eagles, big swastikas.
Another aspect of bigness is sheer numbers. Endless repetition is especially useful if it is done in a rigorous fashion. It hardly matters what you repeat: it can be windows, columns, arches or people. Albert was happy to repeat any of these.
Albert arranged parades and vast geometric patterns of storm troopers. He arranged his soldiers by height, in Cartesian space. His arrangements were so perfect that they generated multiple vanishing points:
Albert was working on an even bigger stadium for Adolf’s pageants, but he was told it would have to wait a few years, until after Adolf had conquered the world:
Like Adolf’s colleague Benito, Adolf and Albert must have been fascinated by the work of the painter Giorgio de Chirico. Giorgio was a kind of visionary of the bleak. He grasped solitude viscerally and squeezed it onto canvas. His paintings were mined for form, symbol and substance by the architects who worked for both great enthusiasts, Adolf and Benito:
Chirico had a small repertory of obsessions. He was fascinated by arcades and trains and bananas, towers and shadows, classical statuary and occasionally clothes dummies—you know, the kinds of things you see in dreams. But perhaps most of all, Chirico was fascinated by statues with horses, and even the wagons they came in. Through his art, he conveyed his enthusiasms to Benito, Adolf, and their architects:
Guerrini, Padula & Romano: Palazzo della Civilta Italiana, E.U.R., Rome, 1937-40
For his friend Adolf, Albert designed a little office building, and to guard the entrance, he placed outside it a horse with no rider. The rider could be found inside when he wasn’t out with the troops or on a speaking engagement.
Albert Speer: Kanzlei, a personal office building for his friend, the Leader.
For this occasion, Albert invented a new architectural Order:
His classicism was Spartan, like his friend:
Inside the building, there were plenty of corridors to explore:
And there was a courtyard that led to the inner sanctum. You just followed the eagles:
The waiting area was furnished with a desk, at which sat a secretary. It had two doorways. Follow the eagles:
Through the doorway lay an intimate little rotunda, where you could turn, for the last part of the voyage:
After that, you prepared to meet your Leader:
The Leader loved architecture and would tell Albert where to put it:
To mark his visit to Paris, he asked Albert for a nice, tall pylon with an eagle on top and a couple of statues in front. He wanted to be sure it looked big enough from eye level:
Albert was happy to oblige. He made it taller than the Arc de Triomphe:
It reminded him of some paintings he had seen:
Because he was so busy, Adolf didn’t get to travel as much as he would have liked. He tried to make an appearance at every country he conquered, but after a while there were too many, or sometimes the countries were unimportant or dangerous.
He did have a friendly rivalry with his acquaintance, Benito. They saw each other frequently, and compared notes on architecture, history, and other things.
They both staged Olympic Games, and Benito had his features put on statues of athletes:
Like Adolf, Benito was busy reviving the Roman Empire:
Benito also liked to put on shows. When Adolf went to Italy, Benito presented him with a nice surprise:
His pageant-meister was not as meticulous as Albert, however, so he got some of the letters a little wobbly.
But when it came to architecture, the Italians gave him quite a run for his money. They had more than one architect. And not only that, but their stuff was not blown up by our troops, so you can see it today:
Benito liked sculpture. When he built an Olympic stadium, he spent more money on statues than seats:
He enjoyed the support of the Church, and so he built a grand boulevard to the Vatican and lined it with light poles in the shape of obelisks. Hundreds of them:
Benito’s magnum opus was the Roman-Empire-Revival City-of-the-Future he called E.U.R., for Esposizione Universale di Roma. It was well-supplied with eagles, and is a kind of vast-scale office park, much emulated in postwar America.
Benito too liked repetition, and he liked a good axis:
Adolf and Albert: a pair of dreamers. Their heads were always in the clouds.
In his autobiography Albert Speer explained why he joined the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1932:
”Had Hitler announced, before 1933, that a few years later he would burn down synagogues, involve Germany in a war, and kill Jews and his political opponents, he would at one blow have lost me and probably most of the adherents he won after 1930.
In making this decision to join the accursed party, I had for the first time denied my own past, my upper-middle-class origins, and my previous environment. My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts, helped to sway the balance. In this I did not differ from millions of others.
Such mental slackness above all facilitated, established, and finally assured the success of the National Socialist system. And I thought that by paying my party dues of a few marks a month I had settled with my political obligations.”
“Mental slackness” did not extend to Albert’s work. He was supremely competent as an architect, later as coordinator of industrial production, and finally as slave driver.
The German Nazi leader Albert Speer, born March 19th 1905, died Sept. 2nd 1981, directed Germany's war production, using slave labor, during World War II. Speer, who joined the National Socialist party in 1931, became Adolf Hitler's architect, designing the Nuremberg stadium and other Nazi monuments. He was made minister of armaments in 1942 and expanded his planning responsibilities over most of Germany's wartime industry in 1943. In 1946 he was sentenced to 20 years in Spandau prison by the Nuremberg tribunal. After serving his sentence, he published the autobiographical Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976).
Albert Speer studied at the technical schools in Karlsruhe, Munich, and Berlin, and acquired an architectural license in 1927. After hearing Hitler speak at a Berlin rally in late 1930, he enthusiastically joined the Nazi Party January 1931 and so impressed the Führer by his efficiency and talent that, soon after Hitler became chancellor, Speer became his personal architect.
He was rewarded with many important commissions, including the design of the parade grounds, searchlights, and banners of the spectacular Nürnberg party congress of 1934, filmed by Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of the Will.
A highly efficient organizer, Speer became 1942 minister for armaments, succeeding the engineer Fritz Todt. In 1943 he also took over part of Hermann Goering's responsibilities as planner of the German war economy. From Todt, Speer inherited the Organisation Todt, an organization using forced labor for the construction of strategic roads and defenses.
Under Albert Speer's direction, economic production reached its peak in 1944, despite Allied bombardment. In the last months of the war Speer did much to thwart Hitler's scorched-earth policy, which would have devastated Germany.
Speer was jailed in 1946 for 20 years in the post-war Nuremberg trials. After his release he wrote his memoirs, grew wealthy, and until his death in 1981 worked hard at being a penitent, presenting himself as someone who should have known what was being done, but did not know. Albert Speer offered himself as the scapegoat for Germany's collective guilt.
Albert grew wealthy. You can't keep a good man down.
On the stand at Nuremberg Albert Speer stood out among the accused as the one "good Nazi.”
Like his friend Adolf, Albert didn’t get to do everything that he had planned. After a while, things started to go horribly wrong. Funds were diverted from some of Albert’s most cherished projects.
He never got to see the Grosse Platz. It would have held half the population of Metropolis:
It was as big outside as in. The whole thing was positively Roman in conception:
So, naturally, there were eagles wherever you looked:
Albert’s stripped classicism and mechanical repetition seems to have impressed the people who ran the New Deal, so they adopted a kind of watered-down version of Albert’s style:
Interior Department, Washington
Even Albert’s flair for pageantry appealed in the U.S., though here it came out a little raggedy:
La Guardia Airport Dedication
The stripped classicism, big building parts and blank walls also found their way to our shores, along with Albert’s sense of gravitas and the timeless:
San Diego County Building
Illinois State Archive
Rundel Memorial Library, Rochester
Benito seems to have liked architecture as much as Adolf, but most of Benito’s peccadilloes were left standing after the war, so we can admire them today:
This is also true of General Franco’s contributions to the style:
Make ‘em feel small.
And smaller still.
In the U.S., interest in these concepts has sputtered along into the present, depending on the taste of various patrons. Nelson Rockefeller was obviously interested when he commissioned the Albany Mall. Evidently there is a powerful government in Albany:
For a time it was considered unseemly to even mention the architecture that emanated from Adolf and Benito’s circles. Guilt by association relegated their architects to the role of non-persons, and nobody wanted to entertain the notion that some of these guys were actually pretty competent architects.
Michael Graves was one of the first to revive elements of the style of these old masters. He really admired E.U.R., and emulated it in Portland and later Louisville:
Louisville. The big man appears from time to time on the balcony, to receive the adulation of the masses.
But no architects in America have built such a career making the government seem big (and the onlooker small) as Kallmann and McKinnell. When they won the Boston City Hall competition in the early sixties, the style du jour was brutalism, but the spirit was textbook Albert Speer:
Kallmann and McKinnell have been around long enough to change the surface manifestations of their style, if not its substance. Now that the specifics of stripped classicism have been rehabilitated, Kallmann and McKinnell’s architectural predilections are free to emerge from the closet:
Courthouse, Boston, 1990’s.
Albert would be proud.
Make ‘em feel small and vulnerable faced with the power of government: two stylistic takes on the same theme, neo-fascist at left (Kallmann and McKinnell) and brutalist at right (Paul Rudolph’s Social Services Building, Boston, 1960’s).
The beaux-arts-revival light standards provide some unintended hilarity. (Even more so, with the parking signs).
Finally, there is Leon Krier.
Accused of fascist architectural tendencies in his drawings, Krier always countered that he was just drawing generic, nonspecific buildings and he could hardly help it if they looked like Speer’s:
Since then, the guru of New Urbanism has shown his hand; he is the author of the definitive monograph on the architecture of Albert Speer:
Krier’s built architecture also shows Albert’s influence, and that of the painter they all admired:
He even got the colors right.
Giorgio de Chirico
The Triumph of the Will