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Schinkel, Karl Friedrich

Schinkel, Karl Friedrich (1781–1841). Prussian architect, the greatest in Germany in the first half of C19. He was not only an architect of genius, but a civil servant, intellectual, painter, stage-designer, producer of panoramas, and gifted draughtsman. His output was prodigious, and his stylistically eclectic work was lyrical and logical. He designed many buildings that became paradigms of excellence in the period during which he served his country and King as Prussian State Architect, and he established standards that influenced generations of architects throughout Germany.

Friedrich Gilly's Graeco-Roman Egyptian design for a monument to King Friedrich II (the ‘Great’—reigned 1740–86), exhibited in Berlin in 1797, fuelled the young Schinkel's ambition to become an architect, and in 1798 he entered the studio and household of Gilly's father, David Gilly, enrolling at the Bauakademie (Building Academy or School of Architecture), where he received a rigorous training in practical matters as well as absorbing the theoretical bases of Classicism as expounded by Alois Hirt (1759–1834). Other teachers included Gentz and Langhans, and the ethos of the Bauakademie included much derived from the teachings of Blondel and the École Polytechnique in Paris, so the young Schinkel absorbed the elements of a rational approach to architecture from which Franco-Prussian Neo-Classicism evolved.

During his tour of Italy and France (1803–5) he studied vernacular and medieval architecture and was particularly interested in the structural principles of apartment-blocks in Naples and the Gothic vaults of Milan Cathedral. He was less enthusiastic about Antique remains than about their Picturesque qualities, and studied Romanesque and other structures as well as brick buildings (e.g. those in Bologna). On his return to Berlin he found lean times, and with the defeat of Prussia by the French in 1806 and the occupation of the capital there were no prospects of architectural commissions, so Schinkel occupied himself by producing panoramas and dioramas as well as numerous idealized landscapes and other pictures. These works made Schinkel well known, and attracted the attention of Queen Luise (1776–1810), recently returned (1809) from exile in Königsberg, who commissioned him to redecorate several palace-interiors in Berlin and Charlottenburg. In 1810 he was appointed to a post in the Department of Public Works (partly through the influence of (Karl) Wilhelm Freiherr von Humboldt (1767–1835)—Minister of Public Instruction and Education) with responsibility of assessing the aesthetic content of all buildings erected or owned by the State, and began his meteoric rise through the bureaucracy that would later enable him to create architecture to ennoble all human relationships and to express Prussia's aspirations. The death of the greatly loved Queen in 1810 focused patriotic sentiments, and Schinkel, with Gentz and King Friedrich Wilhelm III (1797–1840), designed the Queen's Greek Doric mausoleum at Charlottenburg. He also exhibited an alternative (and enchanting) Romantic Gothic design in which the supposed ‘natural’ origins of Gothic were alluded to in the palm-fronds on the ribs of the vaults, like a canopy of peace over the dead Queen, and at that time began to see Gothic as an embodiment of the Germanic soul. It was his synthesis of the Classical and Gothic that gave much of his later work an especial interest. In 1811 he designed the cast-iron Gothic memorial at Gransee on the spot where the Queen's coffin had rested on its way to Charlottenburg, a concept suggested by the medieval ‘Eleanor crosses’ in C13 England. A series of Sublime paintings followed in which were depicted vast Gothic cathedrals, bathed in light, comparable with aspects of work by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), whose paintings had been exhibited in Berlin in 1810.

With the galvanizing of the national spirit, the King's proclamation to his people, the collection of gold jewellery for the Freiheitskrieg (War of Liberation), and Schinkel's design of the Eisenkreuz (Iron Cross) military decoration in 1813, the idea of the Prussian State became associated with economy, fortitude, and self-sacrifice. For the rest of his life Schinkel was to use iron with sensitivity, and indeed his attitudes to new technologies and industrialization were judicious. Napoleon's eventual defeat encouraged a great upsurge of Prussian national pride, partly to be expressed in architecture. In 1815 Schinkel was promoted as Geheimer Baurat (Privy Building Officer) with special powers to plan Berlin and oversee all State and Royal building-commissions. He also initiated an influential report on the preservation of national monuments that led to State protection of historic buildings throughout Prussia. Among his more important concerns at the time was the commencement of the restoration of Cologne Cathedral (1816) and his investigation of the Marienburg fortress (1309–98), once the seat of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order: his recommendations for the latter complex (now Malbork, Poland) were realized after 1845, and the programme he set in motion continued well into C20. His work as a painter and creator of dioramas and panoramas inevitably brought commissions to design for the theatre, and his scenes for Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute—1815–16) were among the finest conceived, with their Egyptian Revival architecture, derived partly from the Napoleonic publications, and exotic Meso-American-tropical landscapes inspired by Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt's (1769–1859) travels to South America and Mexico (1799–1804), published in 1807.

Schinkel's major buildings were designed from 1816, starting with the Neue Wache (New Guard House) on the Unter den Linden, Berlin (1816–18), with a free Greek Doric for the portico (there are no triglyphs and there is a continuous row of guttae-like elements under the frieze) set against a plain fortress-like block. This was followed by the monument to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars, Spandau (1816), the Gothic monument on the Templower Berg (now Kreuzberg—1818–21) and the pinnacle-monument in the church-yard at Grossbeeren (1817), all of cast iron. A master-plan for Berlin and series of splendid buildings came next. After the destruction of Langhans's Nationaltheater, Schinkel replaced it with the Schauspielhaus (Play House—1818–21), a brilliant design with an Ionic portico and a mullioned and trabeated system derived from the Ancient Greek Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus, Athens, and the square columns of Ancient Egyptian temples. This theatre, with the twin churches in the Gendarmenmarkt, forms one of the noblest urban ensembles in Berlin. He prepared comprehensive proposals for the Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden) in front of the Royal Palace, including the reorganization of the water-ways, the remodelling of the Cathedral, the construction of various buildings, and the creation of a new bridge linking the Lustgarten and the Unter den Linden. As part of the scheme he worked on the idea of building a new museum, accepted by the King in 1823. This, his masterpiece (very badly damaged in the 1939–45 war, and indifferently treated thereafter), was part of the high-minded programme to raise the tone of society, and consists of a long Ionic colonnade like a Hellenistic stoa behind which a double staircase leads to an open gallery-landing from which views may be enjoyed. Influenced by French theorists such as Durand, the plan had a clarity and purity worthy of the high ideals of its creator, but in the reconstructed building those qualities are barely discernible. Behind the stair and entrance is a Pantheon-like rotunda inside a cubic form.

Meanwhile, he had also built two other great buildings: Humboldt's Schloss Tegel (1820–4—west of Berlin, in which he mingled the mullion-and-trabeated style of the Schauspielhaus, themes from the Villa Trissino near Vicenza, elements from English Palladianism, and allusions to Antiquity); and the hunting-lodge of Antonin (for Prince Anton Heinrich Radziwiłł (1775–1833—Governor of the Prussian Province of Posen)), Ostrow, near Poznań, Poland (1822–4—a five-storey timber-framed and timber-clad octagon with four square wings, the central area galleried and with a huge Doric column rising in the centre containing the fireplaces and chimney). He also designed the tomb-marker of General Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst (1755–1813) in the Invaliden-Friedhof, Berlin (1820–4).

During the building of the Lustgarten Museum (1824–30) Schinkel obtained approval for his Neo-Gothic Friedrich-Werderschekirche, Berlin (1824–30), an important example of his work in the Gothic style, after which he set out on a tour of Germany, France, England, Scotland, and Wales, accompanied by Peter Christian Wilhelm Beuth (1781–1853), Prussian civil servant. His diaries describe his impressions, notably his interest in English industrial architecture (e.g. the London Docks, building construction, the Staffordshire Potteries, gas-works, etc.). On his return to Berlin he incorporated aspects of fire-resistant construction he had seen at Smirke's British Museum, and he was instrumental in getting gaslight installed by an English firm in Berlin (1826–7).

Then followed an essay in Gothic with the Town Hall of Kolberg (Kołobrzeg), built 1827–32, and the exquisite series of buildings in the park at Potsdam: Charlottenhof (1826–7), the Court-Gardener's House (1829–33—evocative of the vernacular architecture in Tuscany), and the ‘Roman Baths’ (1830). The last three buildings, beautifully integrated with the gardens, drew on ideas of asymmetrical Picturesque composition pioneered in England, notably by Nash and Papworth. With the Nikolaikirche (Church of St Nicholas), Potsdam (1830–7), Schinkel realized the ideals of sterometrical purity advocated by C18 French theorists with a great cube surmounted by a drum and dome, an apsidal chancel, and an Antique portico. It demonstrates its designer's complete mastery of Greek, Roman, Italianate, and Neo-Classical languages.

An interest in terracotta and brick, fuelled perhaps by his visit to England, was realized (1828) in the structural polychrome treatment of the house for Tobias Christoph Feilner (1773–1839), a forward-looking design anticipating the ideas of Hittorff and others. This also led to the Bauakademie, Berlin (1831–6), a polychrome brick and terracotta structure influenced by Classical rigour, Gothic systems of piers and buttresses, and English industrial architecture. The Bauakademie housed the School of Architecture, Schinkel's living-quarters, and the Oberbaudeputation (State Building Directorate). Until its wholly unwarranted destruction by the Communist authorities (1961), it remained one of his finest creations. Other masterly works in the Classical style by Schinkel include the exquisite New Pavilion, Schloss Charlottenburg (1824–5), the Casino, Schloss Glienicke (1824–5), Schloss Glienicke itself (1824–32), the Hauptwache (Main Guard House), Dresden, Saxony (1831–3), and the Grosse Neugierde (Great Curiosity), Schloss Glienicke (1835–7), the last in a Greek Revival style of enchanting beauty, quoting elements of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, Athens (334 BC).

Schloss Babelsberg, near the Havel (1832–49), was conceived in a Romantic castellated style, based on English exemplars, as was the little-known but charming Schloss Kurnik (now Kórnik, Poland), a remodelling of an earlier building (1830s), but Schinkel's other great Picturesque Romantic-Classical dream-palaces were never built. These were Schloss Orianda, Crimea, Russia (1838—in which the spirit of Pliny is detectable), and a palace on the Athenian Acropolis (1834): both are among his most imaginative and beautiful designs. With the Bauakademie they represent the last phase of Schinkel's career in which eclecticism, mature Classicism, syncretism, and influences from many countries, styles, and periods coalesced. From 1831 to 1837, as Oberbaudirektor (State Director of Building), he was placed in charge of all State building schemes in Prussia, and advised on the conservation of historic monuments, and in 1838 he became Geheimer Oberlandesbaudirektor, the top post within the State bureaucracy.

Schinkel's funeral in 1841 was a national event. He was buried in the Dorotheen-städtischer-Friedhof, Berlin, his grave marked by a Greek stele modelled on his own design (1833) for Siegmund F. Hermbstaedt's memorial. In 1842 his friend King Friedrich Wilhelm IV (reigned 1840–61) decreed that all his works should be purchased by the State. Called the ‘last great architect’ by Loos, his publications included Sammlung Architektonischer Entwürfe (Collection of Architectural Designs—1819–40), Werke der höheren Baukunst für die Ausführung entworfen (Works of Higher Architecture designed for execution—1840–8), and (with Beuth) Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker (Models for Manufacturers and Craftsmen—1821–7). His most gifted pupils included Persius, Strack, and Stüler, and he was an important figure in the evolution of the Rundbogenstil.


Architects' Journal, cxciii/25 (19 June 1991), 5, 30–49, and cxciv/4, 5 (24 and 31 July 1991), 22–39;
Bergdoll (1994);
Bohle-Heintzenberg (1977);
Bindmann & and Riemann (1993);
Börsch-Supan & Grisebach (eds.) (1981);
CoE (1972);
J. Curl (2001, 2002, 2005);
Forsmann (1981);
U. Harten (ed.) (2000);
Ibbeken et al. (2001);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Peik (ed.) (2001);
Philipp (2000);
Riemann (ed.) (1981);
Schinkel (1989);
Schönemann (1997);
Snodin (ed.) (1991);
Stemshorn (2002);
Watkin & and Mellinghoff (1987);
Zadow (2001);
Zukowsky (ed.) (1994a)

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Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Karl Friedrich Schinkel

The German architect, painter, and designer Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) was one of the most important and influential architects of his time. He was equally at home with the medieval and the classical tradition.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel was born on March 13, 1781, in Neuruppin west of Berlin; the family moved to the Prussian capital in 1794. Inspired by Friedrich Gilly's 1796 project for a monument to Frederick II (Frederick the Great), Schinkel turned to architecture and studied with Gilly (1798-1800). Schinkel traveled in Italy and France (1803-1804). He became a painter of romantic landscapes and panoramas (Medieval City by the Water, 1813) and stage sets (Magic Flute, 1815). In 1813 he designed the Iron Cross, Germany's highest military award. In 1815 Frederick William III appointed him Prussian state architect.

Although Schinkel designed important buildings for cities other than Berlin, such as the church of St. Nicholas in Potsdam (1826-1837) and the Guard House in Dresden (1833), his major works were erected in the capital. In fact, he reshaped the monumental center of the city, and before its destruction during WWII it was said that he who knew Berlin knew Schinkel. His first building was the Royal Guard House (Neue Wacht-Gebäude) on the Unter den Linden (1816). A stone block with Doric portico, it established Schinkel as a master of Neo-Greek forms.

The reshaping of the Lustgarten (now Marx-Engels-Platz), a square at the eastern end of the Unter den Linden in front of the Royal Palace (now demolished), occupied the architect's attention during the 1820s. He remodeled the Cathedral to the east, but his major work was a new museum (now the Altes Museum) opposite the palace (designed 1822; finished 1830). A low block with a central rotunda for sculpture flanked by courts and surrounded by galleries for paintings, the museum closed the north side of the square with a majestic row of 18 lonic columns framed by a podium below, entablature above, and pilasters to either side. The museum was Schinkel's masterpiece, one of the principal monuments of European neoclassicism and a continuing source of inspiration for classically oriented architects of the 20th century, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.

Schinkel's other notable buildings in Berlin show the variety of his work. The Theater (Schauspielhaus) on the Gendarmenmarkt (1818; gutted 1945) sat on a podium with its Ionic portico contrasting with the low, flat, pilastered wings. The whole was capped by sculpture-enriched pediments. It was meant to form a unit with the porticoed and domed French and German churches that flank it. The monument to Napoleon's defeat that still crowns the Kreuzberg is a cast-iron Gothic pinnacle designed in 1818 (finished 1821; site later altered). For the Friedrich Werder Church near the Lustgarten, Schinkel submitted alternative designs, one classical and one medieval; the existing church (finished 1831) is Neo-Gothic.

The School of Architecture (Bauakademie) on the Spree River near the Lustgarten (1831-1835; destroyed) was characteristic of Schinkel's later work. A simple redbrick block enriched on the exterior by shallow pilasters and restrained decoration, it was a direct statement of structure and enclosure without overt historical details. Schinkel was appointed professor of architecture at the academy in 1820, and through his students his influence continued long after his death. He died in Berlin on Oct. 9, 1841.

Further Reading

The basic works on Schinkel are in German. A brief discussion of Schinkel's buildings in the context of the architecture of the early 19th century is in Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1958). Schinkel as city planner of Berlin is discussed in Hermann G. Pundt, Schinkel's Berlin: A Study in Environmental Planning (1972). □

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Schinkel, Karl Friedrich

Karl Friedrich Schinkel (kärl frē´drĬkh shĬng´kəl), 1781–1841, German architect and painter. A member of the Berlin Academy, he became a professor in 1820. He also worked in lithography, etching, and illustration, but he attained real distinction as the official state architect of Prussia. Schinkel designed primarily in the neoclassical style, and his buildings have been consistently admired by later generations of architects for their rational organization of parts and geometrical clarity. Among the public buildings, castles, and country residences he designed are the Royal Guard House (1816–18), Royal Theater (1818–21), and Altes Museum (1822–30) in Berlin, and the Church of St. Nicholas (1829–37) and the Casino (1823) in Potsdam.

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"Schinkel, Karl Friedrich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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