Origins of Modernism: Lighting And Hardware

Picture11By COD 2013 Berlin Conference Scholar Sarah Corbitt, Assoc. AIA

Details in Modern and contemporary buildings demonstrate the aesthetics that Germany is known for – strong character, clean lines, technologically advanced and well-functioning parts. This article shows examples of some lighting and hardware schemes that the Committee on Design saw during the Origins of Modernism Conference in Berlin, September 2013.

Beyond their basic function, designed lighting shows what is important in a space, whether what’s important is musicians on a stage, a trip up a solitary stair on a quiet night to look at stars, or a return home from a night out.

Hardware is a contact point for building users, when turning a door knob, flipping a latch. Hardware also is a prime factor in the overall durability of a space. Renowned German engineering is used to design robust hardware for buildings and exteriors.


German designs offer some remarkable, highly crafted lights and light settings. We saw many examples during the Origins of Modernism Conference.

In the Philharmonie, lights and ceilings were used as delightful accents throughout.

The Philharmonie staircase has a delightful set of pendant lamps which look a little like dangling, geometric dandelion flowers.

Notice the dimples in the ceiling above each light installation in the Philharmonie.

This playful screen with colored glass inserts is on the staircase on the way to a concert hall.

There is extensive manipulation of concrete to show off lights in Mendelsohn’s Einsteinturm.

At Fat Koehl Apartments & Office, we saw cast-in-place concrete detailing similar to the dimples at Philharmonie, Berlin, and the Einsteinturm, Potsdam.


Germans are known for their technological expertise and manufacturing skills. According to the US CIA World Fact Book, they are “among the world’s largest and most technologically advanced producers of iron, steel, coal, cement, chemicals, machinery, vehicles, machine tools, electronics, food and beverages, shipbuilding, textiles.” The focus on highly machined pieces is evident in hardware seen during the Origins of Modernism Conference.

Notice below the heavy duty doorknob, and door, along with the installed grate at the building entrance. It is carefully planned.

At the Einsteinturm in Potsdam, built from 19219– 1924, this doorknob functions smoothly and easily, although it looks worn. Is it original? We don’t know for sure.

At the Bauhaus – Dessau, we saw what must be custom doorknob ‘pockets’ in the walls that the doors swing into – and the doorknobs match the pocket size exactly.

Two more humble examples of doorknobs are shown in the doorknob for the all-steel Stahlhaus, a joint project of Georg Muche and Richard Paulick,  in Dessau and in a German hotel shower in Berlin. Both are sturdy and attractive.

Finally, large and stable hinges support a metal window frame at the Siedlung Törten, by Walter Gropius, Dessau, 1926 – 1928. A similar-looking, long, metal hinge holds the wooden front door of the Einsteinturm in Potsdam, 1919 – 1924 – although separated geographically, these hinges date from roughly the same decade.

Examples of lighting strategies above show playfulness and technical precision that are part of German design history. The hardware shown here conveys ease of use, hardiness, and pleasing design.


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