“Organic!” Albert Einstein is alleged to have exclaimed on seeing the Einstein Tower on the Telegrafenberg near Potsdam, Germany. The new solar observatory erected for the venerable Astrophysical Institute for the practical testing of Einstein’s theory of relativity was soon famous beyond Germany’s borders as a building with a distinctive identity and a tremendous aura. It is the symbol of Expressionism become form.
The origins of the Einstein Tower go back to he trenches of World War 1, long before the building was actually commissioned. It was there , during lulls in hostilities , that Erich Mendelsohn put his architectural visions on paper in small-scale sketches drawn with a sure hand. The bold curves of his perspective drawings were to become the distinguishing feature o all subsequent designs. The organic, self-contained form of the tower can already be recognized in the soft contours of the sketched “astronomical observatories” and “factory for optical instruments.” Mendelsohn was assured of receiving the commission in a letter dated July 2, 1918, frim Einstein’s assistant Dr. Erwin Finlay-Freundlich, in which the functional requirements of the observatory were precisely laid down. In a series of exchanges that took place before the end of the war and the actual granting of the commission in 1919, the two men , who were good friends , agreed upon the main details between he two pokes of functionalism and aesthetics, fusing them into a most successful synthesis.
Formally , the Einstein Tower in Mendelsohn’s own personal creation, not based on any previous models. He depicted in pure , unadulterated form an architectural organism that in its model, sculptural design represents a unity that can but neither divided nor extended. A dynamic quality pervaded the volume of the building intensifying its expression and the space around it. Nothing could better focus - in a metaphorical sense -the rays of the sun that enter here than this compact archetype that reflects matter , energy, space , and time in a relative play of forces.
During the construction work, the three -dimensional concept soon revealed its limitations. Formwork problems meant that the specified material, in situ concrete , could be used only for the entrance portal and the top most ring of the tower . The rest of the flowing form was built conventionally in brickwork. It was, however, coved with a thick layer of cement rendering to lend the surface a uniform appearance.
On a number of occasions, Mendelsohn described the Einstein Tower , in contrast to his late work, as having a form derived forma mystic-cosmic emotion , a form that to him resulted in a unique and inimitable maiden work. None of his later buildings adopts the formal language of the Einstein Tower again. It remains the icon of Expressionist architecture.