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An Architect’s Life

07.12.2011

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Einstein Tower in Postdam

There is no architect more identified with the Weizmann Institute than Erich Mendelsohn. Though he designed only four of the over 100 buildings on the campus, he left his indelible mark both on the Weizmann Institute and on Israeli architecture. His first building in Israel – a house for Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the Weizmann Institute, who would become the first President of the State of Israel – is an iconic structure that has been restored and is open to visitors. The last he built in Israel, the Daniel Wolf Building, is also on the Weizmann campus

 

Erich Mendlesohn

So it is fitting that the Israeli opening of a film on Mendelsohn’s life would take place at the Weizmann Institute.


In the documentary Incessant Visions, directed by Duki Dror, we see the 4,000 sq. m. (over 43,000 sq. ft.) house he built for his wife, Louise, on Lake Havel, near Berlin. The house was a gift, built after she ended an affair with German-Jewish playwright Ernst Toller, and Mendlesohn designed not only the house but everything in it: the furnishings, the dinnerware, even Louise’s clothing and jewelry. Louise, a beautiful and talented cellist, moved among the intelligentsia and artistic circles of Berlin in the 1920s, and she brought Mendelsohn’s ideas to these groups. He, in turn, wherever he was, would send his ideas – his sketches and drawings – to her. The film, an interweaving of staged scenes with rare archival materials, is mostly based on the 1,200 letters he wrote to Louise.
 
Erich Mendelsohn at work
 
Albert Einstein also figures in the film. He lived across the lake and would row over with his violin to play music with Louise. This friendship eventually led to what is, perhaps, Mendelsohn’s most famous work – the Einstein Tower in Potsdam. It is said that when Einstein first entered the building, he had but one word to describe it, which he whispered in Mendlesohn’s ear upon leaving: “Organic.”
 
Louise Mendelsohn
When the Nazis rose to power, Erich, Louise and their daughter Esther moved to London and from there to Palestine, where he designed Hadassah Hospital and the Shocken Library in Jerusalem, as well as the buildings in Rehovot for what would eventually become the Weizmann Institute. In 1941, he moved to the West Coast of the United States.

Screenings of the film are planned for various venues in Israel, at Jewish film festivals around the world and in buildings Mendelsohn designed in England, Germany and elsewhere.

 
 
 

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