One of the most prolific German architects of the first half of the 19th century, Karl Friedrich Schinkel created more than 150 buildings in Germany and Poland, most of which are still to be seen today-churches and museums, palaces and monuments, bridges, schools, theaters and castles. He was also a accomplished painter, stage set designer, and interior decorator.
Fitness For Purpose
His career proceeded rapidly; as early as 1815, in his mid-1930s, he was appointed chief building advisor and was given important commissions, including the construction of a guardhouse for the royal palace. After the theater in the center of Berlin, in the Gen-darmenmarkt, had burnt down, the king’s choice fell once again on the master builder from Brandenburg. Its replacement, built from 1818 to 1821, represents one of Schinkel’s masterworks. The worthy framework for the new theater was already in place: the symmetrically designed square could already boast two church buildings close by, the German and the French cathedrals.
The Schauspielhaus in the center of the Gendarmenmarkt welcomes visitors with its classical, well-proportioned forms, more precisely with a Greek temple frontage built according to all the rules of the textbooks. In the interior of the building, the design strictly follows the law of fitness for purpose. Schinkel made no secret of his motto: “In architecture everything must be true, all masking or disguising of the structure is a fault.” The theater was opened with a production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. The sets were designed by the great music-lover Friedrich Schinkel.
The Old an the New
With his references to the architecture of classical antiquity, Schinkel was following a current trend. In the late 18th century, both clients and architects saw in the temples of classical Greece the epitome of perfect beauty and thus the model for contemporary architecture. Accordingly, it was Schinkel’s buildings in the Neo-Classical style that met with the greatest approval, above all the Old Museum in the Lustgarten. A flight of stairs leads into the building, which, with its rotunda as a central hall, also alludes to the Roman Pantheon.
But Schinkel was perfectly capable of enthusiasm for other eras. In building the Friedrichswerder church in Berlin, for example, he was alluding to medieval Gothic. Schloss Kamenz in Silesia is likewise reminiscent of a medieval castle, and other designs demonstrate Schinkel’s weakness for the Romantic. Not only with regard to his building assignments, but also in respect of his models, Friedrich Schinkel shows himself to have always been open to the old—and to the new.