The Fagus Factory (German: Fagus Fabrik or Fagus Werk), a shoe last factory in Alfeld on the Leine in Germany, is an important example of early modern architecture. Commissioned by owner Carl Benscheidt who wanted a radical structure to express the company's break from the past, the factory was designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer. It was constructed between 1911 and 1913, with additions and interiors completed in 1925.
For the first time a complete facade is conceived in glassflat roof has also changed. Only in the buildings by Adolf Loos which was done one year before the Fagus Factory, have we seen the same feeling for the pure cube. Another exceedingly important quality of Gropius's building is that, thanks to the large expanses of clear glass, the usual hard separation of exterior and interior is annihilated.
The building that had the greater influence on the design of Fagus was AEG’s Turbine factory designed by Peter Behrens. Gropius and Meyer had both worked on the project and with Fagus they presented their interpretation and criticism of their teacher’s work. The Fagus main building can be seen as an inversion of the Turbine factory. Both have corners free of supports, and glass surfaces between piers that cover the whole height of the building. However, in the Turbine factory the corners are covered by heavy elements that slant inside. The glass surfaces also slant inside and are recessed in relation to the piers.
Carl Benscheidt (1858–1947) founded the Fagus company in 1910. He had started by working for Arnold Rikkli, who practised naturopathic medicine, and it was there that he learned about orthopedic shoe lasts (which were quite rare at that time). In 1887 Benscheidt was hired by the shoe last manufacturer Carl Behrens as works manager in his factory in Alfeld.
After his resignation Benscheidt immediately started his own company. He established a partnership with an American company acquiring both capital and expertise. He bought the land directly opposite Behrens’s factory and hired the architect Eduard Werner (1847–1923), whom he knew from an earlier renovation of the Behrens factory. Although Werner was a specialist in factory design, Benscheidt was not pleased with the outside appearance of his design.
During construction, Gropius and his partner Meyer were under great pressure to keep up to the rhythm of work. Construction started in May 1911 based on Werner’s plans and Benscheidt wanted the factory to be running by winter of the same year. This was achieved in great part and in 1912 Gropius and Meyer were designing the interiors of the main building and secondary smaller buildings on the site. In order to pay the additional costs of Gropius’s design, Benscheidt and his American partners had decided on smaller building than the one that was actually planned.
The building that is commonly referred as the Fagus building is the main building. It was constructed in 1911 according to Werner’s plan but with the glass facades designed by Gropius and Meyer and then expanded in 1913. The Fagus building is a 40-centimeter high, dark brick base that projects from the facade by 4 centimeter. The entrance with the clock is part of the 1913 expansion. The interiors of the building, which contained mainly offices, were finished in the mid 20s. The other two big buildings on the site are the production hall and the warehouse. Both were constructed in 1911 and expanded in 1913. The production hall is a one-storey building.
The main building was erected on top of a structurally stable basement with flat caps. Nonreinforced (or compressed) concrete, mixed with pebble dashing was used for the basement walls, an unfortunate blend unable to support great individual loads. From the basement upward, the building rose in plain brickwork with reinforced wood floors. The ceilings were underpinned with a formwork shell and finished in rough-cast plaster on the services installation side.
Although constructed with different systems, all of the buildings on the site give a common image and appear as a unified whole. The architects achieved this by the use of some common elements in all the buildings. The first one is the use of floor-to-ceiling glass windows on steel frames that go around the corners of the buildings without a visible (most of the time without any) structural support. The other unifying element is the use of brick. All buildings have a base of about 40 cm of black brick and the rest is built of yellow bricks.