The Hoechst Administration Building (1919-24) in Frankfurt by Peter Behrens
is representative of many of the prominent artistic and intellectual concerns of
the early inter-war period in Germany. It is a rare example of so-called expres-
sionist architecture which was actually realised, and the building can be read as
a programmatic reflection on the critical role of art within the culture of
modernity. Despite being an integral part of one of the major German chemical
plants, the Hoechst Building has become a place of pilgrimage for the modern art lover. Though the striking tower-bridge motif dominates the exterior approach and features in the company’s logo, it is the cathedral-like interior of the central hall which provides the most spectacular experience of colour and light. The Hoechst Building is regularly cited as a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk of modernity’,1 but this characterisation poses some important questions. What is a Gesamtkunstwerk? What is its significance in the modern context? And what role does the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk play in the conception of the Hoechst Building and the oeuvre of its architect?