German Villa Architecture; an overview

This article describes how the Germany Villa
architecture led to the masterpiece and briefly
explains to architects the modern villa,
especially after the Bauhaus era.

Amirabbas Aboutalebi
Developmental editing: Mahshid Motamed

German Villa Architecture an overview


The architecture of Germany has a rich, long and diverse history that doesn’t exactly have one distinct type of architecture and combined influences from elsewhere in the world with its own national character. The historic cities such as Berlin, Munich, and Cologne are home to the full timeline of German architectural trends from the pre-medieval Carolingian to Medieval Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and the later Neo-Classical, Neo-Renaissance and International Style. There are vast regional differences when it comes to traditional German architecture, which are evident if you travel around the country (Expatrio, 2004). Due to centuries of fragmentation of Germany into principalities and kingdoms, regional differences and vernacular architecture became prevalent. This led to an architectural style that exhibited a variety of characteristics from region to region.

In spite of the diversity, there has been extensive rebuilding in major cities characterized by modernist architecture since World War II devastated architectural heritage in nearly all cities. In fact, German urban culture does not consist exclusively of large cities, but also of medium-sized towns, rural villages, and small towns. From the viewpoint of architecture, it is well known that the capital is not representative for the whole country.


History of Villa in Germany’s Architecture
To find the role and function of Villa as a leisure architecture, it is necessary to describe “Castles” as the first generation of detached houses. They were something everyone who thought something of himself and who achieved something in life needed. They were a status symbol, much like a fast car or a mansion — a massive one at that — today. They were a difference between being a simple knight and being a nobleman. The castle as a status symbol was introduced sometime in the 11th-century and lasted until the end of castles as defined above when fortresses as status symbols were replaced by palaces built mainly to entertain guests (Schnepp, 2011). In contrast to the British style, German castles were typically situated above the hills and out of town, which may explain today's urban villas. What if castles had worked similarly to villas today?

While the villa holds a central place in the history of Roman architecture, it has long roots in other civilizations; the historical gardens, castles and the palaces can legitimately be described as the first villas. Around 6000 years separate the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings on Lake Constance and the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates – yet they are closely linked in a network of 46 UNESCO world heritage sites which extends throughout Germany and includes many houses, castles, palaces, gardens and courtyards that has the same ideology and program of contemporary villas.

According to villa-culture, with its emphasis on the appreciation of landscape, many German castles can be regarded as villas and are better understood as an ideological construct, rather than a strict, typological sense and can be studied as a historical and artistic phenomenon. Castles as a fantasy retreat from the world, incorporates myth, Romantic literature, grand opera, and Teutonic chivalry in its architectural and decorative palette just like as the estates such as “Kushk”, “Imarat”, “Kakh”, in eastern life. There are some differences that are defined by their functionality and their relationship to nature; Castles were administrative centers with interior courtyards, on the other hand, Imarats were more residential structures surrounded by gardens. These differences stem from philosophies, geography, life-style and religions that differ between the East and West.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the term "Villa" gained popularity to refer to individual villas in Europe. Special forms, the Kurvillen[1] and the Bädervillen[2], became particularly popular at the end of the 19th century.

In the historiography of early twentieth-century modern German architecture and urban planning, the idea of community has been a major analytical category. Whether garden city, garden suburb, worker’s housing, factory estate, or social housing estate, the often unified architectural forms seem to suggest community. Stylistically, such communities were designed in both traditionalist and modernist architectural languages, or in any other style (Welter, 2010). Some of the early Villas in the Industrial ages and Modern era played important roles and defined new systems to design villas. Two of them are introduced below:

Villa Rosa's last construction stands as a prototype of German villa architecture. Located in Dresden on Holzhofgasse next to the later rose garden on the Elbe, it was built in 1839 by Gottfried Semper for the banker Martin Wilhelm Oppenheim (1781–1863) and was a model for villa construction in Dresden for many decades. Burned out in 1945, its ruin was demolished without need in 1955; a plaque commemorates them since the 1990s.

Königsberg i. Martin Wilhelm Oppenheim, had the villa built in 1839 as a summer residence in Dresden's Antonstadt, on the right bank of the Elbe, and named it after his wife "Rosa", née Alexander (1792–1849). Gottfried Semper (1803–1879), a German architect, art critic, and professor of architecture, designed Villa Rosa. The upper floor of the Villa has been furnished for the daughter Elisabeth and son-in-law August Grahl as well as their numerous children. In the following decade and a half, the hospitality of the Oppenheim's and the Grahls' sense of art made the villa a meeting place for the Dresden bourgeoisie.


Villa Rosa (Dresden)     Villa Rosa (Dresden)

Villa Rosa (Dresden)     Villa Rosa (Dresden)

Villa Rosa (Dresden)

Villa Rosa (Dresden)

The Royal Villa Strehlen (Königliche Villa) is another sample that shows the history of villa architecture through the ages. The villa was a building owned by the Saxon royal family in the Strehlen district of Dresden; it was built in the 19th century on the site of a former forester's house, which was called the "Red House" and was the seat of the hegereider until the royal hunting districts were reorganized in 1850. The associated gardens were designed in a park-like manner by the court gardener Poscharsky. After the National Socialists came to power, the state took over the site for the new development with military facilities. In 1939/40 the building complex of the Luftgau Command was built in the park. The architect of the new building was Wilhelm Kreis. Large parts of the former park fell victim to the construction work.

Königliche Villa (Strehlen) 

Königliche Villa (Strehlen)


Role of Villas in Contemporary Architecture of Germany
The Villa tradition often contains a return to the pioneering spirit. Compared with most other building types, its form is less fixed, which is why many architects regard these buildings as the testing grounds for new ideas or the crystallization of concepts and theories.

Contemporary German architecture—indeed world architecture—is very much the creature of the Bauhaus school that originated in Weimar in the 1920s, but there have been many other efforts for conversations of “architectural inventions” in Germany. One of the most utopian settings for such conversations is the “Villa”. German architects discovered the dialectical relationship between theory and architectural practice in the post-Andrea Palladio era in the villa. German villas can be considered experimental houses, giving German architects the opportunity to study different technical or functional aspects in a specific way, or to develop spatial concepts that represent their theoretical products.

The Bauhaus movement is a fine example which represents a manifesto that is the product of an architect's imagination and asserts its modernity to create a specific “life experience” developed by villas and test houses. Villa Tugendhat, Farnsworth House, Walter Gropius own house, Bruno Taut own house, Villa Weizmann, etc. are good examples of a sign and a media of German architecture movements.


Villa as German Manifestation
The pavilion for the International Exhibition was supposed to represent the new Weimar Germany: democratic, culturally progressive, prospering, and thoroughly pacifist; a self-portrait through architecture. These concepts are indicated in the body of Villa; in fact, building a leisure and enlightening structure was an encouraging message that shows the future path of the country.

As part of the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona Spain, the Barcelona Pavilion, designed by Mies van der Rohe, was the display of architecture's modern movement to the world. Originally named the German Pavilion, the pavilion was the face of Germany after WWI, emulating the nation’s progressively modern culture that was still rooted in its classical history. Its elegant and sleek design combined with rich natural material presented Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion as a bridge into his future career, as well as architectural modernism (Kroll, 2011).

Germany’s pavilion, with its clear lines and simple shapes, is still considered a pioneering piece of architecture in the history of world expos. The innovative and precise building was intended to symbolize the efficiency of German industry and craft. Although the pavilion was dismantled after the expo, Barcelona rebuilt it between 1983 and 1986 in recognition of its significance in architectural history – at its original location and to the original plans. (EXPO2020-Germany, 2020)

 Barcelona Pavilion

Barcelona Pavilion; Spain. Architect: Mies van der Rohe

Not only the pavilion, but some time before that Villa served as a residence for the king of Germany. The Pavilion was built in 1824-25 as a summer house for the use of King Frederick William III. It has two floors and it is geometrically defined as a square plan that is divided into nine similar parts where the staircase is placed in the central core of the house. All the facades have a different entrance that allow the users to enter the house through four different rooms and they are emphasized by a small stair in each access. The upper floor has the same logic in plan. However, if one looks carefully at the ground floor, one could see how the apparent double symmetry is broken in several moments. The entrances are not completely similar and the interior partitions have small particularities. The elevations, in a neoclassical style, follow the same strategy although the upper floor maintains this double symmetry. Moreover, Schinkel uses intense colors in the interiors, both for walls and furniture. There is a contrast with the monochromatic white of the façade (Architecture, 2016). The pavilion was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, although it was rebuilt in 1960 and it was opened as an exhibition gallery in 2001 with a permanent exhibition of Schinkel.

 New Pavilion

New Pavilion; Berlin, Germany. Architect: Karl Friedrich Schinkel


Bäderarchitektur[3] is an architectural style that is especially characteristic of spas and seaside resorts on the German Baltic coast. The style evolved since the foundation of Heiligendamm in 1793, and flourished especially around the year 1870, when resorts were connected to big cities via railway lines. Until today, many buildings on the German coasts are built in the style or feature distinct elements of resort architecture. Single free-standing mansions featuring resort architecture are called Bädervilla (plural Bädervillen), translating as Resort Mansion or Spa Villa. The architecture of inland health spas in Central Europe (i.e. those away from the coast), in Thuringia, the Czech Republic, or Switzerland for instance, is generally referred to as spa architecture (Kurarchitektur).


Spa Architecture is the name for buildings that provide spa relaxation, dining, and health care facilities. The architecture of these buildings is not a unified architectural style, but rather a general term for a type of building with a spa function.

This type of building first appeared in Europe in the 17th century and had its heyday in the 19th century. The term spa architecture relates especially to buildings in the healing spas inland; those on the coast, the seaside resorts, developed their own Bäderarchitektur. However, since the early 19th century there have been many parallels in architectonic expression between inland spas and coastal resort spas (Oehling, 2021).


From the middle of the 19th century, residential districts appeared in Germany specially designed for the wealthy bourgeoisie, built exclusively or mainly as single-family houses. The freedom of architectural design is allowed to open up. One-story homes for single-family are not suitable as four-bedroom neighbors or downtown high-rise apartment buildings. The streets are laid out in a boulevard style and the front gardens have been included in the development plan. Bourgeois life forms varied from bourgeois villas to villa colonies to single-family row houses.

With the increasing prosperity of large bourgeois circles in the founding years, the need for representative living spaces grew rapidly in the 19th century. Urban planning concepts continued to take this need and respond to it. In response to the desire to escape the often overcrowded and unsanitary city centers, from the middle of the century, extensive garden cities with villas were built on the outskirts of German (and Austrian) cities. Because these parts of the city have been completely reconstructed and are located outside the closed urban settlement, the term "villa colony" (presumably based on "allocated garden colony") was quickly coined to sound like an overseas colony.

Notable examples are the foundation in Dresden, the Marienthal settlement in Hamburg Wandsbek, and the Berlin villa settlement LichterfeldeWest (since 1860), Westend (since 1866) and Grunewald (since 1880). The most elaborate self-contained villa settlements from the founding years (e.g. LichterfeldeWest) are complex systems with architecturally planned street patterns, avenues with roads and sidewalks separated by blue stripes as well as a large number of officially designed spaces. In some cases, the stations, lighting and/or engineering have also been adapted to the architectural concepts. The architectural style of the villas often testifies to the ingenuity of the Wilhelmine building. A variety of architectural styles are placed next to each other or combined without hesitation. Its features are extensive gardens (often with barns and farm buildings) adorned with fountains, temples, and more (Bodenschatz, 1999).

 Aerial view of Blasewitz and Striesen in Dresden

Aerial view of Blasewitz and Striesen in Dresden;


Germany’s Villa Landscape: Architektonischer Garten
Despite the recent studies dedicated to discussing the “Architektonischer  Garten” concept, its relative architects, and building manifestations, the architektonischer Garten or Gartenarchitektur discourse has not been given its justice due to the lack of a critical account of its definition and development. There is a relationship between domestic living and its surrounding topography, which underlies the legacy of this important concept in the early history of modern architecture. Rather than “experiential” and “flowing,” which were coined by many early modern architects and critics as they respectively described related spatial concepts, the central feature of the architektonischer Garten idea is “circumstantial” or “situational” (Ding, 2018). It suggested a kind of coupling or unification of artificial and natural environments into integral human situations.

The German term “Architektonischer Garten,” first appeared in Hermann Muthesius’s writings on the country house and garden design. But the particular view of the idealized garden as an extension of the house and geometric room-like spaces for outdoor living was not unprecedented before Muthesius, although he was largely responsible for a paradigm shift from the landschaftliche[4] gardening to formaler Garten[5]. Originally as a practical design approach for the design of  Landhausgarten[6], the notion of architektonischer Garten can be explained with reference to Hermann Muthesius’s design of his own house (1906):

… In his own house, he (Muthesius) realized his idea of surrounding the building with a series of individual, geometrically designed garden rooms, linked to the house with a pergola ... Although this new style was initiated by architects, it was soon adopted by a new generation of garden designers ... they called themselves Gartenarchitekten (garden architects) in order to set themselves apart from the landscape gardening tradition of the previous century (Stiles, 1986).

Rooted in the critique of both the naturalistic aspect of the picturesque garden tradition and the historical style of the “villa” architecture in Germany, Muthesius’s architektonischer Garten idea initially appeared as a design approach for the Landhaus garden,4  reflecting his attitude toward the relationship between house and garden as an inseparable unity. To understand this “architectural” treatment of garden design is essentially to answer a simple question posed by English architect Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942), whose publication may have led Muthesius to his conception of the formal garden and to his rejection of “scenic” landscape: “Is the garden to be considered in relation to the house, and as an integral part of a design which depends for its success on the combined effect of house and garden; or is the house to be ignored in dealing with the garden?” (Ding, 2018).

According to  Blomfield, the formal approach to garden design should be understood as “the architectural treatment of gardens,” with the motive to bring the house and garden into harmony, or, in his words, “to make the house grow out of its surroundings, and to prevent its begin an excrescence on the face of nature.” (Blomfield, 1901).


Some of Germany's notable architects are mentioned below:

Peter Behrens
Peter Behrens (1868-1940) was a leading German architect, graphic designer, and industrialist, best known for the first AEG Turbine Hall in Berlin in 1909. He had a long career. styles from the 1900s to the 1930s. He was a founding member of the German Werkbund in 1907 when he began designing for AEG, pioneering corporate design, graphic design, typography, objects, and corporate buildings. In the following years, he became a successful architect and a leader of the German Rationalist / Classical reform movement of the 1910s. After WWI, he turned to communism. Brick expressionism, the design of the Hoechst administrative building is remarkable outside of Frankfurt, and from the mid-1920s there was an increasing focus on the new objectivism. He was also an educator and directed the architectural school of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna from 1922 to 1936. As a renowned architect, he worked on projects throughout Germany. , in other European countries, Russia, and the UK. Some of the greatest names of European modernism worked for him in the early days of the 1910s, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius. He designed some villas, including Villa Obenauer in Saarbrücken, Villa Cuno in Hagen & Villa Gans in Kronberg im Taunus.

His 1931 hillside villa for Clara Gans, daughter of Frankfurt industrialist Adolf Gans, was a similarly complex interplay of rectangular volumes, clad in stone, a fine example of New Objectivity. Clara Gans (1881–1959) was the unmarried daughter of a total of five daughters of the Frankfurt industrialist Adolf Gans (1842–1912), who was the brother of the Frankfurt honorary citizen Dr. Leopold Gans. The Vordertaunus was the preferred residence of wealthy Frankfurt citizens around the turn of the century. Other members of the Gans family had villas built there, and the father built the Villa Gans (Königstein). Peter Behrens developed a total of 7 designs in different styles. Clara Gans opted for a modern flat roof construction. The building is divided into cubic structures of different heights and offered space for Clara Gans and up to 8 servants. The house stands on a 13,000 m² hillside property. Sand-lime brick from a quarry in Freyburg an der Unstrut was used for the facing of the facade, and quarry stones from the immediate vicinity were used for the garden walls.

The interior design was lavish and state-of-the-art. Floors and wall coverings were made of precious wood. The living room wall was covered with goat skin parchment. An electrically retractable sliding window was highlighted in contemporary writings.

Villa Gans (Kronberg)

Villa Gans (Kronberg)     Villa Gans (Kronberg)

Villa Gans (Kronberg)     Villa Gans (Kronberg)     Villa Gans (Kronberg)

Villa Gans (Kronberg)

Behrens designed Villa Cuno in 1909/10 according to his design for Willi Cuno in Hagen-Eppenhausen, Haßleyer Straße 35. It has been used by a kindergarten since the mid-1990s. Villa Cuno is known for its strict geometric facade.


Villa Cuno

Villa Cuno


Erich Mendelsohn
Mendelsohn (1887-1953) was a German architect who used his expressionist architecture in the 1920s in his department store, and the cinema project is known for developing dynamic functionalism. Mendelsohn was a pioneer in Art Deco and streamlined modern architecture, especially his 1921 Mossehaus design.

As early as 1924, Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst (a series of monthly architectural magazines) produced a brochure on his work. In the same year, together with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, he was one of the founders of the progressive building group known as Der Ring. His practice employs up to 40 people, including the intern Julius Posener, who later became an architectural historian.

In 1926, he bought an old villa, and in 1928, he designed Rupenhorn, nearly 4000 m², which the family occupied two years later. With an expensive publication about his new home, illustrated by Amédée Ozenfant among others, Mendelsohn became the subject of envy. He designed some villas, including the Double Villa on Karolingerplatz, Berlin (1921–1922); Villa of Dr. Sternefeld, Berlin (1923–1924) and Zalman Schocken Villa and library, Jerusalem (1934–1936).

Villa Weizmann is one of the German émigré’s modernist masterpieces. During the inter-war period, German architect Erich Mendelsohn was one of many farm workers, laborers, religious zealots, and political refugees to wash up on the shores of British-held Palestine. While the commissions were noteworthy for their elegance and size, it is Mendelsohn’s Villa Weizmann – the residence of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann – that stands as his most crucial contribution to the nation’s architectural treasury. The 22-room building is set amid orange groves on an 11-acre estate in Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv. The estate is now the home of the Weizmann Institute of Science, but was merely an agricultural settlement at the time of construction, from 1934 to 1936. (Kaufman, 2004)

Even though it is considerably modest in ambition, the house represents Mendelsohn's West-meets-East style in many ways, thanks to its dramatic spiral staircase – a signature element from Mendelsohn's times in Europe.

Although modest in ambition, the house, in many ways, represents the purest example of Mendelsohn’s West-meets-East style, thanks to its dramatic, spiral staircase – a seminal Mendelsohn signature element back in Europe. The staircase rises from the ground floor and is capped three stories later by a squat, circular tower. Enclosed in a concrete wall sliced with vertical glass panels, the stairway both centers the house’s façade and anchors an abstract, Arabian inner courtyard, where a rectangular reflecting pool is balanced by a library on one side and a drawing room on the other.

At Villa Weizmann, this style of homage to the traditional dialects of the region is the exception, not the rule. Instead, this building is reminiscent of the Bauhaus beach aesthetic that developed in the Palestinian city at the time, with only more beautiful prosperity. Since the house does not have air conditioning, these decorative details are just as important as function and form. They are best incorporated into many windows, which allow air to circulate continuously.

Now nearly 70 years old, surrounded by the sophisticated laboratories of the Weizmann Institute, Villa Weizmann still retains its architectural and historical authority and continues to exist as a national museum. In 2001, the architect Hillel Schoken carried out a detailed renovation of the house, the grandson of Salman Schocken, Mendelsohn's main patron in Berlin.

 Villa Weizmann

Villa Weizmann    Villa Weizmann

Villa Weizmann


Bruno Taut
Bruno Julius Florian Taut (1880-1938) was a distinguished German architect, urban planner, and author of Prussian Lithuanian heritage. He was active in the Weimar period and is famous for his theoretical works and architectural design.

Taut built his own house in Berlin-Dahlewitz. The German architect had already declared his ideas of housing in the book Die neue Whonung (1924), exemplifying the new concept of modern living style, according to Neues Bauen. In other theoretical writings, he defines the Neues Bauen in relation to new needs, tendencies, and aesthetics of architecture, referring to important issues such as climate, topography, and tradition.

Taut is famous for his appreciation of the distinctive simplicity of Japanese architecture at Ise Jingu and Katsura Garden in Kyoto. He was the first to write extensively on the architectural features of the Katsura Imperial Palace from the perspective of modernism. In contrast to the elaborately decorated shrines by General Tochigi Ieyasu in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, he has a famous saying: "Japanese architectural art cannot be higher than Osmanthus, nor lower than Nikko." Taut's writing on Japanese minimalist aesthetics was appreciated in Japan and later influenced the works of Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.

Taut focuses on the relationship between architecture and landscape, type of furniture, functional plan layout, and use of glass; he especially enlightens the reader as to the use of color as a construction material. The house has an unconventional shape; it is a quarter of a circle. In his writings, the architect painstakingly explains the impressive plan. With the book Ein Whonhaus Taut delivers to memory his home design, transforming process and ideas related to the modern house. He breaks through conventions and changes the notions of what Modernism could produce. The paper highlights the theoretical production related to the architect’s own house as praxis for doing architecture, emphasizing Taut’s contribution to a dialectic mutual relationship between theoretical and architectural practice, in order to achieve a more conscious and effective design process. The only extant Taut-designed architectural work in Japan is the extension to the Hyuga Villa at Atami in Shizuoka. Built in 1936 on a site below the original villa owned by businessman Rihei Hyuga, and part modern and part traditional Japanese in style, the three rooms provided additional space for social events and views over nearby Sagami Bay.

Hyuga Villa in Atami 

Hyuga Villa in Atami, Japan


Gottfried Böhm
The work of Gottfried Böhm (1920–2021) ranges from the simple to the complex, using many different kinds of materials, with results that sometimes appear humble, sometimes monumental. He has been described in the sixties as an expressionist and more recently as post-Bauhaus, but almost always, he stands alone in departing from the conventions of established architecture, seeking to go one step beyond.

Winner of Pritzker 1986, Böhm prefers to be thought of in terms of creating "connections"—for example, the integration of the old with the new, the world of ideas with the physical world, the interaction between the architecture of a single building with the urban environment, taking into account the form, material, and color of a building in its setting.

In his teaching, Böhm warns against "the exaggerations of the historicizing movement, and mindless imitation of earlier eras." He has insisted on "spiritually enriching human values in architecture," speaking out against "overcrowding the environment with unnecessary design features." He has opposed both the reductive sterility and the brutalism that reigned for a time. Although the language of his forms is not in the modernist style, he adheres to many of the ethical principles of the Bauhaus, such as "austerity, honesty, and expressing one's own time in one's work" (Pritzker Architecture Prize, 1986).



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[1] Thermal Villa
[2] Seaside Villa
[3] Resort architecture
[4] landscape
[5] formal garden
[6] country house garden