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Karl Friedrich Schinkel Edit Profile

Architect , painter , professor , City planner

Karl Friedrich Schinkel was a Prussian architect, city planner, and painter who also designed furniture and stage sets. Schinkel was one of the most prominent architects of Germany and designed both neoclassical and neogothic buildings. His most famous buildings are found in and around Berlin.


Karl Friedrich Schinkel was born on March 13, 1781 in Neuruppin, Germany.


Friedrich Gilly's Graeco-Roman Egyptian design for a monument to King Friedrich II, exhibited in Berlin in 1797, fuelled the young Schinkel's ambition to become an architect, and in 1798 he entered the studio and household of Gilly's father, David Gilly, enrolling at the Bauakademie (Building Academy or School of Architecture), where he received a rigorous training in practical matters as well as absorbing the theoretical bases of Classicism as expounded by Alois Hirt.

Other teachers included Gentz and Langhans, and the ethos of the Bauakademie included much derived from the teachings of Blondel and the École Polytechnique in Paris, so the young Schinkel absorbed the elements of a rational approach to architecture from which Franco-Prussian Neo-Classicism evolved. During his tour of Italy and France (1803-1805) he studied vernacular and medieval architecture and was particularly interested in the structural principles of apartment-blocks in Naples and the Gothic vaults of Milan Cathedral.


In 1810 Schinkel was appointed to a post in the Department of Public Works (partly through the influence of (Karl) Wilhelm Freiherr von Humboldt (1767-1835) -

Minister of Public Instruction and Education) with responsibility of assessing the aesthetic content of all buildings erected or owned by the State, and began his meteoric rise through the bureaucracy that would later enable him to create architecture to ennoble all human relationships and to express Prussia's aspirations.

Schinkel's works made him well known, and attracted the attention of Queen Luise (1776-1810), recently returned from exile in Königsberg, who commissioned him to redecorate several palace-interiors in Berlin and Charlottenburg.

It was his synthesis of the Classical and Gothic that gave much of his later work an especial interest.

In 1811 Schinkel designed the cast-iron Gothic memorial at Gransee on the spot where the Queen's coffin had rested on its way to Charlottenburg, a concept suggested by the medieval ‘Eleanor crosses’ in England.

With the galvanizing of the national spirit, the King's proclamation to his people, the collection of gold jewellery for the Freiheitskrieg (War of Liberation), and Schinkel's design of the Eisenkreuz (Iron Cross) military decoration in 1813, the idea of the Prussian State became associated with economy, fortitude, and self-sacrifice.

For the rest of his life Schinkel was to use iron with sensitivity, and indeed his attitudes to new technologies and industrialization were judicious.

Napoleon's eventual defeat encouraged a great upsurge of Prussian national pride, partly to be expressed in architecture.

He also initiated an influential report on the preservation of national monuments that led to State protection of historic buildings throughout Prussia.

Among his more important concerns at the time was the commencement of the restoration of Cologne Cathedral (1816) and his investigation of the Marienburg fortress, once the seat of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order: his recommendations for the latter complex (now Malbork, Poland) were realized after 1845, and the programme he set in motion continued well into C20.

Schinkel's major buildings were designed from 1816, starting with the Neue Wache (New Guard House) on the Unter den Linden, Berlin (1816–18), with a free Greek Doric for the portico (there are no triglyphs and there is a continuous row of guttae-like elements under the frieze) set against a plain fortress-like block.

This was followed by the monument to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars, Spandau (1816), the Gothic monument on the Templower Berg (now Kreuzberg) and the pinnacle-monument in the church-yard at Grossbeeren (1817), all of cast iron.

A master-plan for Berlin and series of splendid buildings came next.

After the destruction of Langhans's Nationaltheater, Schinkel replaced it with the Schauspielhaus (Play House), a brilliant design with an Ionic portico and a mullioned and trabeated system derived from the Ancient Greek Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus, Athens, and the square columns of Ancient Egyptian temples.

This theatre, with the twin churches in the Gendarmenmarkt, forms one of the noblest urban ensembles in Berlin.

He prepared comprehensive proposals for the Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden) in front of the Royal Palace, including the reorganization of the water-ways, the remodelling of the Cathedral, the construction of various buildings, and the creation of a new bridge linking the Lustgarten and the Unter den Linden.

Influenced by French theorists such as Durand, the plan had a clarity and purity worthy of the high ideals of its creator, but in the reconstructed building those qualities are barely discernible.

He also designed the tomb-marker of General Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst (1755-1813) in the Invaliden-Friedhof, Berlin (1820).

On his return to Berlin he incorporated aspects of fire-resistant construction he had seen at Smirke's British Museum, and he was instrumental in getting gaslight installed by an English firm in Berlin (1826


Then followed an essay in Gothic with the Town Hall of Kolberg (Kołobrzeg), built 1827-1832, and the exquisite series of buildings in the park at Potsdam: Charlottenhof (1826-1827), the Court-Gardener's House (1829-1833), and the ‘Roman Baths’ (1830).

The last three buildings, beautifully integrated with the gardens, drew on ideas of asymmetrical Picturesque composition pioneered in England, notably by Nash and Papworth.

With the Nikolaikirche (Church of St Nicholas), Potsdam (1830–7), Schinkel realized the ideals of sterometrical purity advocated by French theorists with a great cube surmounted by a drum and dome, an apsidal chancel, and an Antique portico.

It demonstrates its designer's complete mastery of Greek, Roman, Italianate, and Neo-Classical languages. An interest in terracotta and brick, fuelled perhaps by his visit to England, was realized in the structural polychrome treatment of the house for Tobias Christoph Feilner (1773-1839), a forward-looking design anticipating the ideas of Hittorff and others.

This also led to the Bauakademie, Berlin (1831-1836), a polychrome brick and terracotta structure influenced by Classical rigour, Gothic systems of piers and buttresses, and English industrial architecture.

The Bauakademie housed the School of Architecture, Schinkel's living-quarters, and the Oberbaudeputation (State Building Directorate).

These were Schloss Orianda, Crimea, Russia (1838), and a palace on the Athenian Acropolis (1834): both are among his most imaginative and beautiful designs.

From 1831 to 1837, as Oberbaudirektor (State Director of Building), Schinkel was placed in charge of all State building schemes in Prussia, and advised on the conservation of historic monuments, and in 1838 he became Geheimer Oberlandesbaudirektor, the top post within the State bureaucracy.

Schinkel's funeral in 1841 was a national event. He was buried in the Dorotheen-städtischer-Friedhof, Berlin, his grave marked by a Greek stele modelled on his own design (1833) for Siegmund F. Hermbstaedt's memorial.