Albert Speer: Biography, Architecture & Buildings

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Architect of both the proposed Nazi postwar capital and the very real Nazi supply chain, Albert Speer is unique among former Nazi leaders in that he went on to live a relatively normal life following World War II. While his works have been largely lost to demolition, their memory still invokes the haunting terror that was the Nazi plan for Europe.

Life of Albert Speer

Before he became one of the few prominent Nazis to have a post-war career of mention, Albert Speer was born in 1905 to a well-off family. Despite initial desires to the contrary, he entered the family business of architecture, showing so much promise as to be allowed to teach the subject.

Indeed, it was Speer's students who first introduced him to the Nazi party, where a series of contracts soon gained him the attention of Hitler himself. The dictator, always one with an eye for what could gain the public's attention, became captivated by the young architect's designs.

Speer was drawn in by the immense attention shown by the charismatic leader. Soon, he was the architect for Hitler's vision of a new Germany. Drawing on classical examples, but with a decidedly Germanic twist, Speer was crucial in portraying the Reich as an empire worthy of a thousand-year reign.

During the war, Speer soon found his organizational talents under a very different use. As someone accustomed to organization on a mass scale, the architect soon found himself managing the logistics of the German war machine. In this capacity, Speer's subordinates used slave labor, often from concentration camps. Speer would later claim ignorance of such actions, and when put on trial at Nuremburg, he apologized profusely. Such action likely saved him from the gallows.

After a lengthy prison sentence, Speer began to write about his experiences in the Nazi inner circle. Much of the royalties of his writings went to causes meant to ameliorate the suffering caused by Nazi rule in Europe. He continued to take responsibility for the actions of the Nazi regime until his death in 1981.

Works

Not surprisingly, few of Speer's buildings were built prior to World War II, and of those, even fewer survived. However, through archival footage, access to the detailed models and blueprints is possible, and much can be gleaned about Speer's style from those plans.

As an architect, Speer valued large buildings that harkened back to an Imperial Roman past, placing the new German Reich as the successor to the glories of Rome. In fact, Speer readily sought to use construction designs that would leave impressive ruins, knowing that the state would require new sources of propaganda in the proposed Nazi future.

Parade Ground

Notable in this regard is the Parade Ground at Nuremburg, built to resemble a Roman forum. Massive, with room for hundreds of thousands of participants, it places the power of the Nazi party on full display, and when coupled with film, made for a particularly powerful moment.

Plans for Nuremburg Rally Grounds
Plans for Nuremburg

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