Neo-Expressionist Architecture

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Curving, shiny surfaces and towering roof peaks: what do these elements have in common? They're found on unique buildings around the world. In this lesson, explore Neo-Expressionist architecture.

What is Neo-Expressionist Architecture?

Some buildings don't look like anything else around them.

Neo-Expressionist architecture has provided some very unique structures. This architectural movement became popular beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, and its architects designed notable, large public buildings like museums and concert halls. It was based on an earlier movement called Expressionism in Europe, especially Germany, following World War I. Expressionist architects wanted to create buildings that evoked feeling or emotion and didn't rely on past architectural styles. They didn't want to be hemmed in by traditional architectural expectations. Neo-Expressionists took inspiration from this earlier movement.

To be clear, Neo-Expressionism wasn't a specific style revival, because each Expressionist structure was extremely individual. Rather, it was a revival of an attitude and exploration of similar ideas, namely feeling and emotion over intellectualism, which in architecture often translated into stark, geometric structures and minimal decoration or design elements.

The challenge to understand Neo-Expressionist architecture is that it doesn't have a single set of rules or standards. It's eccentric and subjective; it's easier to define by what it isn't.

  • It's asymmetrical and tends to stay away from strict geometric forms.
  • It emphatically doesn't rely on past styles.
  • It is often sculptural and highly personal.
  • Its structures tend to be unique works of their creators. They often use innovative building materials and methods and have unconventional roof designs.

To better understand Neo-Expressionist architecture, let's look at some examples.

Examples of Neoexpressionist Architecture

Berliner Philharmonie

One of the best examples of Neo-Expressionist architecture in Germany is architect Hans Scharoun's Berliner Philharmonie, the concert hall for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Built between 1956 and 1963, the building features a streamlined glass and white front that gives way to gold walls and vertical panels that rise to a curving point. It's completely asymmetrical and looks a bit like a space ship.

Berliner Philharmonie, built between 1956 and 1963
Berliner Philharmonie

TWA Flight Center

In the United States, one of the most famous Neo-Expressionist buildings is the TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport in New York. The building was built in 1962 and designed by Eero Saarinen. The structure once served as the terminal for TWA airlines.

It's a space-age vision in white, full of curving lines, graceful arches, and glass elements that rise to two segments that feel almost like streamlined alien wings. And it looks nothing like the Berliner Philharmonie. However, both structures do stand out. They make their own statements and certainly don't copy past architectural trends.

TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport, New York, built in 1962
TWA Flight Terminal at JFK

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