Very near to the big cathedral of Cologne there is the Disch-Haus, an architectural masterpiece which people pass daily. With its smooth simplicity it blends perfectly in with the surrounding buildings and you may not even realize that it doesn’t stem from the 50s like the others.
As a matter of fact the edifice stands as an early example of Die Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a branch of Das Neue Bauen (The New Building). This was an early 20th century Modernist movement sharing some formal characteristics with the then parallel developing Art Deco style though very different in its intentions. Art Deco focused on a glamorous image but was devoid of any of the stark idealistic values which drove Die Neue Sachlichkeit shapes and art.
When Bruno Paul, a teacher of Mies van der Rohe, and Franz Weber reached in their layout for the new office and commercial building at the corner Brückenstraße 19/Herzogstraße 36 in 1928, replacing the old but beautiful Gründerzeit Disch-Hotel they imagined a streamlined construction with a curved frontal facade giving very much the resemblance of an ocean liner. A trait favored by Modernist architects because it would link crossing streets while pulling the building closer together as a whole and create a very cut, conquering look at the same time. This was further intensified with a minimalist exterior in which nothing would distract the viewer from the structure.
Still Modernists loved an airy elegance and liked to soften the massive look. In the case of the Disch-Haus Bruno Paul did this with a striped travertine facade which also solved window placement quite cleverly. To prevent any upcoming boredom from the simple design of the basic idea there are a few architectural quirks built in without breaking up any balance achieved by continued use of clear lines and cubist forms. Only on second sight one notices there is no symmetry, a little gazebo here, a tower there…
There are some letterings installed on the curved side expressing the name of the building. On historic images the same beautifully simple gold letters were already installed from the beginning but back then stating the name Appelrath Cüpper, the brand which had a store on the ground floor and the name Disch Haus was put in big letters on the side onto the protruding gazebo. Of course newly developed Bauhaus fonts where used for this. Just a few years prior Cologne typographer Jakob Erbar had developed the Erbar Grotesk font which was then used as template for the minimalist type Futura by Paul Renner. I couldn’t quite figure out which exact type was used at the end for the Disch Haus. My guess is Futura but there are some differences with the length of the middle bar on the capital E.
A little hidden at the entrance of the main building the word Disch is formed also in metal in a totally different font type. This time the builders decided to go for an hellenistic inspired Art Deco style. Which looks more than what would one expect from a 20s era building.
The Disch-Haus had been in danger of being torn down. During war it suffered heavy damage and later it got renovated only into a useable though unflattering condition so that it didn’t look any special. It had lost its slender appearance but later on got fortunately reinstated into almost original by architects KSP Engel + Zimmermann who took away add-ons and gave the building its original elegance.
It is easy to mistake such a building for a construct of the 50s. Rise of Nazi Germany had meant a seizure for Modernist architecture. Though Hitler acknowledged some of their representatives in his list of people blessed by God like he did with Bruno Paul. But when the war was finally over people picked up right where they had been forced to stop and continued use of forms.
For those who step inside Disch-Haus will be greeted by wonderfully spiraling stairwells and the incredible invention called Paternoster. The funny loop lift which was a hit especially in Germany up until the 70s and now sadly in disappearance because of overprotecting German law.
/ Images by me if not other wisely stated.