German-born American architect. Trained as a cabinet-maker, later studying architecture (1920–5) under Poelzig and Tessenow, before joining (1925) Christoph and Unmack, makers of timber buildings and building components, as draughtsman-designer, becoming Chief Architect (1926–9). He then established his own practice in Berlin (1929–32), where he numbered Albert Einstein (1879–1955) among his clients (e.g. the Einstein House, near Potsdam (1928–9). He exhibited and published several designs for timber buildings (e.g. for the Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition, 1931), and evolved reinforced-concrete building systems having set up a practice in Rome, where he erected several structures (1935–8). In France in 1938–9 (where he had a very short-lived association with Le Corbusier) he designed tubular steel and plywood-panel construction systems before emigrating to the USA where he joined Gropius as a house-guest and collaborator. In 1942 he moved to NYC, designing prefabricated building-components for the General Panel Corporation, notably the ‘Packaged House’, a housing system evolved by Gropius and himself. In 1942 he perfected his ‘Mobilar’ space-frame for aircraft hangars, making his speciality the design of connecting joints used in cellular structures.
He was appointed Professor of Design and Director of the Department of Advanced Building Research at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology (1949–56), and further developed his ‘Mobilar’ system with joints capable of receiving up to 20 tubular members enabling enormous cantilevers to be constructed so that large areas could be roofed with minimal vertical supports. His work anticipated many later developments, and influenced designers including Buckminster Fuller. He published Holzhausbau: Technik und Gestaltung (House Building in Timber: Technique and Construction—1931), Holz im Bau (Wood in Building—1957), Wendepunkt im Bauen (Turning Point in Building—1959, with an English translation of 1961), and various other works on prefabrication and industrialization in building.
Kalman (1994);G. Herbert (1984);Klotz (ed.) (1986);Jane Turner (1996);Wachsmann (1961, 1988);Wachsmann et al. (1995)