The world’s first spherical building was built in Dresden in 1928
Between 1922 and 1929 the city of Dresden staged an annual exhibition of German industry. The 1928 show was organised around the theme of the ‘technological city’ (Die technische Stadt), and its most prominent exhibit was a spherical house, known as the Kugelhaus.
Designed by the Munich architect Peter Birkenholz, the Kugelhaus was conceived for a number of reasons. Built to commemorate the centenary of the Dresden Technical School, its radical shape was intended to give the city a prominent new landmark, comparable to Vienna’s big wheel, or the Berlin radio tower.
The Kugelhaus had more prosaic aims as well: its design sought to introduce more light and space into the home (a major preoccupation of German architects in this period), and to reduce its footprint, thus freeing up space on the ground for traffic flow. In practice however, the Kugelhaus was hardly a successful attempt to reinvent the domestic house. In spite of having a diameter of 24 metres at its widest point, its interior floor space was just 100 metres square, spread over six floors.1
Nevertheless, the Kugelhaus survived for a decade after the closure of the exhibition. It was finally demolished by Dresden’s Nazi authorities in 1938, who considered the building ‘unGerman’. That it survived five years of Nazism is quite impressive, given that its radical shape evoked the architecture of modernists and Russian revolutionaries. Russian architects had promoted the use of geometric shapes in their buildings (including spheres) in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution, most notably in the form of Vladimir Tatlin’s 1919 design for a tower for the Comintern. The constructivist aesthetics of Lenin’s Russia, and of course of Germany’s own Bauhaus school, were an anathema to the Nazis.
The sphere remained a potent symbol of Cold War-era Germany. The revolving restaurant at the top of East Berlin’s Fernsehturm was visible to all in the city’s western sector by the end of the 1960s, as were the geodesic domes that crowned the United States Listening Station on the Teufelsberg, giving the building an added air of menace. For West and East Berliners alike, the sphere signified both Soviet technological ambition (Sputnik) and Cold War covert surveillance.
- “Die technische Stadt” Berliner Volkszeitung, 17 May 1928