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May 10, 2021

Germany: Fagus Factory in Alfeld


Fagus Werk

“Are you architects?”

I can’t say we get this question every day, or ever, for that matter.  But as we joined a tour to visit Fagus Werk, a shoe last factory in Lower Saxony Germany, we were asked about potential architectural connections twice. 

It seems that many if not most of the foreign visitors coming to see the Fagus facility are architects.  Thus it was assumed that we too likely be architects merely because we were on the tour.  Indeed, the other pair of foreigners on the tour, a couple from Barcelona, were in fact architects.  So the assumption of building design connections for the tour goers was clearly not ill founded.  Though we didn’t know it before we arrived, the tour we were about to go on is an architectural pilgrimage of sorts.

Last production

Architecture is indeed the main reason to visit the Fagus Factory.  The building complex is considered to be an important example of early modern architecture.  Indeed the most influential architect for the building’s design was Walter Gropius, who went to become the founder of the legendary Bauhaus School.  The factory in Alfeld was Gropius’s first major commision.  It was a notable start to the beginning of Gropius’s remarkable career.  In the end Gropius’s name is held with Alvar Aalto, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright as one of the pioneering masters of modernist architecture.   

Reflecting the building’s importance Fagus Werk was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 2011.  It is the only open operating factory to be inscribed on UNESCO’s list. 

The offered tours allow access inside of the production facilities that today still produces shoe lasts, the mechanical form that is used to manufacture shoes.  The lasts produced in Alfeld are shipped to Asia where the actual shoes are manufactured.  Each last can be used to produce up to 50,000 shoes, each with a consistent fit originating from the last.  If a brand’s shoes never fit your feet, you can blame the design of the lasts produced at places like Fagus Werk.

As interesting as it is to see the production facilities and hear about the owners’ various other business ventures nearby, the tour’s highlight is undoubtedly the building’s architecture.  Even then it is only particular parts of the external façade of the factory that attract most of the attention.  And deservedly so:  These proportions of the exterior of the Fagus Factory are by modern standards perfect.  If a building of this style were constructed today in a contemporary city it would fit in, looking perhaps slightly old school but in an appealing retro sort of way.

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We visited the Fagus Factory in Alfeld in August of 2019.

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