From Crafts to Modular
Elements and from there to “Differentiated” Construction

Günter Behnisch’s career as an architect, working in different office constellations, spanned over five decades. During that period, he realized some 70 educational facilities. In the 1950s and 1960s alone, some 70% of his output was schools. Specifically, the various school buildings serve to show how Behnisch’s oeuvre developed and how he sought new approaches in architecture, an undertaking that was closely bound up with the social and political circumstances of the day. 

Behnisch’s school buildings of the 1950s are still recognizably in the lineage of the “Stuttgarter Schule” of the interwar years (strong links to the crafts and to the regional building tradition). In their construction, he advanced the ideas of his university mentor Günter Wilhelm. At the same time, the buildings from this period attest to how Behnisch tackled the contemporary debates on reforms in school architecture. In subsequent decades, the politics of education were to become a matter at the forefront of public attention – a little like the impact of the PISA study in the early noughties. 

From an early date, and among other things owing to the need to rationalize, Behnisch focused on using prefabricated parts, and in collaboration with industry did pioneering work in developing modular systems, rendering prefabrication much more precise. Behnisch later stepped back from technically perfected prefabrication, not only in light of the upheavals of the late 1960s but also because he returned his attention to meeting users’ needs and embedding his architecture in the specificities of the particular site. Moreover, his feel for social and welfare aspects grew.

“While once architecture was a united whole, today each component is a separate element. One separates the load-bearing from the space-creating, the sun protection from the wall, and finally even the aesthetics, the proportions from the building section. […] Each item is detached from the others, making it easy to mass-produce it. […] This is disconnected from our world, and that is what we need to bring together again.”
Günter Behnisch 1977


Günter Behnisch, Bruno Lambart

The school complex in west Stuttgart is adjusted to allow for the sloped site so typical of the city. In the densely built residential quarter, the pavilion buildings are distributed on terraces around a shared courtyard.

The buildings are freely placed on the grounds, and together they constitute a seemingly natural picture of an ensemble of single-story classrooms with the multi-story main building housing the admin and assembly hall – a city in a city. The alignment and composition ensure optimal lighting and ventilation. The linking roof surfaces form covered areas for break-time directly adjacent to the classrooms, while ample greenery fosters a seamless transition between inside and outside. The colors are determined primarily by the natural colors of the construction materials, with the masonry being merely cladding for the load-bearing reinforced concrete structure. 

The design idea hinges on the relationship of individual to community and how a building can adapt to children’s physical and intellectual development. 

“We are striving towards an open society, an informed society. School is a manifestation of this society and is therefore governed by the same conditions as society. [...] It follows that we had to base our planning on the same openness, the same transparency.”
Günter Behnisch 1967


Günter Behnisch, Bruno Lambart

Facing town, the structure of the building consists of two parallel seminar buildings (the one with four, the other with five floors) and the flat buildings for the admin, labs, lecture, and workshop halls connecting them, all of which follow the natural line of the former fortress grounds, which slope southwards. Between them lie protected courtyards. The buildings are embedded in the surrounding parkland and respect the fortress walls that have survived and function to delimit the grounds. 

Since the college needed to be ready for use within a very short period of time, it was planned and realized using prefabricated concrete parts that could be swiftly assembled. It was thus Germany’s very first public building made largely from completely prefabricated parts. This form of structure defines the strict appearance of the Engineering College while also expressing the high degree of utility and functionality underlying the design and the buildings’ uses.

The reinforced concrete skeleton frame with its 3 × 3-meter grid is braced by ceiling and wall slabs made of precast concrete. On the inside, the thickness of the walls varies between 5 and 12 centimeters, while on the outside they are 24 centimeters thick. 

“An architectural practice that is run in a patriarchal manner will not be up to the tasks we face. If only in terms of intellectual outlook it does not correspond to our democratic social order.”
Günter Behnisch 1965
“The objective behind rationalization is to reduce the effort while achieving the same outcome or to improve the outcome while maintaining the same effort.”
Günter Behnisch 1964
“Large-scale building elements [...] should actually be as versatile as bricks. Using new materials, it will certainly be possible to produce an all-purpose large-scale building element. However, this is not yet possible today. Today, structural elements have to be manufactured and used according to their function as load-bearing elements, as thermally insulated exterior elements, or as sound-insulating dividing elements, and so on. We would already have achieved a lot if generally valid types existed covering these functions.”
Günter Behnisch 1965


When planning the high school on Deuterberg in Schwenningen, Behnisch & Partner teamed up with the companies Dyckerhoff & Widmann and Rostan to try out various construction systems with a view to ascertaining their economic and technological impact. The conditions that had to be met included creating the ground floor only with supporting beams, great flexibility in the positioning of cross-walls on the upper stories, and a central corridor leading to the assembly hall that could be expanded.

Four systems were assessed: skeleton frame using horizontal (system A) and vertical assembly (D), modular structures (B), and a composite system (C). The A system was superior to the others in terms of economic viability and its transportation advantages. 

Turnkey ready-to-assemble school – the “Behnisch System”

At one and the same time, in 1964 – 5 Behnisch & Partner and Rostan developed four types of turnkey ready-to-assemble schools (types A – D) that were then incorporated in the company’s catalog under the label “Behnisch System”. The close collaboration with a fixed corporate partner enabled a great deal of rationalization to be achieved, and this sharply reduced construction times (3 months for types A and C, 5 months for types B and D). The preferred building system was the composite construction. The schools of this type realized by the architectural practice include the ready-to-assemble schools in Heidenheim (1962 – 1964), Villingen (1962 – 1965), and Radolfzell (1962 – 1965).

Progymnasium „Auf dem Schäfersfeld“

Behnisch & Partner

Visible from afar on a hill opposite the monastery grounds so defining of Lorch, the school building’s footprint is based on a regular decagon, with the polygonal classrooms arranged in a circle around a central hall. 

Two single-story wings house the admin and specialist classes. The differentiation of the buildings derives in part from their integration into the countryside, something emphasized by the transparency and/or translucency of the building’s materials. The hall as the central and distribution point fulfills a variety of functions in everyday school life, while the rooms attached to it can be combined flexibly and linked directly to the center and to the outdoor areas. 

This radial structure made of reinforced concrete supports a wooden roof and functions as an overarching frame holding the variable interior sections together. This serves to underscore the notion of “diversity in unity” underlying the overall concept.

Until well into the 1960s, Behnisch & Partner added further school buildings and a sports hall to the junior high school. 

Project architects:
Hannes Hübner, Hermann Peltz

Concept of the center

For Behnisch, the concept of the center derived, above all, from the systematic combination of the pentagonal classrooms in the “In den Berglen” central point school in Oppelsbohm. It was an important step in the direction of buildings that were more strongly geared to the users and functions and more “differentiated”, and which could thus be disassembled into their component parts in terms of the shape, organization, and structure and then put back together again.

“If architecture includes artistic aspects, and it certainly should, then modular construction is not an acceptable answer to our problems. Today, our problems are not technical, at least not in the sense that technology needs to be perfected; in fact, the opposite is true.”
Günter Behnisch 1977

Move away from mass production

While the planning of larger education facilities had not yet reached a climax, Günter Behnisch rejected the trends of the early 1970s. This can also be read as a response to the emerging criticism of the comprehensive schools that were being built. He considered prefabrication to nevertheless always be an important exercise for the architects. Moreover, given changing political and economic parameters, the reform euphoria of the 1960s was dissolving into a more sober view, and there was criticism from various sides. The benefits of economic efficiency no longer aligned favorably with social and didactic requirements.