IG Farben Building

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IG Farben Building

South façade of the Poelzig Building showing the main entrance
Building Information
Name IG Farben Building
Location Town Frankfurt am Main
Location Country Germany
Architect Hans Poelzig
Client IG Farben
Construction Start Date 1928
Completion Date 1930
Cost 24 Million Reichsmark
Structural System Steel Frame with concrete floors
Style New Objectivity

The IG Farben Building or the Poelzig Building was built from 1928 to 1930 as the corporate headquarters of the IG Farben conglomerate in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It is also known as the Poelzig Ensemble or Poelzig Complex, and previously as the IG Farben Complex, and the General Creighton W. Abrams Building. A competition to design the building was won by the architect Hans Poelzig.

On its completion, the complex was the largest office building in Europe and remained so until the 1950s. The IG Farben Building's six square wings retain a modern, spare elegance, despite its mammoth size. It is also notable for its paternoster elevators.

The building was the headquarters for research projects relating to the development of Nazi wartime synthetic oil and rubber, and the production administration of magnesium, lubricating oil, explosives, methanol, and Zyklon B, the lethal gas used in concentration camps. After WWII, the IG Farben Building served as the headquarters for the Supreme Allied Command and became the principal location for implementing the Marshall Plan, which largely financed the post-war reconstruction of Europe. The state apparatus of the Federal German Government was devised there. The IG Farben Building served as the headquarters for the US Army's V Corps and the Northern Area Command (NACOM) until 1995. The US Army renamed the building the General Creighton W. Abrams Building in 1975.

The US Army returned control of the IG Farben Building to the German government in 1995. It was purchased on behalf of the University of Frankfurt by the state of Hesse, which committed €25 million to the restoration. In recognition of the original architect, the University renamed the main building the Poelzig Building (Poelzig-Bau) and its ancillary buildings and surroundings the Poelzig Complex (Poelzig Ensemble). The restoration work started in March 1998, and the formal reopening as the Poelzig-Bau was celebrated on October 26, 2001. During the ceremony a plaque was unveiled at the building's entrance to commemorate the slave labour victims of the IG Farben factory at Auschwitz III and all those murdered by Zyklon B gas.


The site

The IG Farben Building was developed on land known as the Grüneburggelände in Frankfurt's Westend District. In 1837, the property belonged to the Rothschild family. In 1864, the city's psychiatric hospital known as "Affenfelsen" or "Affenstein" (ape rock), was erected on the site. Here, Dr Heinrich Hoffman hired Alois Alzheimer to work in the hospital, where they both explored progressive methods of treating the mentally ill. The Grüneburgpark was established in 1880 on the larger western part of the site.

Early history

IG Farben acquired the property in 1927 to establish its headquarters there. In the 1920s, IG Farben (full German name Interessen Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft) was the world's largest drug, chemical and dye conglomerate. Frankfurt was chosen because of its centrality and its accessibility by air and land

In August 1928, Professor Hans Poelzig won a limited competition among five selected architects, notably beating Ernst May, the then Head of Urban Design for Frankfurt.

Work on the foundations began in late 1928, and the summer of 1929 saw construction start on the steel frame. The building was completed in 1930 after only 24 months, by employing rapid-setting concrete, new construction materials and a round-the-clock workforce. Later in 1930, the Frankfurt director of horticulture Max Bromme and the artists' group Bornimer Kreis developed designs for the 14 hectares of parkland that surrounded the building. The grounds, and the complex as a whole, were completed in 1931.

Second World War

Front of the Poelzig Building from the southeast, with its temple-like portico entrance and rotunda
Front of the Poelzig Building from the southeast, with its temple-like portico entrance and rotunda

IG Farben subsequently became an indispensable part of the Nazi industrial base. The building was the headquarters for research projects for the development of wartime synthetic oil and rubber, as well as the production administration of magnesium, lubricating oil, explosives, methanol, and Zyklon B, the lethal gas used in concentration camps. The building was used by IG Farben for 15 years.

During World War II, the surrounding neighbourhood was devastated, but the building itself was left largely intact (and inhabited by homeless citizens of bomb-ravaged Frankfurt). In March 1945, Allied troops occupied the area and the IG Farben Building became the American headquarters of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower's office was where he received many important guests; including General de Gaulle, Field Marshal Montgomery and Marshal Zhukov. It was there that he signed the “Proclamation No. 2”, which determined which parts of the country would be within the American zone. Eisenhower vacated the building in December 1945 but his office was still used for special occasions: the constitution of the state of Hesse was signed there, the West German Ministerpräsident received his commission to compile the Grundgesetz ( German constitution) and the administration of the Wirtschaftsrat der Bizone (Economic Council of the Bizone) was also located there.

Cold War

View of the IG Farben Building from the Maintower skyscraper
View of the IG Farben Building from the Maintower skyscraper

From 1945 to 1947, the IG Farben Building was the location of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied European Forces, and was the headquarters for the US occupation forces and Military Governor. On May 10, 1947, permanent orders to military personnel prohibited further reference to the building as the "IG Farben Building", and instead called for it to be referred to as "The Headquarters Building, European Command".

After 1952, the building served as the European centre of the American armed forces and the headquarters of the 5th US-Corps. It later became the headquarters for the Northern Area Command until 1994. The IG Farben Building was also the headquarters of the CIA in Germany, which led to its sobriquet 'the Pentagon of Europe'. On April 16, 1975, the US army renamed the building the General Creighton W. Abrams Building. The renaming did not have full authority in law, because the US was technically leasing the building from the German government and thus was not the rightful owner.

On May 11, 1972, the terrace area at the rear of the building, in front of the 'Casino', was the scene of a bombing by the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, i.e., the Baader-Meinhof Group). In 1976 and 1982, this group again attacked the building. The adjoining park, which until then had been publicly accessible, became a restricted military area. These restrictions also applied to the military living quarters and work areas at the rear of the building.

Recent years

Panorama of the Poelzig building from the south, demonstrating how the curved shape of the building's façade reduces the impact of its scale
Panorama of the Poelzig building from the south, demonstrating how the curved shape of the building's façade reduces the impact of its scale

Following German reunification, the US government announced plans to fully withdraw its troops from Germany by 1995, at which time control of the entire site would be restored to the German Federal Government. It was suggested that the building could become the location for the European Central Bank. The British, however, competing to secure the location of the Bank in London, successfully defeated the proposal by arguing that the building had been tainted by its Nazi associations. In 1996, the state of Hesse bought the building and associated land for the University of Frankfurt. The buildings were refurbished at a cost of DM 50M (about US $26M), by the Copenhagen architect's office 'Dissing+Weitling' and were handed over to the university. The complex now houses the Westend Campus of the university, which includes the departments of Philosophy, History, Theology, Classical Philosophy, Art and Music, Modern Languages and Linguistics, Cultural and Civilization Studies, the Centre for North American Studies and the Fritz-Bauer-Institute.

Renaming controversy

The university's tenancy of the building sparked a debate regarding the name of the building. Former University President Werner Meissner had started the controversy by renaming it the "Poelzig-Ensemble" (Poelzig-Complex); to him, renaming the building would free it from associations with Nazism. Students and, in increasing numbers, members of the faculty insisted on confronting the building's history by retaining its original name, the "IG Farben Building". Meissner's successor, Rudolf Steinberg, upheld the university's decision to retain the name; however, he did not enforce a uniform nomenclature within the university's administration. After the grand opening of the building in 2001, AStA chairman Wulfila Wido Walter objected to the "misuse of Hans Poelzig" [sic] and proposed leaving the name of the main building unchanged, and calling the smaller casino building the "Poelzig Casino"; this proposal won little support. By 2004, the “Poelzig-Ensemble” proposal had become a moot point—the debate was overtaken by strong political lobbying for an appropriate commemoration and memorial of remembrance: Vice President Brita Rank set up a permanent exhibition inside the building, and a memorial plaque—for the slave labourers of IG Farben and those who had perished by Zyklon B gas—was installed on the front of the building. The Senate of the University agreed on a joint initiative by the student senator of the German Green Party, David Profit, and Angelika Marx the senator of the United Services Union, to name a place on the new campus's western end after the former slave labourer Norbert Wollheim.

Despite the renamings by the University and the American military administration, the building is still usually called the IG Farben Building by the general public. The association of the building with Nazism has been hard to shake off, partly because of the close involvement of IG Farben with the Nazi regime and partly because of the building's imposing and monumental appearance. Der Spiegel wrote of its “Smell of Guilt”. Only with the departure of the Americans, the subsequent renovations, and the use of the building by the university has the taint of the Third Reich receded.


Behind the IG Farben Building, the state of Hesse intends to build "Europe's most modern campus" to accommodate the remaining departments of the University's old Bockenheim campus: law, business, social sciences, child development, and the arts. The new buildings will be completed in 2014. The University will then move out of the old campus in Frankfurt-Bockenheim, which was designed by Ferdinand Kramer in the 1950s and 1960s.


Plan of the IG Farben Building, showing the six wings, the curving central corridor and the 'Casino' building to the rear
Plan of the IG Farben Building, showing the six wings, the curving central corridor and the 'Casino' building to the rear

In 1928, IG Farben was the world's fourth largest company and its largest chemical company. Consequently, the space requirements for the building were for one of the largest office buildings ever constructed. It was designed in the New Objectivity style.

IG Farben did not want a specifically ' Bauhaus' styled building—it wanted:

A symbol, in iron and stone, of German commercial and scientific manpower. Baron von Schnitzler, IG Farben Director, 1930.

The 250-metre long and 35-metre tall building has nine floors, but the height of the ground floor varies (4.6–4.2 m). This variation is reflected in the roof line which looks taller at the wings than the spine. The volume of the building is 280,000 m³, constructed from 4,600 tonnes of steel frame with brick infill and floors constructed of hollow blocks to provide over 55740 m² of usable office space". The façade is clad with 33,000 m² Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt Travertine marble, which the windows punctuate in bands. Only at the corners are the glazed strips interrupted for emphasis. The top storey is lit from skylights rather than banded glazing and has a very low ceiling height. It forms a clear building conclusion. Until the 1950s, the building was the largest and most modern office building in Europe.

The pool with the Klimsch Sculpture "Am Wasser" (at the water). The Casino is in the background.
The pool with the Klimsch Sculpture "Am Wasser" (at the water). The Casino is in the background.

The IG Farben Building consists of six wings, connected by a gently curved, central corridor. This arrangement provides all of the offices with sufficient natural light and ventilation. This design approach for large complexes offers an alternative to the "hollow rectangle" schemes of the time, with their typical inner courtyards. The prototype of this form is the General Motors Building in Detroit (1917–21) by Albert Kahn. The building presents a very large and weighty façade to the front; however, this effect is reduced by the concave form.

The main entrance is at the axial centre of the building, comprising a temple-like portico standing in front of the doors—a relatively common motif of administration buildings of the time. The entrance arrangement is regarded by some people as slightly pompous: the entrance and lift doors are of bronze, and the ceiling and walls of the porch are clad in bronze plate and copper friezes. The inner lobby has two curved staircases with a sheet aluminium treatment, and marble walls with a zigzag pattern. The axial centre at the rear of the building has a round glazed façade; here, the view of the buildings at the rear of the site (the "casino") is maximised by the curved walls that afford vistas to the subsidiary buildings 100 m distant, separated from the main building by parkland and a pool. During the American occupation of the building, this rotunda housed a small kiosk; later, it was used as a conference room. Nowadays, it is called the Dwight D. Eisenhower room and accommodates a café.

The paternoster lifts that serve the nine floors are famous, and are popular with the university students. After the recent restoration, the university has pledged to preserve them in perpetuity.

Behind the rotunda is an oblong pool with a Nymphenskulptur (German:Nymph sculpture) at the water's edge created by Fritz Klimsch entitled "Am Wasser". Behind it stands a flat building on a hill with a terrace—the casino of IG Farben, which now houses a refectory and lecture-rooms.


A number of unconfirmed rumours concern the complex:

  • Hans Poelzig was not favoured by the Nazi regime and was banned by IG Farben from entering the building after its completion.
  • General Eisenhower issued orders to preserve the building during the bombardment of Frankfurt, because he intended to use it after the war as his headquarters. However, it may have been that the building was saved by its position in a residential area and close to Grüneburgpark with its refugee camp.
  • Two or three basements are under the Poelzig building, which are sealed and flooded.
  • A tunnel connects the building with Frankfurt's main railway station; however, some sources contend that only the main building and the casino are linked, and that there is no tunnel to the station.
  • At the reflecting pool behind the building, the "Am Wasser" sculpture of a naked water nymph was moved during the American occupation. The nymph was moved to the Hoechst Chemical concern in Frankfurt/ Hoechst at the request of Mamie Eisenhower (the general's wife), who deemed it inappropriate for a military installation. The statue has since been returned to its original location.

Text of memorial plaque

  • Translated inscription from the plaque placed in front of the IG Farben Building main entrance on October 26, 2001:-

This building was designed by the architect Hans Poelzig and erected in the years 1928 to 1931 as the headquarters of IG Farben Industries.

Between 1933 and 1945, as one of the largest chemical concerns in the world, the company put its scientific knowledge and production technologies increasingly into the service of the war preparations and warfare of the National Socialist terror regime. From 1942 to 1945 IG Farben, together with the SS, maintained the concentration camp at Buna-Monowitz beside the IG Farben factory at Auschwitz.

Of the ten thousand prisoners made to work for the company there, most were murdered.

In the National Socialist extermination camps many hundreds of thousands of people, particularly Jews, were killed by the gas Zyklon B, which was sold by an IG Farben company.

From 1945 the building was the seat of the American military government and the High Commissioner for Germany. On 19 September 1945 the establishment of the State of Hesse was proclaimed here. From 1952 to 1995 the building was the headquarters of the 5th Corps of US Army.

Aware of the history of the building, the State of Hesse acquired it in 1996 for the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. In the future it will be used for teaching and research.

"Nobody can withdraw from the history of one's people.
One should know that the past may not be based on forgetting
because otherwise it will come again and become the present."
Jean Améry, 1975

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