Internationally renowned architect Albert Speer, Jr. died on September 15 at the age of 83. He was one of Germany’s most respected architects and urban planners in his own right, but spent much of his career trying to separate his reputation from his father’s, who served as Adolf Hitler’s chief architect.
While father and son are tied together by blood, Speer, Sr. and Speer, Jr.’s architectural legacies have left contrasting marks on the built environment. The elder’s radical visions and mostly uncompleted projects are remembered as dark points in architectural history, while Speer Jr.’s modest and progressive approach to city planning have been widely respected within the design community.
Speer, Sr., sometimes referred to as “the devil’s architect,” carried out some of the most flagrant architectural projects of the Third Reich, including the (subsequently demolished) Reich Chancellery, and his intricate plans to turn Berlin into a capital of overwhelming monumental scale, a project which stayed mostly un-completed due to the fall of the Nazi regime.
Over the past five decades, Albert Speer Jr. and his Frankfurt-based firm, Albert Speer + Partner, has focused on “human-scale” buildings and sustainable city planning. While Speer Jr. completed numerous projects in his home city of Frankfurt, many of his firm’s most renowned projects have been large-scale international commissions. The firm’s work ranges from architecture, urban planning, transportation, landscape design and mega-event commissions such as the master plan leading to a successful bid for the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup. Other works include international campuses, residential developments, small-scale mixed use developments, educational facilities, and international government buildings.
Despite prolonged attempts to overcome his father’s legacy, the architect would occasionally bump up against his family’s fascist reputation. When Albert Speer + Partner decided to work on a commissioned project for a courthouse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the firm was accused of working with an authoritarian government, and directly compared to Speer, Sr.’s Nazi legacy. Even-though Speer, Jr.’s discreet, humble and progressive designs were often seen as a conscious attempt to go against his father’s style, comparisons and criticism still arose. Speer Jr.’s family heritage could never be fully erased.
The designer of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, Jewish American architect Peter Eisenman, Speer’s colleague and friend for many years, reflected on their relationship in the Guardian: “With Albert, there is a bit of an edge, but we are great friends. It’s the fascination of the other; Albert always wanted to be a Jewish intellectual, and I always wanted to be a f…[fascist] We can’t all be what we want to be.”