The architect who tried to escape his Nazi father’s legacy
Albert Speer Jr. 1934–2017
Albert Speer Jr. spent his five-decade career as an architect and urban planner trying to distance himself from his father: Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect and armaments minister. While Speer Sr. produced monumental, neoclassical architecture for the Nazis, Speer Jr. focused on sustainable, eco-friendly designs. Yet comparisons were inevitable. For the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Speer Jr. designed a five-mile-long boulevard linking the Forbidden City to the “Bird’s Nest” stadium— a plan that critics likened to his father’s plan for a grand thoroughfare slicing through central Berlin. Speer Jr. dismissed the criticism. He was simply trying to “transport a 2,000-year-old city into the future,” he explained, while his father’s Berlin designs were “just megalomania.”
Speer Jr. was born in Berlin, “one year after Hitler had seized power,” said The Times (U.K.). He chafed against his disciplinarian father but enjoyed visiting Hitler, who he said had the demeanor of a “nice uncle.” Speer Jr. developed a stutter at age 12 after his father was convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He later dropped out of school and trained as a carpenter—“if you build, you don’t have to talk much,” Speer Jr. explained—before studying architecture and launching his own practice in Frankfurt, Germany.
He would become one of Germany’s most successful architects, designing soccer stadiums in Qatar and whole cities in Algeria, and collaborating on the European Central Bank building, said The Washington Post. In 2006, Speer Jr. admitted that his father’s fascistic legacy had influenced his own work. “Maybe one feels especially obliged to produce humane architecture,” he said, “when you have had such a father.” ■