SEMPER, Gottfried
(b. 1803, Altona, d. 1879, Roma)


German architect. He studied in Rome, Munich and Paris. In 1826 he went to France to work under the architect François Chrétien Gau (1790-1853) and in Paris he witnessed the July Revolution of 1830. Between 1830 and 1833 he studied the architecture of Greece and Italy in those countries, including a four month study of the Acropolis in Athens.

He became a Professor of Architecture at the Academy in Dresden in 1834. In 1835 he married Bertha Thimmig. They had six children.

In 1840 a synagogue by his design was completed, followed by a Court Theatre in 1841. In 1849 he took an active part in the revolution together with Richard Wagner. After the revolution was suppressed he fled the city and a warrant for his arrest was maintained until 1863.

Semper went to Zwickau, Hof, Karlsruhe, Strasbourg and then Paris. In 1850 he moved on to London where he participated in the 1851 World Exhibition. In London he published several theoretical writings on architecture. In 1855 he was appointed professor at the new polytechnical school in Zurich. He was now able to bring his family from Saxony to Zurich and one of his designs in Switzerland was the Town Hall in Winterthur.

In 1864 he created a concept for a Wagner theatre in Munich, but it was never realized, although Wagner used some elements of his design for his theatre in Bayreuth.

The first Court Theatre in Dresden had burnt down in 1869 and he was asked to build another. Semper designed the theatre, but the building was done by his son between 1871 and 1879. It is now known as the Semper Opera (it was bombed in 1945 but rebuilt between 1979 and 1985).

In 1871 he moved to Vienna where he worked on the redevelopment of the Ringstrasse. His plan for an Imperial Forum was not realized, but the large National Museums near the Hofburg as well as the Hoftheater were built where he planned them. After disagreements with architect Karl von Hasenauer (1833-1894) he resigned from the project in 1876.

In 1879 he died during a visit to Rome. He was buried at the Protestant Cemetery in that city.

As an eclectic, Semper achieved powerful design solutions. Among his main works are the Opera House (Dresden; 1837-41, rebuilt 1878); the Zurich Polytechnikum (1858-64); and, with Karl von Hasenauer, the Burgtheater (1874-88) and the two imperial museums (1872-81), all in Vienna. In his influential writings, principally Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten (1860-63; "Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts") he stressed a rational interpretation of techniques as a source of style, and recommended the use of colour in decorative arts and architecture.