Martin Elsaesser was born in Tübingen in 1884 as the second-youngest of the ten children of the theologian Karl August Elsaesser and his wife Marie Sofie Werner. He studied architecture at the Technical Universities of Stuttgart and Munich, with Friedrich von Thiersch (Munich) and Theodor Fischer (Stuttgart). In 1905 he won the competition for the Protestant church of Baden-Baden-Lichtental (built 1907), which began his career as an independent architect. From 1906 to 1908 he was assistant to Prof Fischer and from 1908-1909 to Prof Paul Bonatz at the Technical University Stuttgart. From 1909-1912 he taught there on an independent basis, until he was nominated in 1912 as extraordinary Professor for Architectural Design, Medieval Architecture and Theory of Construction.
From 1920 to 1925 Elsaesser was managing director of the School of Arts and Crafts at Cologne (later known as the Kölner Werkschulen). In 1925, Frankfurt Lord Mayor Ludwig Landmann named him Head of the city’s building department, at the same time as Ernst May was put in charge of urban planning. Elsaesser kept his position as Director of Building Works until 1932, while maintaining his private architect’s practice and professorship of Architectural History. His largest construction during his time at Frankfurt was the Grossmarkthalle, while his most personally satisfying commission was “Haus K. in O.”, a large private villa built for the cigarette magnate Philipp Reemtsma in Hamburg-Ottmarschen between 1930-1932.
From 1933 to 1937 he worked as an independent architect in Munich, and from 1938 to 1945 he lived in Berlin. Subject to defamation and personal attacks by the National Socialist press in Germany, he received no further commissions after 1933, but was able to supervise and realize a number of projects in Turkey, notably the design and construction of the Sümer Bank in Ankara. During the war years, Elsaesser led a withdrawn life in Berlin, devoting himself to his other passion: music, designing buildings for the future in the style of his early work, and composing more than 300 occasional poems, along with two epic poems and several libretti for music dramas.
1946 Elsaesser returned to Stuttgart, in the hope of renewing his ties with the academic and architectural community, and of contributing to the reconstruction work of Germany’s cities. In a series of programmatic essays and pamphlets on contemporary problems of urbanism and city planning, he demonstrated his pragmatic as well as conservationist approach in the debate over the future of the bombed out buildings and cities. Apart from assisting in the repair and reconstruction of several of his own buildings, no new commissions materialized either in Stuttgart or elsewhere, and Elsaesser accepted in 1948 a post as Acting Professor of Architectural Design at the Technical University Munich, which he held until his retirement in 1956.
On the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1954 he was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit by the President of the Federal Republic, Theodor Heuss. He suffered a first stroke in 1955, from which he recovered. After a second stroke, and following complications due to pneumonia, he died on August 8th, 1957.
Martin Elsaesser is buried at the Waldfriedhof in Stuttgart.