The genial architect in wire-rimmed glasses planned and designed soccer stadiums in Qatar, sweeping roadways in China and entire cities in Algeria, and in a five-decade career was described as one of the finest urban planners in Germany.
For all the acclaim, he received few commissions in the German capital. Clients, he said, probably feared the inevitable headline: Albert Speer — “the devil’s architect,” Hitler’s master builder, the man who was sentenced to 20 years in prison at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials — was again building in Berlin.
Nevermind the builder was in this case his son.
“I have spent my entire life trying to differentiate myself from my father, to distance myself,” Albert Speer Jr. told Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in 2010.
Mr. Speer, who died Sept. 15 at 83, never fully succeeded in escaping from the shadow of his father, Hitler’s principal architect and armaments minister.
His buildings were often constructed in thematic opposition to those of the elder Speer, whose unrealized designs included a triumphal arch that would have been three times the size of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
“Mr. Speer’s reputation,” a reporter for the New York Times observed in 2003, “is for the opposite of what his father did — not monumentalism for its own sake but environmentally conscious buildings in the tradition of what is sometimes called progressive humanism in architecture.”
Still, the two architects were endlessly compared, much to Mr. Speer’s chagrin. His plan for the Expo 2000 fair in Hanover, some critics said, recalled his father’s design for the German Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition.
His work developing Leipzig’s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Olympics, they said, mirrored his father’s design for parade grounds in Nuremberg. (The site was supposed to host a contest known as the “Aryan Games,” a replacement for the Olympics.)
In both cases, the links were largely superficial and could be taken as an apparent Speer-family proclivity for the design of global exhibition spaces.
During the lead-up to the 2008 Games in Beijing, Mr. Speer designed a wide, five-mile boulevard across Beijing’s central axis, guiding visitors from a train station in the south to the Forbidden City and on to the Olympic Green.
Critics said it was clearly inspired by Mr. Speer’s father, who had envisioned a similar north-south axis for postwar Berlin, a world capital Hitler had christened Germania.
Both projects dislocated thousands of residents, New School international affairs professor Nina Khrushcheva wrote in a widely syndicated editorial, and functioned as glorification projects for the states that built them.
“Of course, the sins of the father should never be visited on the son,” Khrushcheva added. “But, in this case, when the son borrows essential elements of his father’s architectural principles and serves a regime that seeks to use the games for some of the same reasons that animated Hitler, is he not willingly reflecting those sins?”
Mr. Speer dismissed the criticism, telling the Times of London he was simply trying to “transport a 2,000-year-old city into the future.” His father’s design for Berlin, he said, “was just megalomania,” the work of a man who had lost himself to hero worship and, in the eyes of some of his children, was more frightening than Hitler.
Albert Speer Jr. was born on July 29, 1934, one year after Hitler had consolidated power in Germany. His father, the son and grandson of architects, had joined the Nazi party in 1931 and soon struck up a rapport with its leader. “I suppose if Adolf Hitler had ever had a friend, I would have been that friend,” he said at the postwar Nuremberg trials.
Young Albert spent part of his childhood in and around the Berghof, Hitler’s retreat in the mountains. Mr. Speer said Hitler had the demeanor of a “nice uncle.” “To be called to visit Hitler was almost a happy occasion. I was allowed to play with the dogs. I got sweets,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung.
He was 12 when his father, acknowledging guilt, was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mr. Speer had by then developed a stutter.
He quit school and became an apprentice carpenter — because, he told Reuters, “if you build you don’t have to talk much” — and eventually took up the family business, studying architecture at what is now the Technical University of Munich.
His design for a “Satellite City” near Mannheim won a German architecture prize in 1966, helping to kick-start his career.
Contestants were identified by numbers rather than names, and when the judges learned his name, “everybody was baffled,” he later told the Times of London.
“ ‘What?’ said one of the members of the jury. ‘Albert Speer? I thought he’s in jail!’ That’s how I began.”
Mr. Speer’s father was released from prison that same year, and published popular memoirs beginning with “Inside the Third Reich” (1969). The two maintained cool relations until Albert Speer’s death in 1981.
Mr. Speer lived and worked for many years in Frankfurt, where he founded what is now the firm Albert Speer + Partner GmbH in 1964, initially working out of his loft apartment. When clients called, he had his girlfriend clack away at a typewriter, imitating the sounds of a busy corporate office; when they visited in person, he enlisted friends to come over and act as his employees.
The company, which employs more than 200 people and has a second office in Shanghai, announced his death in Frankfurt but did not provide additional details.
Mr. Speer married actress Ingmar Zeisberg in 1972, and that year began serving as chair of the urban and regional planning department at the University of Kaiserslautern.
He continued at his architectural firm until last year, helping to devise the master plan for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar — a contentious construction project that has reportedly resulted in the deaths of more than 1,200 migrant workers.
His plan for the development included a flourish that, typical for the firm, focused on sustainability: a concept for stadiums that could be disassembled and shipped to developing countries when the World Cup had finished.
Mr. Speer once mused it may have been his father’s legacy that pressed him in such a direction, designing projects with “a big focus on ecology, sustainability and compatible architecture, rather than preconceived architectural structures.”
“Maybe one feels especially obliged to produce humane architecture and city planning when you have had such a father,” he told Reuters in 2006, noting he saw no reason to change his name. “My ambition to do something for other people is something to do with the name.”