The origins of the Kölner Werkschulen can be found in the Sunday school established by the painter Egidius Mengelberg in 1822 at the Jesuit buildings. This was incorporated into the "Royal Prussian Provincial Vocational School Cologne" founded in 1833. In 1910 Emil Thormählen came to Cologne to develop a School of Applied Arts as part of the German Werkbund movement. However his plans to build a new school building had to be postponed due to the outbreak of war in 1914. When the plans could not be taken forward immediately after the war, Thormählen retired November 1919. In April 1924, the architect Martin Elsaesser was the director of the school and designed a "Red House", an expressionist, red brick building on Ubierring 40.
In 1926 the school was reorganized and the Mayor, Konrad Adenauer, designated it the "Cologne Werkschulen", in accordance with the Bauhaus point of view. He said, "Bonn is for science (= University) and Dusseldorf for Art (= Academy) but in Cologne I want both." Adenauer got his way by 1919 with the University of Cologne, and in 1924 with his Cologne art school (Werkschulen), with both buildings almost within sight of each other.