BAUHAUS, DESSAU

Designed by Walter Gropius; completed 1926 Dessau, Germany
Walter Gropius (1883–1969), the founder and first director of the Bauhaus, was the
architect of the Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany, completed in 1926. This new
28,000-plus square-foot educational building, which became the symbol for the renowned
avant-garde academy of design in Germany, was the second home for this architecture
and design school. Gropius, whose visionary zeal created the Bauhaus School in Weimar
in 1919, moved the school from Weimar to Dessau in 1925 at the invitation of Dessau’s
progressive mayor, Fritz Hesse. The design of the Bauhaus was begun in 1925, after he
moved to Dessau, and formally opened 4–5 December 1926.
The building design exemplified Gropius’s educational philosophy, “Art and
Technology: A New Unity,” which expressed the critical and inventive role of architects
and designers within the seemingly chaotic and rapidly changing technological society of
the times. This slogan, revised from “Art and Craft: A New Unity,” his first 1919 Weimar
Bauhaus slogan, referred to a building both designed through and fitted with up-to-date
machinery that promoted the development of prototypical contemporary designs for
industrial production. His design invoked debates between architects who worked within
the tradition of fine arts, craft, and handicraft and those who embraced the potential for
technological advances promised by modern industry. Gropius, with his partner Adolf
Meyer, first explored these questions in their design of the Fagus Werk (1912, 1914) in
Alfeld, Germany. Gropius’s Bauhaus building extends his philosophy and synthesizes
these seemingly opposing beliefs whose outcome was shared: to raise the standards of
design and public taste through modern technology.
The Dessau Bauhaus building was conceived during an atmosphere of political and
social turmoil in Germany. Formerly a state-supported school in Weimar, once the rightwing
conservative majority in Weimar came to power, the school was denounced in 1923
as filled with avant-garde foreign Bolsheviks, and in 1925 demands leading to its closure
were imminent. Gropius, who quickly searched for another home, found Dessau. Dessau,
led by progressive Social Democrats, made the school a city-funded institution and
provided construction funds and prime sites for the new building complex and its faculty
residences (1926). Dessau’s progressive roots could be traced back to Prince Leopold
Friedrich Franz von Anhalt-Dessau (1740–1817), who believed that design should
combine “beauty with use.” Between 1765 and 1820, Prince Anhalt-Dessau, who created
Europe’s first English-style landscapes, redesigned Dessau and neighboring areas,
including Wörlitz Park (1790 and later). Wörlitz, designed by the prince and his friend
Baron Erdmannsdorff, was model for Dessau’s principles of enlightened government and
religious tolerance. The Bauhaus building, a landmark building for Dessau, was set in a
natural parklike setting outside the city center. This permitted the design to become a
counterpoint to Dessau’s urban industrial fabric. Similar to Gropius’s motto “Art and
Technology: A New Unity,” the building could be seen in light of the area’s traditional
promotion of visionary architects.
The mayor recognized that Dessau’s design problems could become design projects
for Gropius and his Bauhaus. These were typical design problems that industrial urban
centers faced: the necessity for careful urban planning that directed rapid growth and
Entries A–F 219
carefully conceived housing that provided the resulting expanding population with
housing, schools, and other institutional and civic buildings. Gropius moved his
architectural practice to Dessau, leaving his partner Adolf Meyer, and began working
with architects Ernst Neufert and Carl Fieger on the design and construction of the
Bauhaus as well as other new projects, including the masters’ houses (1926), the
workers’ housing estate (1928) at Törten, and the Dessau Employment Office (1929).
Architects Carl Fieger and Ernst Neufert developed the design of the Bauhaus in
Dessau with Gropius. Ernst Neufert was head architect in Gropius’s office, and Carl
Fieger developed the initial sketches in 1925 to establish the idea of the building. Fieger
had a profound effect on the design. His sketches show three parts of the building, each a
distinct element of the building’s program yet joined as one building by various bridging,
roofing, and massing elements. Initially, the program consisted of the arts and crafts
school, workshops, and administrative offices. The administration area was located
between the two other areas, serving as an actual and conceptual bridge between the
school and workshops and spanning a road that bisected the site. Additional areas,
student housing, dining/auditorium facilities, and generous and carefully designed public
spaces within the building created contiguous social gathering spaces within the
institution. Spacious stairs with generous landings, well-proportioned lobbies, foyers, and
hallways (“circulation areas”) provided places for formal and informal gatherings.
Gropius’s building was very different from those buildings designed from Renaissance
or baroque principles. Unlike these historical precedents, the Bauhaus was neither
symmetrical nor axial. As Gropius explained, one had to “walk right around the whole
building” in order to understand the design. Otherwise, its design could be understood
only from the air. His favorite photographs, which were published throughout the world,
were aerial views of the building. Seen from above, Gropius’s building was a series of
simple cubic masses joined by planar roofs. What could not be experienced from aerial
photography were the phenomenal effects of light and space captured by and within the
building.
As the inventor of the “dematerialized” corner, Gropius expressed this
innovation of the glass curtain wall here as well as in his Fagus factory.
The metal and glass “curtain” was hung from the exterior edge of a
cantilevered, unsupported (and seemingly floating) floor slab, revealing
empty and open corners. This structural innovation, which permitted the
corner column to disappear, allowed the workshop wing to appear as if it
were wrapped in glass. A clear reference to the Utopian and
Expressionistic writings of German poet Paul Scheerbart, Gropius
brilliantly detailed the transparent wall as curtain, taking full advantage of
the technological possibilities provided by the primary structural system: a
reinforced-concrete frame with cantilevered slabs (deeper than necessary
due to contemporary building codes).

Bauhaus building (1926), designed by
Walter Gropius, Dessau, Germany
The reinforced-concrete skeleton,
with mushroom- headed columns, was in-filled with brickwork and hollow tile floors. The glass and steel
curtain wall included operable steel windows (currently aluminum) whose exposed and
articulated control devices created yet another sublime homage to machined technology,
which remains intimately engaged to the hand and body. In many ways, this building
reinforced the corporeal nature of the body as well as the building, as evidenced by the
design of asphalt-tiled terrace-roofs and balconies, all part of the educational and social
life of the school.
The style of this building is modern, without a doubt. However, beyond that obvious
fact, others have variously described its form and style. Historians Henry-Russell
Hitchcock and Philip Johnson used this building to derive their interpretations of
International Style. They also claimed it to be the model for a “Bauhaus” style. Theo van
Doesburg, the Dutch artist and architect, claimed it as a prime example of his De Stijl
(literally, “the style”), whereas others claimed it as a part of the ambiguous Neue Sachlickeit (New
Objectivity), implying a consistent and carefully worked out rationalism. Others see it as
a modern representation of the complete or “total work of art,” or Ges amtkunstwerk, as a collaboration of
all members of the Bauhaus: the director, teachers (“masters”), and students who made
furniture, fittings, hardware, and finishings in the workshops. One might argue that it has
no style but rather that it addressed its own Zeitgeist (spirit of the time)—as
contemporary topics and ideas.
Entries A–F 221
The Dessau Bauhaus recently named one of only three modern buildings
on the UNESCO world heritage list, has recently undergone a renovation
that will by 2006 have fully restored the building to its pristine and
original state. This honors note-worthy features that made it a model of
both modern and contemporary design. Clear distinction between the
building’s parts and its overall layout, the large expanse of glass covering
the entire street, and careful detailing remain delightful and fascinating.
Gropius, who believed that architecture shapes “the patterns of life,” took
these “patterns” beyond simple function to create forms that shape the
beauty and wonder of the activities of life. This was confirmed by Nelly
Schwalacher’s description of her visit, which she wrote for a German
newspaper in the fall of 1927:
I arrive in Dessau at dawn. Fog hands over the city. Our headlights
occasionally penetrate the damp air. But the eye is drawn to a dazzling
beam of light. A giant light cube: the new Bauhaus building. Later, with
sunshine and blue sky, the building remains a focal point of lightness and
brightness. Glass, glass and more glass, radiating daz-zling white light
from every wall. I have never seen such a light reflector. And the weight
of the walls is neutralized by two factors, namely the high glass walls
openly revealing the light steel structure of the building and the radiating
whiteness. (“Das Neue Bauhaus,” Frankfurter Zeitung, evening edition [31 October 1927];
from Droste, 1990)
However, realities derived from the design created their own problems within the
building: undersized and inefficient heating, huge heat gain and heat loss from expansive,
unprotected, and noninsulated glass facades; poorly maintained roofs, which led to
leakage; and a lack of privacy, which, according to today’s American traditions, would be
unacceptable. For example, art historian Rudolf Arnheim inadvertently revealed a lack of
privacy: “Looking in through the large windows, you can see people hard at work or
relaxing in private” (Droste, 1990).
Gropius resigned as Bauhaus director soon after the building’s completion and was
followed by architects Hannes Meyer and then Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who
strengthened and focused the coursework in architecture. However, in 1932 the Bauhaus
lost its municipal support and its beloved building after Dessau’s Social Democrats were
defeated by the National Socialist Party. Mies van der Rohe restructured the school and
moved it to Berlin. The Nazis dissolved it in 1933.
The building was transformed after the Bauhaus program moved out. First, on 1
October 1932, it was dissolved as a municipal institution, and then the National Socialist
majority, who described the building as a “squalid glass palace in oriental taste,” pushed
for its demolition. Although the building might have been saved, once the Nazis came to
power, the building was raided. All documentation, drawings, furnishings, and even
fittings were destroyed or stolen. During World War II, the glass curtain wall of the
workshop wing was almost entirely destroyed. In 1948 it was replaced by brick walls
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 222
with small square windows. The building held various institutions: a girls’ finishing
school, a Nazi training school, part of the Junkers military aircraft manufacturing
company, a POW camp, and, after the war, a homeless shelter and the home of schools
displaced by the war. In 1964 the windows were replaced by horizontal bands of glass
with wide spandrels until 1974, when the East Germans included the building on their list
of significant monuments and began restoration. In 1984 it became the home of the
“Center of Form at the Dessau Bauhaus” and, most recently, the “Bauhaus Foundation.”
This organization, currently renamed the “Bauhaus Kolleg” and directed by an urban
planner, addresses the “problems” and “spirit” of the present.
Few of Gropius’s contemporaries and later critics agreed with the Nazis’ assessment.
Before World War II, the Bauhaus buildings were the epitome of modern architecture in
Germany. Hundreds of visitors from Germany and abroad traveled to Dessau. Its renown
extended from constant publicity through photographs, especially aerial photography,
exhibits, publications, and the writings of prominent critics. In 1927 Rudolf Arnheim
wrote about the clarity of structure and skillful yet honest construction. Eleven years
later, Alfred H.Barr Jr., then director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York,
described it as the most important structure of its decade, and in 1954 Sigfried Giedion
called it the first building to employ a radically new conception of space. From the time it
was completed to the present, architects and students in architecture considered the
Bauhaus building in Dessau as one of the most, if not the most, influential buildings of
the modern period of architecture. It remains a mecca for students, practitioners, and
connoisseurs of architecture.

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