SAH Blog

  • Rediscovering the Bauhaus at 100

    By
    Jennifer Tate
     |
    Nov 12, 2019

    Bauhaus Centennial in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin
    October 10-14, 2019

    This October, Dr. Barry Bergdoll, professor of art history at Columbia University and former Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Dr. Dietrich Neumann, professor of art and architecture and the Director of Urban Studies at Brown University, led SAH participants on a study tour celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Bauhaus. The tour traced the development of Bauhaus art and design from its 1919 founding in Weimar through the iconic Dessau years to its 1933 demise in Berlin at the hands of the National Socialists. Exploration of important Bauhaus sites in conjunction with special centennial-inspired museum exhibitions in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin made it clear that the Bauhaus was, in reality, far from a canonical monolith. Rather, the school was composed of multiple and sometimes competing ideas, ideologies, and experimentations from a diverse group of individuals. Understanding that the Bauhaus was more than “a kind of shorthand for an international modern style unmoored from any particular moment”1 makes it possible to recognize it instead as a deeply human endeavor. In the interlude between the devastation of World War I and the tragedy of World War II, the Bauhaus sought to use experimentation in art and design as a way to articulate uncertainties and harness the technological promise of modernity to enhance the expression of life in all its complexities.

    Bauhaus – Weimar

     Photo 2

    While the iconic Dessau structure is nearly synonymous with the “Bauhaus” architectural style today, the school began its life in a building closer in form to Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art than the International Style. Belgian architect Henry van de Velde designed the Grand Ducal School of Art and the Grand Ducal School of Arts and Crafts buildings from 1904 to 1911, which Walter Gropius took over in 1919 to form the Bauhaus. Gropius did apply his own design approach to the renovation of his Weimar office, however. The office plan exhibits an imposed geometric rationality based upon the square as the unit of measurement, utilizes primary color accents, and includes a bare tubular metal and fluorescent lighting fixture that would also be incorporated into the Bauhaus Dessau building.

    Photo 3
    Taking the opportunity to celebrate the work of Van de Velde and his relationship to many of the underlying themes of the early Bauhaus, the tour group visited the Haus Hohe Pappeln, Van de Velde’s Weimar home. The architect designed the house as a Gesamtkunstwerk and lived here with his family from 1908 to 1916.

    Photo 4
    Henry van de Velde’s Haus Hohe Pappeln in Weimar.

     
    Photo 5
    Johannes Itten used this pentagram-ornamented neogothic tower in the Park an der Ilm, designed by Goethe in 1816 for the local Free Masons Guild, as his classroom during the Weimar years of the Bauhaus. Itten emphasized the appreciation of form, color, and material in his introductory course and encouraged his students to participate in meditation practices and vegetarianism. Students of the Bauhaus also held wild parties in this building, which was nearly destroyed in the 1945 bombing of Weimar.

    Photo 6
    Participants contemplate the Monument to the March Dead, constructed by Gropius in 1922. The design, a concrete expressionist gesture invoking the power and fury of a lightning bolt, commemorates those killed resisting the Kapp Putsch, a right-wing attempt to overthrow the Weimar government. The original monument was destroyed by the Nazis in 1936. 

    Photo 7
    Tour group participants wait to enter the Haus am Horn, built for the Bauhaus’s first exhibition in 1923. It was designed by Georg Muche and constructed with steel and concrete. The house featured furniture by Marcel Breuer and Benita Koch-Otte’s kitchen would later inspire Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt kitchen.

    Photo 8
    Participants were lucky to visit Weimar during the Onion Festival, a tradition dating back to 1653. Food and drink stalls filled with onion tarts, beer, Thuringian sausages, and pretzels, along with craft stalls featuring wreaths and ornaments made from various onion bulbs, filled squares across the city center.

     

    Bauhaus – Dessau

    Photo 9
    The Bauhaus Dessau was built under the direction of Walter Gropius and his private architectural practice from 1925 to 1926, before the inclusion of architecture within the school’s curriculum. The building consists of three joined units – a vocational school, a workshop wing, and student dormitories. Heavily damaged by Allied bombing in 1945, the building was restored in 1976.

    Photo 10
    View of the entrance leading into the workshop space on the right and the bridge to the vocational school and Gropius’s office to the left. The bold red color signifies movement and guides circulation through the building.

    Photo 11
    The concrete frame of the Bauhaus building is visible through the glass curtain wall. The louvered windows open in unison, linked together by a pully and chain system. The mechanism is visible through the glass in the corner of each floor.

    Photo 12
    Exterior view of the theater and canteen leading into the dormitory tower.

    Photo 13
    View of the vocational school wing. Marianne Brandt’s light fixtures were used extensively in Bauhaus buildings, and they can be seen here through the windows of the vocational wing. As a woman Brandt had to fight for her place in the metal workshop, though she eventually became director of the department. Brandt also designed the iconic Bauhaus coffee and tea sets. 

    Photo 14
    Gropius and his architectural office designed the Törten housing development for the city of Dessau from 1926 to 1928. The low cost housing units were constructed from prefabricated concrete blocks and beams, which Gropius hoped would allow for a more efficient, organized building process. Ample garden space was included with each unit, providing families with access to fresh air and the ability to grow food. Although most houses in the development have been altered over the years, participants were able to tour a unit that was restored to its original condition.

    Photo 15
    Constructed from a steel skeleton covered in steel panels, this experimental house was designed by Georg Muche and Richard Paulick in 1926. It is located in the Bauhaus Törten housing development. Despite its austere exterior appearance, the large vertical windows flood each room with light while views out into the surrounding nature enliven the space.

    Photo 16
    Participants explore the Laubenganghäuer working-class apartments designed by Hannes Meyer and the architecture department of the Bauhaus in 1928. The brick buildings are located next to the Törten housing development.

    Photo 17
    View down the balcony hallway of the Laubenganghäuer in Dessau.

    Photo 18
    Store and attached apartment building designed by Gropius in 1928 as part of the Törten housing development in Dessau.

    Photo 19
    Tour participants examine the Employment Office in Dessau, completed by Gropius in 1929. Clerestory windows and a glass roof brighten the interior (the white trimmed lower windows in the brick exterior were a later modification). The interior was designed to maximize functionality and efficiency – Dessau citizens seeking employment would first divide according to gender and then by occupation, with movable partitions adjusted to control the flow of people through the space.

    Photo 20
    Participants examine the concrete cantilevered dining room after being treated to lunch at the historic Kornhaus Restaurant. The restaurant was designed in 1929 by Carl Fieger, a draftsman in Gropius’s office.

    Photo 21
    Gropius and his architectural firm designed the Masters Houses – three semidetached houses for Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Lyonel Feininger, Georg Muche, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee and a detached director’s house – in 1926. The interiors of the fully restored Kandinsky/Klee houses feature an explosion of color, with hues of yellow, lavender, blue, mint, red, peach, black, and white adorning every surface.

    Photo 22
    Participants explore the Moholy-Nagy/Feininger houses. The Masters Houses were damaged during the 1945 Allied bombing of Dessau and suffered further damage after the war. The Moholy-Nagy house was reconstructed in 2014 by the Berlin firm Bruno Fioretti Marquez as a simplified form symbolizing the destroyed structure – “a blurry memorial of what was irretrievably lost,” according to Dr. Neumann.

    Photo 23
    Participants listen to the tour guide explain the significance of the Trinkhalle Kiosk adjacent to the Masters Houses in Dessau. The kiosk was designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1932. Punched into the garden wall encasing Gropius’s director’s house, it is the only Mies design in Dessau. 

    Photo 24
    The fourth day of the tour began with a rowboat excursion through the Wörlitz Landscape Garden. The picturesque garden, created by the Duke of Anhalt-Dessau in the eighteenth century, was one of the earliest landscape gardens in continental Europe. It drew much of its inspiration from Stourhead in England, and significantly, was open to the public from its inception.

     

    Bauhaus – Berlin

     
    Photo 1
    At the Berlinische Galerie exhibition “Original Bauhaus,” a tour participant has fun recreating the iconic photograph of a masked Bauhaus woman posing in a Breuer chair. 

    Photo 25
    Participants ended the tour with a traditional German dinner at Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s restored Lemke House. Designed in 1932, the back of the small L-shaped house opens up onto a beautifully curated garden. Used by the East German secret police during the Soviet era, the house underwent extensive restoration in 2000. 

    Photo 26
    Before saying goodbye on the final morning of the tour, participants enjoyed breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of the Reichstag. The group took in views of the city from Norman Foster’s 1999 dome addition.

    Photo 27
    Interior of the Reichstag dome.

     

    Sources

    “Bauhaus 100” SAH study tour guide provided by Dietrich Neumann

    “Bauhaus Buildings in Dessau,” Bauhaus Dessau Museum, https://www.bauhaus-dessau.de/en/architecture/bauhaus-buildings-in-dessau.html.

    Barry Bergdoll, “What was the Bauhaus?” The New York Times, April 30, 2019.

    Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman, Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity 1919-1933 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2009).

    Wita Noack, Mies van der Rohe Schlicht und Ergreifend Landhaus Lemke (Berlin: Form + Zweck, 2017).

    Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler, Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective (London: Herbert Press, 2019).

    Wolfgang Thöner, Andreas Butter, Wolfgang Savelsberg, and Ingo Pfeifer, Architectural Guide: Dessau/Wörlitz (Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2016).

    Nina Wiedemeyer, ed., Original Bauhaus (Munich: Prestel, 2019).

    All photos by Jennifer Tate

    Jennifer is a PhD Candidate in Architectural History at the University of Texas in Austin. Her dissertation, Good Americans in Good American Houses: The Politics of Identity and Modern Housing Design in the New Deal Era, examines the intersection between American modern housing and politics, government, and society during the New Deal.



    1 Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman, “Curators’ Preface,” Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity 1919-1933 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2009), 12. MoMA’s 2009 Bauhaus exhibition approached its examination of the school in these broad, contextual, multifaceted, and personal terms. See also Barry Bergdoll, “What was the Bauhaus?” The New York Times, April 30, 2019.

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  • On Beauty and the City: A Brooks Final Report

    By
    Zachary J. Violette
     |
    Nov 1, 2019

    Zachary J. Violette is the 2018 recipient of the short-term H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise noted.

    When I conceived of applying for the Brooks Fellowship back in the summer of 2018 I was in a period of intellectual expansiveness. I had just concluded what had been a decade-long research project—initially my dissertation, then my first book—on the American tenement. This was a small but crucial piece of my larger interest in the city writ large of the (long) nineteenth century, and its physical and visual manifestations. How did people, who suddenly found themselves in a new world of both abundance and unsettling change brought about by the new industrial order, mediate their experiences through architectural form? But last summer I was also feeling the limitations of my training and my intellectual horizons more generally. While trained as an Americanist, I never really conceived of my work in narrowly provincial, or even geographically constrained terms. Still, the wider urban world, even the wider western world, was largely an abstraction to me, understood mostly through reading and fairly limited travel. (When I wrote the Brooks application I had only been abroad twice, never alone, and never when I could focus solely on my work.)

    My sense that I did not adequately understand the context of the things about which I spoke was heightened by an important realization that I came upon late in the process of researching the tenement book. Most of my subjects for that project had come from central and eastern Europe; many of them were even trained there. For all of them the cities of that region had acted as an important reference point for how the modern city looked and was arranged. This gave them, I understood, a view of the city and its buildings that was different than many Americans. It became increasingly clear that the buildings I was looking at, profuse with unusual forms, were something of a cultural hybrid. With a sense that my interests might be more transnational than I had realized, I sketched out a series of observations based on the resources available to me. I knew, in short, that there were buildings in Berlin and Vienna, in Vilnius and Kyiv, that bore significant relationships to those that I was interested in in New York and Boston. But this increasingly broad viewpoint ran headlong into a core methodological conviction that I held dear as a vernacularist: that you have to look at a lot of buildings, and their context, to really understand any of them. A few isolated and decontextualized examples are shaky ground on which to build an argument about the everyday landscapes in which I am interested. I felt a bit queasy about the assertions I was making about places I had not seen.

    All that said, I also recognized, that the Brooks Fellowship was not intended to support a research project. And therein lay its great attraction. With the tenement book already off to the copy editor by the time I was writing my proposal, and with the current book in the works still American in its scope, my aspirations for the trip were more general. Indeed, at that point I had not really seen enough of these places to form any serious research questions about them. What I really needed to do was reconnaissance. I wanted to understand the broad contexts. I wanted to see and feel. To look at relationships between things. To observe and contemplate. This is exactly what the fellowship was designed for.

    But in the spirit of only asking for what you need, my request was moderate: travel to ten cities over the course of 60 days, broken up into two legs, interrupted by conference season. This resulted in what I understand to be the first short-term Brooks Fellowship ever awarded. In the spring: Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, and to not be entirely western-centric, Istanbul. In the summer: Warsaw and Lodz, Poland; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Lviv and Kyiv, Ukraine.  To take advantage of more reasonable flights (the original plan had been for each leg to start in Berlin) the summer trip began briefly in Paris and ended in Rome. Those were two places not on the original itinerary, but never having seen the latter city before, it turned into an important detour. In retrospect I regret not being more ambitious, asking for a longer fellowship term with more generous stays in each city and more places on the itinerary. But the compressed nature of the trip allowed me to hone the skill of achieving a high-level understanding of the essence of a place, and accumulating a lot of data on it, quickly and efficiently. The first days in each city were usually a mad dash, covering as much ground, often to the point of exhaustion, as possible. These were the “fieldwork” days.  I worked in concentric circles, starting in the old core of each city, and working my way out through the nineteenth-century extensions, and outward. My aim on these days was thoroughness, at least a thoroughly representative sampling of the sort of things I was interested in. If the early days were expansive, the middle days were intensive. This was the time to go into things: museums, churches, palaces, opera houses (so many of these), building lobbies and courtyards, anything that was open. The final days, which I always looked forward to, were the time for contemplation and reflection. Here I would go back to some of my favorite spots—parks and promenades, cafes, or most commonly the quiet interiors of baroque churches—and spend uninterrupted hours writing and sketching. Here is where I consolidated everything I saw and attempted to understand it. 

    I operated with two or three basic, guiding questions. First, I wanted to look at the diffusion, spread, and differing forms of the tenement and the bourgeois apartment building. I understood the fundamental difference between continental Europe and the United States was the extent to which the core of their cities was built up with multi-family housing. I also knew that the “rental palace” was a highly contested form in many of these places, fraught with meaning and association. I wanted to understand them in depth and in breath, to more fully comprehend their spatial and aesthetic logic. And most of these were set within cities that had grown substantially in this period, so understanding this context, and the relationship between historic core and nineteenth-century growth was a particular focus. The edges between older core and new extension, usually the site of former city walls, was a particularly fertile place for exploration. (Figure 1) In part this was because in this edge landscape was placed many of the apparatuses of bourgeois culture: opera houses, museums, universities and other institutes, government buildings of all sorts. And this usually related to some major shopping street, with a phantasmagoria of retail architecture. A second, related interest, in this landscape centered on architectural ornament. These places, in the nineteenth century, were the epicenter of the most florid forms of exterior decoration, on the widest range of building types, of perhaps any point in history, anywhere in the world. So long the subject of modernist opprobrium, I do not believe we yet understand the significance of this culture of ornamentation fully on its own terms. I wanted a fuller sense of what eclecticism and historicism—the two amorphous -isms of nineteenth century architecture—really meant, on the ground, for most people. And I sought to gain an understanding of the regional variations of ornamental forms within buildings that were, in general, programmatically consistent from city to city. (This is the germ of my next project—the third book.) Finally, the twentieth-century reaction to these buildings was also an unexpected source of fascination: the stripped facades of Berlin, their exclusion from the selective postwar reconstruction of Warsaw, the large-scale demolitions in Bucharest, their decay in Budapest and Lodz, the pristine restoration in Vienna. In all of these places the contrast between the hopefulness embodied in the nineteenth-century landscape, and the despair suggested by its devastation in the tragedies of the twentieth century, was powerfully resonant.

    Lviv, Ukraine
    Figure 1. The edges between the historic core and nineteenth-century extensions proved to be a particularly fertile place for exploration. Here in Lviv, Ukraine.

    Travel, of course, allows for a deeper understanding of a place. This is particularly true if you’re able to use a city the way it was intended. To this end, I planned as many aspects of this trip as possible to support my research interests. This was particularly true of accommodations. Instead of hotels, in every city I stayed in an Airbnb, most of which were located in exactly the sorts of buildings I was interested in. Not only were these located right where I needed to be, it meant I got to spend pretty much my entire trip living in the kind of “rental palaces” I was studying. Indeed, some of the most important insights from the trip came from the privileged and intimate access to courtyards, staircases, balconies, and interior spaces that these accommodations allowed. The last day in each city always involved careful recording of these spaces, including measured drawings. Through luck or intention, I was able to stay in some very interesting places. In Berlin, my front-facing flat, which retained all its plaster moldings, had a balcony with a view of one of the best-preserved tenement streets in the city. (Figure 2) In Warsaw, I stayed in one of only a handful of nineteenth-century apartment buildings to have survived the war and postwar redevelopment. In Lviv, my flat, in a building with incredible Secessionist moldings, was situated on a grand landscaped boulevard, closely reminiscent of the contemporary Vienna Ringstrasse. (Figure 3) The balcony had a fantastic view of the opera. In Lodz I stayed in a working-class tenement at the rear of one of the city’s unusual deep courtyards. And in Istanbul my flat was on the main floor of a nineteenth-century merchant’s house in Beyoğlu. It retained an incredible frescoed ceiling, elaborate plaster moldings, and wall painting throughout. (Figure 4) In many of the cities, “third places” also provided surroundings appropriately conducive to research and contemplation. In Vienna I became a regular at a wonderfully preserved turn-of-the-twentieth-century cafe near the Naschmarkt, where I spent many long evenings writing. In Prague, I was able to experience both an opera at the Czech National Theater (Figure 5) and Vivaldi recital at the Municipal House. Experiencing such buildings first hand in this way was really the best way to see them. And in Istanbul I was able to more fully comprehend the transcendent role of the dome in a Turkish bath, designed by the famous architect Sinan, on the last night of my spring trip. 

    Figure 2
    Figure 2. View from my flat in Berlin.

    Figure 3
    Figure 3. View from my flat in Lviv, showing the city’s opera house and grand boulevard.

    Figure 4
    Figure 4. My flat in Istanbul retained incredible plaster moldings, fresco ceilings, and painted wall panels. It was located on the second floor of a 19th-century merchant’s house.

    Figure 5
    Figure 5. A building like the Czech National Theater is best experienced as a member of the audience of an excellent performance of
    Rusalka.

    The extent to which the Brooks Fellowship was fabulously generative and productive for me can, in some ways, be easily quantified. Over the fellowship term, for example, I filled four full-size Moleskine notebooks with writing and sketches. On the more contemplative days entries stretched to 25 or more pages. Even more substantially, I shot 35,376 photographs over the course of the two months—an average of over 3,000 in each city. This, in particular, demonstrated my desire for extensive documentation: I sought to photograph everything, important landmarks and everyday places. (Figure 6) Of these, just over 400 of the best have recently been uploaded and published on SAHARA. In my initial contributions I have focused on places that had previously been under-represented in the database or missing entirely. Here I have tried to achieve a balance between famous sites, images of which would be useful to the widest audience, and the more representative buildings that have made up the majority of my photographs. I have selected many hundreds more images to share and I am in the process of cataloging these to publish on the platform in the coming months.

    Figure 6
    Figure 6. Sometimes, thorough documentation meant recording multiple views of every building on a street, as in this Lightroom screenshot showing thumbnails of my photos from Prague. Items highlighted in green have been selected for eventual inclusion in SAHARA.

    Clearly, this brief but intense period of activity has set me in good stead. But the most important aspects of it are the least quantifiable, because they were the most transformative. Indeed, it does not seem like hyperbole to say this time has been career-shaping, perhaps even life-changing. The large visual archive I built is intended to provide teaching images that will serve me throughout my career. (In grad school I had thoroughly admired my professors’ dated slides, clearly taken on research trips when they were much younger and had long aspired to the same thing.) Additionally, I now have a stock of high-quality images, ready for publication in future projects. The trip has not only supported the global turn—to use the buzzy phrase—in my own work, it has taught me how to go about executing it. And my notebooks are now filled with so many insights, so many lines of inquiry, that it would take more than a lifetime to fully do these questions justice. My research agenda is now set well into the foreseeable future, and the third book is beginning to write itself before the second one is even finished. But these entries are more important than that. Many are deep meditations about the fundamentally human longing, the aching search for beauty. This was something I could feel viscerally, sometimes to the point of tears, throughout my travels. No picture, no slide, no insightful text can make you feel that way, can connect you to those spirits. These are the sorts of things that only the periods of intense concentration, provided by the Brooks Fellowship, have allowed me to begin to comprehend.

    On the last day of my Brooks-funded travels, waiting for a late flight out of Rome, I spent all morning and a good part of the afternoon in the Pantheon. Writing. Drawing. Thinking. Staring out the oculus at the clouds and the sun. I had been drawn there like a magnet during my few days in the Eternal City. The place was at once familiar to me, seen so often in grainy slides. But the experience was wholly alien, and incredibly powerful. The evening before, after dinner, I had sat on the portico until late at night and watched a full moon rise between the columns. My musings, that night and the following day, were on the meaning of architectural history, and its great power in this world of darkness. The nature, the meaning, the purpose of our field became as bright and clear to me as the moon that night. It is our great privilege to dwell in the manifestations of the human soul at its best, that is, in its search for beauty in a complex and cold world. It is our job to bask in the reflections of the light of the past, and our awesome responsibility to protect this and project it into the future. I could not have imagined coming to such a fundamental insight when I began this journey. And it certainly would not have been possible without the Brooks Fellowship. For this I will be forever grateful.

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