After the Bauhaus Dessau had to wait for a long time for the reconstruction of the Masters’ Houses that were destroyed at war, the ensemble is complete again.
The Bauhaus looks back on a chequered history. Founded in Weimar in 1919, the Bauhaus moved to Dessau into the new building designed by Walter Gropius in 1925. In Dessau the Bauhaus experienced its most glamorous period and attracted many outstanding artists, architects and designers who were designated to leave their aesthetic mark on the entire century. When in the Weimar Republic the National Socialists gained the majority in the city council of Dessau in 1931 already, the Bauhaus was closed shortly afterwards and moved to Berlin in the era of Mies van der Rohe, but only one year later it was irrevocably liquidated by the National Socialists.
After many of the artists representing the Bauhaus teaching had been forced to escape into exile, the Masters’ Houses in Dessau were seized by the directors of the National Socialist arms industry. Dessau used to be a booming location of technology, the Junkers factory had attracted the Bauhaus to move from Weimar to Dessau in 1925 with funding. At war the aviation industry established there turned out to be disastrous for the city, eighty percent of Dessau were reduced to rubble by the Allies.
The Bauhaus between Third Reich and SED-regime – misunderstood and misused.
At war the main building in Dessau was heavily damaged, the two Masters’ Houses of Gropius and Moholy-Nagy were destroyed. Although the members of the Bauhaus were ostracized by the National Socialists as leftist intellectuals, the SED-regime didn’t appreciate visionary utopias of design and demonstrated even less sensitivity in dealing with the revolutionary heritage of modern architecture. The actually existing socialism sought for simplicity and functionality, which actually wasn’t contradictory to the teaching of the Bauhaus.
However, there was a huge difference in the aesthetic perception between artists of the Bauhaus and the party officials of the SED: on the one hand liberal thinking and design inspired by human responsibility, on the other hand cultural razing and ideologically embellished petty-bourgeois narrow-mindedness. Not before 1976 the Bauhaus Dessau was reconstructed by the government of the GDR, however, for practical reasons only, and not in order to appreciate its historic importance. The modern large-scale glass façades by Walter Gropius were forgone deliberately, instead closed façades with window apertures were erected. Modern transparency had to give way to a circle-the-wagons mindset. The Masters’ Houses at the Ebertallee suffered the same fate. The house Emmer was built on the foundation of the destroyed director’s villa in the times of the GDR, the destroyed part of the Moholy-Nagy villa was reerected in the style of a communist dacha. Documentary photos from the archive of the Bauhaus Museum Dessau demonstrate the iconoclastic backward-looking mindset of the SED-regime. The blasting of Gothic churches in East Germany and the dealing with the achievements of modern architecture bear witness to the ruthless enforcement of the socialist view of humankind by the government of the GDR.
Design enthusiasts can rent the former students’ studios and feel the vibes of the Roaring Twenties in the Bauhaus Dessau.
After the German Reunification the Foundation Bauhaus Dessau was founded in 1994, in 1996 the Bauhaus building was declared World Heritage by the UNESCO. By the application of skeleton construction the building was finished in a record construction time of one and a half years only between the commissioning to Walter Gropius and the dedication at the end of 1926 on the green field outside Dessau. The Bauhaus Dessau was designed in the international style of that time and consists of three wing-shaped structures: the wing building of the Technical Schools (later vocational college), the wing of the workshops with the distinctive glass façade and the studio building. In the studio building the refectory and live-in studios for the students were housed. The balconies of the live-in studios look like springboards into a golden future, at the beginning of each semester a jazz band used to play in the twenties, the musicians of which were standing on the balconies. The refectory has been reconstructed in the meantime and houses a gastronomic establishment, on original Bauhaus stools the visitor can feel like a student of the twenties, in addition the live-in studios can be rented as guest rooms.
A two-story bridge connects the wing building with the workshop wing, administration offices and the director’s office of Walter Gropius were housed in it. The auditorium and the stage are in a low-rise building between workshop wing and studio building. A guided tour for visitors is recommended, as certain rooms such as the office of Walter Gropius aren’t accessible otherwise. However, there is one little deficit with regard to the visit: the reconstruction of one of the workshop rooms and the workpieces manufactured there would be desirable, to visualize the design process of the famous icons of design.
Accessible cubist sculptures complete the Bauhaus-ensemble of the Masters’ Houses.
Leaving the Bauhaus Dessau in the direction of the Ebertallee, one reaches the building complex of the Masters’ Houses. There has been a lengthy struggle for the reconstruction of the Masters’ Houses ensemble in Dessau, after an architecture competition in 2010 the draft of the Berlin-based architecture firm Bruno-Fioretti-Marquez was declared the winner by an international jury British architect David Chipperfield was a member of. The artistic guiding principle of the winning draft is the concept of blurring. The reconstructed Masters’ Houses weren’t meant to be copies, but reinterpretations that only approach the original. Thus history is sought to be brought to life, completing the Bauhaus Dessau by a memorial of architecture that leaves space for discussion deliberately.
Following the floor plan of the original buildings the cubature was reconstructed. The result is an accessible sculpture featuring a cool concrete look that masters the thin line between Bauhaus quotation and contemporary interpretation perfectly. The interiors of the buildings look like cubist cathedrals that play with suites of rooms and light cutouts. If the teaching of the Bauhaus still plays a role in the 21st century, this was meant to be visualized by the realization of the draft. The emptiness of the rooms, the bareness of the walls don’t appear oppressive at all, but their reduction evokes the spirit of the Bauhaus more strongly than the attempt to heal the wounds of war by creating perfect copies. Through the opaque windows dimmed light illuminates the grey concrete walls which have been subtly coated with a raster of various surfaces by artist Olaf Nicolai, an homage to the Bauhaus teacher Moholy-Nagy who experimented especially with light.
Harmoniously embedded in the park-like green space along the Ebertallee the ensemble of the Masters’ Houses is complete again now. The shadow play of the trees on the smooth cubes with their hard edges creates an interesting contrast between nature and architecture and points out that the teaching at the Bauhaus always was focused on the human being and not on the commercialism of capitalism.