BAUHAUS BIRTH­DAY

A tour of the move­ment’s sur­viv­ing high­lights, ahead of its cen­te­nary year

The New European - - Agenda - BY DANIEL PEM­BREY

The Bauhaus school of de­sign, which cel­e­brates its cen­te­nary in 2019, has an am­bigu­ous rep­u­ta­tion these days. Its de­sign prin­ci­ples – form fol­lows func­tion; less is more – are as­so­ci­ated with ev­ery­thing from state­ment sky­scrapers and £5,000 Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs to ubiq­ui­tous Ikea fur­ni­ture and iphones. But if Ap­ple’s Jony Ive is a big Bauhaus ad­mirer, oth­ers have held more mixed feel­ings about its legacy. Tom Wolfe, in his polemic From Bauhaus to Our House, poked fun at the “Ger­man worker hous­ing” that had taken over Amer­ica.

But what did the found­ing Bauhäusler (Bauhaus peo­ple) set out to achieve, and what is the right way to think about their in­flu­ence now? Trav­el­ling back in time, through Ger­many, pro­vides an­swers.

The school had a short but bril­liant life be­tween the two world wars as the mod­ern age took hold. After Mies van der Rohe (the school’s last di­rec­tor) failed to keep it go­ing un­der the Nazis, he and other mem­bers fled to dif­fer­ent coun­tries. In Bel­size Park, Lon­don, an Eng­land Her­itage plaque on the ocean liner-like Isokon apart­ment build­ing records that three other renowned Bauhaus masters – Wal­ter Gropius, Mar­cel Breuer and

Lás­zló Mo­holy-nagy – lived there dur­ing the 1930s be­fore trav­el­ling on to the US. The Nazis’ de­ter­mi­na­tion that the Bauhaus was un-ger­man only has­tened its in­ter­na­tional spread.

The last lo­ca­tion of the school, in Ber­linSteglitz on the out­skirts of the Ger­man cap­i­tal, has long since been de­mol­ished. Only a plaque marks the spot of the school’s trou­bled time at Birk­buschstraße 49 be­tween 1932 and 1933. But Berlin re­mains the right place to start any Bauhaus trail. Al­most all the key Bauhaus play­ers had strong links to the city, which of­fered them clients, pro­fes­sional part­ners and un­par­al­leled avant-garde cul­ture prior to 1933. The city will host a slew of cen­te­nary events in 2019 aimed at every­one from sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts to those new to the Bauhaus.

Along­side these cel­e­bra­tions are per­ma­nent land­marks that, in rare cases, man­aged to sur­vive the Sec­ond World War in­tact.

Oth­ers have been sub­stan­tially re­built, as is the case with the Elling­ton Ho­tel (1928-31) on Nürn­berger Straße in the Zoo district. It is a study in the Bauhaus­re­lated New Ob­jec­tiv­ity style with its el­e­gant stone frontage and rib­bons of rec­ti­lin­ear win­dow frames. As the Fem­ina Palast, its dance­floor was one of the hottest tick­ets in town. Though badly dam­aged dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the build­ing re­tains some of the wall tiles and other orig­i­nal fea­tures in­side.

Nearby is an ar­ray of build­ings that re­veal the thrilling new pos­si­bil­i­ties cre­ated a cen­tury ago in the realms of mo­bil­ity, leisure and in­dus­try. Opened in 1930, the Kant Gara­gen­palast mul­ti­storey car park on Kantstraße sought to house the city’s fast-grow­ing vol­ume of ve­hi­cles. It fea­tured an in­no­va­tive dou­ble he­lix struc­ture of con­crete ramps that man­aged to sur­vive the Sec­ond World War. Sadly now boarded up and hid­den be­hind scaf­fold­ing, this listed build­ing should at least con­tinue to be spared de­mo­li­tion to­day.

Re­main­ing very much alive how­ever is the nearby Schaubühne The­atre com­plex (1928), Erich Men­del­sohn’s mas­ter­ful, in­te­grated hous­ing and leisure project. Orig­i­nally a cinema (and per­haps the first Mod­ernist one built any­where), its curved frontage on Kur­fürs­ten­damm in­flu­enced many a Stream­line Moderne pic­ture house in the 1930s. Bombed and re­built, it now of­fers po­lit­i­cal and ex­per­i­men­tal the­atre un­der renowned stage di­rec­tor Thomas Oster­meier.

Per­haps the most in­flu­en­tial build­ing in the area is Peter Behrens’s AEG Tur­bine Fac­tory (1909) on the other side of the Tier­garten park. A tem­ple to in­dus­try and en­ergy, its re­peat­ing glass and con­crete form ex­tends sev­eral hun­dred me­tres back from the rel­a­tively nar­row, aus­tere Hut­ten­straße façade. “When we race at high speed through the me­trop­o­lis, we can no longer see the de­tails of build­ings,” warned Behrens. But Behrens was also a found­ing mem­ber of the Deutscher Werk­bund (Ger­man de­sign­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion), which was

con­cerned with in­te­grat­ing craft with in­dus­try.

While Behrens’ work with AEG was wide-rang­ing – he ef­fec­tively de­signed the com­pany’s iden­tity – this tur­bine tem­ple stands out as a 3D man­i­festo for the evolv­ing al­liance be­tween art, tech­nol­ogy and in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion.

Less than two hour’s drive from Berlin is Des­sau, the Sil­i­con Val­ley of the 1920s. Be­tween 1925 and 1932, the school oc­cu­pied the fiercely orig­i­nal Bauhaus build­ing near Des­sau’s main train sta­tion. Gropius, then leader of the school, de­signed the build­ing with its cel­e­brated glass skin; it would have been ad­di­tion­ally strik­ing in 1925-6 for be­ing sur­rounded by largely open land.

Des­sau was home to Junkers, the air­craft man­u­fac­turer later ap­pro­pri­ated by the Nazis. Junkers helped Breuer to de­velop his in­stantly recog­nis­able tubu­lar steel fur­ni­ture. But the in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary na­ture of the school went far beyond such part­ner­ships, to en­com­pass ev­ery­thing from chem­istry to psy­chol­ogy, large-scale busi­ness op­er­a­tions and ur­ban plan­ning. The school’s in­ter­ests in labour unions, af­ford­able hous­ing and so­cial­ism soon caused prob­lems with lo­cal politi­cians and ul­ti­mately led to it be­ing ac­cused of cul­tural Bol­she­vism. Be­fore long, the Bauhaus was gone and Des­sau was man­u­fac­tur­ing Zyk­lon B gas, for new uses. The city sub­se­quently be­came part of the GDR.

It’s hard to com­pre­hend such de­vel­op­ments when you stroll among the Mas­ter Houses, 10 min­utes on foot from the main build­ing. Here, fac­ulty lead­ers such as Gropius and Mo­holy-nagy lived among the pine trees. A 20-minute walk fur­ther on brings you to Carl Fieger’s grace­fully curved Korn­haus Café on the River Elbe, which was spared from Sec­ond World War bombs.

Back at the main Bauhaus build­ing, it is pos­si­ble to stay in the orig­i­nal ac­com­mo­da­tion. The rooms feel monas­tic now with their con­crete floors, plain work­ta­bles and An­gle­poise-like lamps. How­ever it is also pos­si­ble to imag­ine young, dar­ing fig­ures such as painter, pho­tog­ra­pher and de­signer Mar­i­anne Brandt, creat­ing, dream­ing – the fu­ture

hurtling to­wards her, and them.

Starkly lit black and white pho­tos show these stu­dents lark­ing around on the east­fac­ing bal­conies – or per­haps un­der­tak­ing avant-garde per­for­mances, with the school de­ci­sively favour­ing ex­per­i­men­tal free­dom over the lec­ture hall.

The stu­dents re­ferred to this ac­com­mo­da­tion wing as the Preller House, a holdover from their time in Weimar – the cra­dle of the Bauhaus. This an­cient city is two hours’ drive fur­ther south from Des­sau. Its Ho­tel Ele­phant, just re­fur­bished, is or­gan­ised around a beau­ti­fully fur­nished Licht­saal or ‘light hall’ that shows a rev­er­ence for arts and crafts.

It is re­flec­tive of cru­cial de­vel­op­ments in this vi­brant univer­sity city, no­tably at the nearby Bauhaus Univer­sity, Weimar, where Gropius set about in­te­grat­ing the Fine Arts Academy and the Arts and Crafts School, creat­ing the Bauhaus in 1919. Pre­vi­ously the two art schools had func­tioned en­tirely sep­a­rately in ad­ja­cent build­ings, both de­signed by a key lo­cal fig­ure, Henry van de Velde, whom Gropius had met via the Deutscher Werk­bund.

A Bel­gian and an in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, Van de Velde was not a fan of prod­uct stan­dard­i­s­a­tion, but he was in­tensely con­cerned with func­tion­al­ity – the no­tion that any­thing that’s use­ful in all its de­tails was, by def­i­ni­tion, beau­ti­ful. His own house, Hohe Pap­peln (Tall Po­plars), is a holis­tic arts and crafts mas­ter­piece, two kilo­me­tres to the south.

The Bauhaus was born out of a de­sire to in­te­grate – to at­tain the ideal of Ge­samtkunst­werk or ‘to­tal work of art’, with a pro­foundly in­ter­na­tion­al­ist out­look. ‘To­tal work of art’ soon be­came to­tal war, but the Bauhaus’s con­vic­tion that nar­row per­spec­tives do not pro­vide the an­swers in our highly-con­nected mod­ern world only proved more rel­e­vant as 20th cen­tury events un­folded. For this rea­son alone, we should toast these Bauhäusler in their cen­te­nary year.

For more in­for­ma­tion visit: elling­ton­ho­tel.com/en/; bauhaus-des­sau.de/en/; hotelele­phantweimar.de; easyjet.com; www.bauhaus100.de/en

Great Lives: Wass­ily Kandin­sky – pages 46-47

Photo: Till­mann Franzen

FORM FOL­LOWS FUNC­TION: The Bauhaus Archive / Mu­seum of De­sign at Haus Har­den­berg, Berlin

DAR­ING DE­SIGN: 1 Bauhaus­ge­bäude, a school of Bauhaus art, de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture

Pho­tos: Till­mann Franzen / Getty Im­ages

5 Peter Behren’s AEG Tur­bine Fac­tory

2 Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe

3 Las­zlo Mo­holyNagy

4 Wal­ter Gropius

LESS IS MORE: 1 Mas­ter House, Des­sau

Pho­tos: Till­mann Franzen / Rene-t. Kusche

2 Korn­haus Cafe, Des­sau

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