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Walter Gropius and Bauhaus' 100th anniversary: 1919-2019

Bauhaus Academy was Eden for architects in those revolut­ionary times when the new wave of Bauhaus designers foll­ow­ed Walter Grop­ius (1883-1969), not traditional or cl­ass­ical architects. It foll­owed a new Western spirit, as soon as WW1 ended. In Germany the Kaiser had gone, the Weim­ar Republic had been est­ab­lished, and cultural modernity would be Germany’s reparations to the world. That led to a search for a new vehicle of aesthetic expression.

Thank you to Darran Anderson for his review of Fiona Mac­Carthy’s biography of Bauhaus founder, Walter Grop­ius: Vis­ionary Founder of the Bauhaus. MacCarthy retained admiration for Gropius through­out. Gropius managed to create the most influential design school of the C20th, having proved him­self architecturally with modernist works created during the rule of Kaiser Wilhelm II!!

When contrasted with his brutal WW1 exper­ien­ces, MacCar­thy show­ed that Gropius conducted himself with immense cour­age, retaining his integrity throughout the Bauhaus years, even when the school suffered vicious Nazi attacks.

Fagus Factory, 
by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer, 
Alfeld Lower Saxony, 1911

Throughout MacCarthy’s book there was a dominant sense of Gropius remaining a figure of resolve at the eye of the storm. See the webs of intrigues, rivalries and love aff­airs which MacCarthy explored, often via mail. Characters popped in & out in great colour, particularly the tempestuous Alma Mahler.

MacCarthy emphasised how the existence and legacy of the Bau­haus had not been secure, financially or philosophically. She ended the ill-founded cliché of a rigorous architectural technocrat, imperv­ious to human needs and feelings by show­ing an individual dedicated to the artist’s creative free­dom. Flaw­ed as he inevit­ably was, Gropius’ genius was shown as he encouraged collab­or­ation, empathy and subjectivity. And he shared this spirit with Bauhaus and its graduates. 1st April 2019 marked Bauhaus’ centenary, exactly the right time for visit­ors to see Bauhaus Academy’s design influence.

To celebrate, Karen Chernick recommended seeing 8 sites, starting with The Fagus Factory  in Alfeld, Lower Saxony, designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer in 1911. Years before Gropius ever thought of Bauhaus, he designed this shoe factory that exactly foreshadowed the concepts he would bring to his avant-garde Academy. The Fagus project, an architectural space for craftsmen, ech­oed Grop­ius’ marriage of art and craft. He designed the factory as a space that maximised sunlight and fresh air for the workers, in order to improve their productivity. He lin­ed the exterior with revolutionary curtain walls of glass. It was a feat of both design & engineering! To replace con­ventional load-bearing exterior walls with thin window sheets, Gropius placed reinforced concrete columns in the buildings.

When Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus school in 1919, his utopian Manifesto proclaimed that a] minimalism and b] a fusion of fine arts and craft would become clear symbols for crafts­men. Only 700 students attended the Bauhaus during its short, 14-year life, but the school’s modern design philos­ophy spread. Bauhaus teachers and students scattered world­wide when the Nazis closed the school in 1933.

In 2003 UNESCO proclaimed Tel Aviv’s White City a World Cul­tural Heritage site, an outstand­ing example of early C20th town planning and architecture. That referen­ced the many sites constructed in pre-state Israel in the Bauhaus or International style. Thousands of Bauhaus-style buildings are on display at the Bauhaus Centre on Dizengoff St.

Poli House, 
by Shlomo Liaskowski, 
Tel Aviv, 1934. 

The new city of Tel Aviv rose out of the sands in 1909. Later Sir Patrick Geddes was the town planner for the urban centre and the area now called Old Tel Aviv. Over time infrastructures were created eg Dizengoff Square was designed in 1934 by architect Genia Averbuch as a focal point of the city.

Architecture graduates who managed to get out of Germany in 1933 brought Gropius and Bauhaus values with them. UNESCO noted that such influences were adapted to the cultural and climatic cond­it­ions of the place, and integrated with local traditions. There are still 4,000+ Bauhaus-style buildings in Tel Aviv, more than any other city in the world.

One such building was the triangular-shaped Poli House, built in 1934 at a six-point intersection in the city cen­tre. It was orig­in­ally an office building planned by Shlomo Liaskowski, an architect trained in the Bauhaus Internat­ion­al Style in Europe. Because Poli House faced two streets, a single façade was forgone in favour of dynamic horiz­ontal ribbon windows that shape the building. The building under went a meticulous, multi-year restoration process preparing it for its current life as the boutique Poli House Hotel.

The use of concrete was a popular choice for Bauhaus-style architects, and the flowing concrete strips highlighted the horizontal movement between the bal­conies and external walkways of each building in a con­tin­uous movement. While Bauhaus was a utilitarian school, Israel’s stronger natural light and hotter weather had to be dealt with.

Gropius House,
by Walter Gropius & Marcel Breuer, 
Lincoln MA, 1938 

When Walter Gropius left Europe in 1937, they were smugg­ling rad­ic­al new design ideas to the USA. Note Gropius House, the family home they built in colonial Lincoln Mass. Gropius designed the home in 1938, after accepting a teach­ing position at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; appar­ently it shocked New Englanders with its bizarre glass blocks, chrome banisters and metallic Marcel Breuer-designed furnishings. With time, as mid century modernism swept across the country, Gropius House looked less out of place. Gropius worked at a window-facing nook purposely built to house a wide double desk designed by the Bauhauser Breuer.

Revisit Villa Tugendhat in Brno Czech Republic, designed by Bauhaus architect-director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in c1933. 

Freestanding bachelor’s wardrobe 1930 
designed by Bauhaus student Josef Pohl

And now for something totally different. The Bauhaus and Harvard, mounted to celebrate the 100th ann­iv­er­sary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Weimar, has 200 works by 74 artists, drawn largely from the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s exten­sive Bauhaus collection. In the Special Exhibitions Gallery at Harvard Art Museums, Bauhaus and Harvard ends in late July 2019. Or see decorative art items at original bauhaus, the centenary exhibition of the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum fur Gestaltung at the Berlinische Galerie. It runs from early Sep 2019 until late Jan 2020.


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