Bauhaus

26 June, 2021

Carl Fieger, workers' houses, sketch at the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau
Carl Fieger, workers' houses, sketch at the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau

The EU wants to bring into being a New European Bauhaus that will be an integral part of the Green Deal. In January, the design process was launched. Since then, speeches and roadmaps have proliferated. The Green Deal uses the housing problem to impose capital’s pressing need to recompose the rate of profit through a massive transfer of income from labor to capital. That is why not coincidentally the ruling classes are once again taking the Bauhaus as a reference. And that is why it is worthwhile to dwell on the study of the original Bauhaus, what it reflected and what it meant for capitalist competition and the lives of workers.

Table of Contents

Origins of the Bauhaus: the Deutshche Werkbund

Deutsche Werkbund, origin of what would later become the Bauhaus
Deutsche Werkbund, origin of what would later become the Bauhaus

The origins of the Bauhaus lie in the Deutscher Werkbund Association, founded by Hermann Muthesius and made up of German architects, artists, craftsmen and businessmen. It was a state-sponsored initiative to integrate traditional trades into industrial mass production with the aim of placing German industry in a position to compete with the English and US capital that dominated the scene at the time.

Muthesius was born in 1861 in the village of Gross Neuhausen near Erfurt and received his early training from his father, who was a builder. After passing military service and devoting two years to the study of philosophy and art history at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, he entered to study architecture at the Charlottenburg Technical College in 1883, while continuing to work in the office of the Reichstag architect Paul Wallot.

In 1896, he was sent by the Prussian government to England. His mission was to study British art movements, then very influential. He was a taste spy. The Prussian government appointed him as cultural attaché at the German embassy in London, from where he was to study British forms of production. He devoted his next six years to researching residential architecture and domestic style of life and design.

Although he dealt with subjects at all levels, he was particularly interested in the philosophy and practice of the English Arts and Crafts movement, whose emphasis on function, modesty, individuality and honesty of materials he saw as an alternative to the flashy historicism and ornamental obsession of nineteenth-century German architecture… but also Gaudi or Art Déco.

From Arts & Crafts he also took the idea that efforts to bring a sense of craftsmanship to industrial design represented an economic benefit to the nation. On his visit to Glasgow to investigate the innovative work of the Glasgow School he discovered his fascination with the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

In addition to his official reports, Muthesius also developed a career as an author, communicating his ideas and observations in an influential series of books and articles that made him a significant cultural figure in Germany, culminating in his most famous work Das englische Haus (The English House), published in 1904.

Writing about the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow for an issue of Dekorative Kunst published in 1905 almost entirely devoted to a Mackintosh-designed tea room, he wrote:

Today any visitor to Glasgow can lounge in Miss Cranston’s tearoom and for a few pence drink tea, have breakfast and dream that they find themselves in fairyland.

In England the Art and Crafts movement represented the reactionary dream of a petty bourgeoisie which wanted to reclaim artisan labor in opposition to industrialization and mass production. Its aesthetic anti-capitalism could play no political role in a country where industrialization had allowed the positioning and valorization of national capital on the world stage.

But on the continent (Germany), there was nothing aesthetic about rejecting industrialization. It meant taking for granted the competitive inferiority of national capital. That is why Muthesius’s quest sought a different direction. The communion between arts, crafts and industrialization had to revalue them not in opposition to big industry and finance capital, but to serve as a lever for an increase in scale of national capital.

And if any bourgeoisie had been clear from its dawn that what is good for national capital should be codified and enshrined as national culture, it was the German one. Workshops were set up in the Schools of Arts and Crafts; in addition, avant-garde artists were called upon to act as teachers and to promote reforms: Peter Behrens was directly in charge of the Düsseldorf Academy, Hans Poelzig of the Breslau Academy, Bruno Paulla of the Berlin University College, Otto Pankok of the Stuttgart School of Arts and Crafts, Henry van de Velde was in charge of Weimar.

The Deutscher Werkbund soon spread to Austria, with the formation of the Österreichischer Werkbund, and to Switzerland, where the so-called Swiss Werkbund was founded, a movement that published the Revue Mensuelle de l’Oeuvre, based in Lausanne. In both cases, their aim pursued the revaluation and repositioning of national capitals.

The figure of Walter Gropius emerged in this context.

Walter Gropius and the birth of the Bauhaus

Ise and Walter Gropius, the public face of the Bauhaus
Ise and Walter Gropius, the public face of the Bauhaus

From a junker family, the reactionary Prussian nobility, Walter Gropius was the third of four children of an architect and municipal councillor for public works. His maternal grandfather had been one of the parliamentary leaders of the aristocratic right. After dropping out of architecture school, he travels through Spain. He visited the Castillo de Coca, studied glazed ceramics and finally began working at the Cartuja de Sevilla pottery factory, where he meets Karl Ernst Osthaus de de Hagen, who in the future will become his mentor. Osthaus de Hagen, intercedes to Peter Behrens who finally admits Gropius into his studio as a collaborator. His colleagues include Adolf Meyer and Mies van der Rohe.

While working in this studio, Gropius discovers that the studio is advising the company AEG (General Electricity Company) and takes advantage of a trip to London with Behrens to present to its director Emil Rathenau a proposal for the creation of a company for the industrial production of prefabricated housing. This leads to disagreements with Behrens and leads him to leave the studio and establish his own studio in Potsdam – Neubabelsberg with Adolf Meyer as a salaried collaborator.

Fagus shoe last factory. the facade on the right is the work of Gropius and today a world heritage site.
Fagus shoe last factory. the facade on the right is the work of Gropius and today a world heritage site.

Thanks to the influences of Osthaus de Hagen and the construction of the glass facade of the Fagus shoe last factory, it is incorporated into the uppermost level of the Deutsche Werkbund. He is well received within the association and is chosen for the 1913 and 1914 yearbooks. Thanks to this, two of his fundamental writings on modern industrial architecture are included in the publications and he dedicates an exhibition of exemplary cases in the model factory of the Werkbund for the Cologne exhibition, which is interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War, in which he participates as an officer in various infantry regiments in France and Belgium.

From Belgium he exchanges correspondence with Henry van de Velde in which he expounds his pedagogical conceptions, and recommends him as his successor at the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts. In the postwar period, he founds and directs together with Bruno Taut and Adolf Behne the Council of Workers in Arts and Crafts, where Otto Bartning begins to propose reforms in arts education on a craft basis when in January 1919, in the midst of the German Revolution, he publishes the Teaching plan for architecture and the fine arts on a craft basis.

While a new future is struggling to emerge in front of their noses, they both look back to craftsmanship as the foundation of education. Gropius’s Teachers’ Council is based on a structure similar to Bartning’s, adopting in turn the hierarchy: Apprentice-Officer-Teacher. Already in April 1919 and after extensive negotiations with the government of Thuringia, he merges the School of Fine Arts of the Grand Duchy of Saxony with the School of Applied Arts of the Grand Duchy of Saxony, giving rise to the State Bauhaus Weimar, under his direction and pedagogical concept.

Bauhaus: in search of a cathedral for the decadent bourgeoisie

Original Bauhaus Headquarters in Weimar
Original Bauhaus Headquarters in Weimar

The Bauhaus was not only intended as a pedagogical reform, but for training to gain relevance in its real and symbolic goal: building. Building became for Gropius a social, intellectual and symbolic activity. Building smoothes out differences of status and brings artists closer to the people. In the Bauhaus Manifesto, the program and goal of the school was already outlined: Artisans and artists must together build the cathedral of the future.

At first glance the Bauhaus program as a school resembles the curricula of many of the pre-war schools. Gropius’ novelty was to subordinate the school to a goal: the collectively erected building, to which all trades were to contribute. The training was now directed by teachers. The pupils were called apprentices and could be promoted to officers or young masters. A council of masters decided at every juncture and had the right to appoint new masters.

A master of form and a master of craft were to train pupils simultaneously. Thus the existing wall of arrogance between artists and craftsmen would fall on the way to the new construction of the future. Gropius wanted to educate young people at the Bauhaus in order to give course to a formative process with social consequences. But what could be his prospects and those of his environment in the Germany of the Weimar regime?

A Fiume of design

Johannes Itten at the Bauhaus wearing one of his self-designed uniforms.
Johannes Itten at the Bauhaus wearing one of his self-designed uniforms.

Just as d’Anunzio had proclaimed the arts and especially music as one of the sources of law in his terrorist republic of the Fiume, Gropius had already claimed that he would lay in Weimar the foundation stone of a humanistic republic.

Accordingly, thus began the summoning of personalities appropriate to the circumstance. He said: we must not start with the mediocre, but we have the obligation to awaken the interest of outstanding and well-known personalities, even if they are hard to understand. The first artists to arrive at the Bauhaus were the painter and teacher Johannes Itten, the painter Lyonel Feininger and the sculptor Gerhard Marcks, who were in charge of the preparatory course, the printing workshop and the ceramics workshop, respectively.

Of the three the most influential was Itten, who had already lectured on the teaching of the old masters at the opening of the Bauhaus and had just run a private art school in Vienna. He quickly took part in the first meeting of the Council of Masters and influenced the choice and hiring of new teachers, such as for example Georg Muche or Gertrud Grunow.

Itten’s pedagogical principle can be described with pairs of opposites: intuition and method or subjective living ability and objective knowing ability. Exercises of movement and breathing began his classes. Students had to relax; only then could Itten achieve direction and order in the flowHis students deeply respected him as a teacher. He dressed like many of his pupils, in a Bauhaus suit he had designed himself…He wore his head clean-shaven…

Much in the Bauhaus milieu is reminiscent of other precursor movements to the mythical Nazi-fascist mysticism such as Steiner’s Anthroposophy. Muche and Itten for instance were proponents of Mazdaznan teaching, a neo-Zoroastrian cult considered at the time a reconstruction of the original Aryan culture. The Bauhaus made mandatory some of its practices such as vegetarianism, regular fasting, breathing exercises, etc. With those mystical references – which in that era and environment were inevitably racial – racist references were not uncommon either.

Bauhaus alumnus Paul Citroën described it this way:

There was something diabolical about Itten. For those of us who were part of Mazdaznan, Itten was surrounded by a special nimbus. One could almost speak of holiness, one could hardly approach him except in whispers; our awe was considerable and we felt joyful and delighted whenever he was affectionate in our presence.

The workshops announced by Gropius in the Manifesto began to take shape in a context of resource scarcity and the search for qualified teachers was difficult. During the war much of the available furniture had been lost or destroyed so he had equipment only in the bookbinding, graphic printing and textile workshops.

The authorities kept a close eye on the evolution of the experiments, proposing reforms again and again. At first, students could immediately enter the workshops, but this did not last long. Soon it was mandatory to undergo Itten’s preparatory course for it. The consumption of materials and the unpromising results forced this measure.

The less gifted were expelled and the working time in workshops was increased to 6 hours, under the precept that each student should receive training from two teachers (one for form and one for craftsmanship). With this, the bipolar educational model was concretized. It was necessary to work under two different teachers, because there were no artisans with enough fantasy to lead artistic problems, nor artists with enough technical knowledge to lead a workshop. A generation first had to be educated which was capable of uniting both characteristics Gropius would later write.

The relationship between festival, work and play, another recurring element of the mystical theories of the time, was taken into account by Gropius as early as the Manifesto, when he included in the program theater, lectures, poetry, music, costume parties, organization of a festive ceremonial with these sessions. These were to be attended by the inhabitants of Weimar together with the students, but it was not well received by its inhabitants, who kept their distance from the school, instead it received animosity and rejection.

Another characteristic element of the reactionary movements of the time was misogyny. The Council of Masters made essential decisions against the large number of women seeking to study at the Bauhaus, since the Weimar Constitution granted women the freedom of unlimited study. Gropius relentlessly attacked the women present during a speech to Bauhaus students: No consideration whatsoever for ladies; during work, you are all craftsmen, absolute equality of rights, but also equality of duties.

In 1920 he tightened admission controls, particularly among female applicants, who increasingly attended the school. For instance, Gropius advised against unnecessary experimentation, so that after the preparatory course women were sent to the textile workshop, the bookbinding workshop or the pottery workshop. But the pottery workshop closed in 1922 and Gropius and Marcks agreed not to take in women for the sake of the women and the pottery workshop. Only years later, when labor shortages would force it, this idea would be displaced and two women were accepted without a preparatory course. Women were not admitted in architecture.

Bauhaus towards architecture

Exaltation of the cube (maximization of built space) and total absence of decorative elements, the anti-human identity signs of the Bauhaus style.
Exaltation of the cube (maximization of built space) and total absence of decorative elements, the anti-human identity signs of the Bauhaus style.

Gropius had set out many times to open an architecture section at the Bauhaus, but repeatedly ran up against obstacles set by bureaucracy. In 1919 a semester at the School of Construction, taught by Paul Klopfer, had been attempted, which, when rejected by the Ministry of the Interior, was taught privately, and in 1920 an architecture section was finally opened under the direction of Adolf Meyer, a former collaborator of Gropius, but the situation prevented it from achieving acceptable results.

The forays into architecture did not take place at the early Bauhaus. That same year they received some land, on which Gropius had planned to site a colony, but its steep topography prevented it, earmarking it for a vegetable garden. Gropius said:

The point is that today it is impossible for us to reform one part of the whole, we have to question the whole of life: the way of living, the education of children, gymnastics and so on ad infinitum.

A private commission that same year gave Gropius the opportunity to support the Bauhaus financially by contracting out work, and to encourage the formation of the first workshop. Meyer and Gropius were in charge of the design, a Munich architecture graduate directed the work.

The interior design was left to the first trained students. Dörte Helm made an appliquéd curtain, Marcel Breuer designed the set of chairs for the hallway, Josef Albers built a window with painted glass and the mural painting workshop took care of wall decoration, among numerous carvings on various building elements and costumes designed for the various guilds that gave a whole unitary image.

Gropius and Itten began to drift apart, as the former held the view that the Bauhaus in its present form remains or collapses with the affirmation or denial of the need for contracts or else it will become an island of sullen people, while the latter refused to seek contacts with industry.

Most of the contracts came through Gropius’s construction office, while he sought contacts with clients who also included craftsmen’s cooperatives and industrial firms.

With the departure of Itten in 1923, the way would be clear for a new education in which the achievement of new industrial products would take precedence over the training of the individual. At the same time, manual labor and craftsmanship, bequeathed by Itten as axes of human formation, lost importance. That year, Gropius takes stock of the first years and celebrates with an exhibition and the publication of Idea and Constitution of the State Bauhaus.

The discourse, unsurprisingly, transpires völkisch nationalism with literal phrases already heard in essentialist rhetoric and populist of the petty bourgeoisie already attracted by fascism. Boldface is ours:

Very slowly the new constituent elements are being formed. The idea takes the lead, and it is gradually followed by the development of the architectural form, which is subject to the enormous expenditure of technical and material means, as well as to the influence of new spiritualities in the conscience of the creator, the result of long meditations.

The art of building depends on the possibility of collaboration on the part of a multiplicity of creators, since their works symbolize the spirit of the whole, to a greater extent than the individual isolated work – and in opposition to it – or than the work as a choral-type sign. Dealing with the art of building and its various fields of creation is thus a vital issue for the whole people.

This is not a luxury. The widespread opinion that considers art as a luxury is the harmful consequence of the spirit of the past, which isolated phenomena (l’art pour l’art) and thus subtracted them from common life. The new constructive spirit requires from the base new requirements for the creative work.

The academy is the tool of this spirit of the past; it brought the bleeding out of the whole working life – industry and craftsmanship – of the artistic man, and this led to his complete self-absorption.

In times of plenitude, on the contrary, the whole of the working life of the people – as regards creation – was fertilized by the artistic man: because he was there in their midst; because from below, in the working activity (like any other worker of the people), he had taken possession of the very foundations of labor capacity and knowledge; because the fatal and petulant equivocation of promoting through state channels the idea that that of the artist is a profession that can be learned was not committed.

Art cannot be learned! Whether a creative work is executed by pure skill or in a creative way depends on personal talent. This cannot be learned or taught; what can be acquired, however, is a manual skill and a basic knowledge as a fundamental requirement for all creative work, whether for the tasks of a simple worker or for those of the brilliant artist.

On the contrary, the education of the academies resulted in the development of a large proletariat of art, abandoned without refuge to social misery. Lulled into a dream of genius, it was raised for the vainglory of the artist (for the profession of architect, painter, sculptor or draftsman), without having been endowed with the tools of a true training, the only ones capable of putting it on its own feet in the social battle for existence and of making it independent in its artistic will.

Its ability covered only the field of drawing and painting, detached from the reality of matter, of technique, of economy. And this led it to aesthetic speculation, since there was no real affinity with life as a whole.

The fundamental pedagogical error of the academy was to focus on the extraordinary genius, rather than on the average. However, it only trained countless small talents in drawing and painting, of whom only one among thousands became a true architect or painter. The great mass of these partially trained academics and with false expectations was condemned to the exercise of an infertile art, without resources for the struggle for life, and became part of the social drones, instead of being useful for the working life of the people thanks to a proper education….

… The scope of speculative work of an academy, united with the artisanal work of a school of arts and crafts, was to constitute the framework for a new all-encompassing educational project intended for those gifted in art. The axiom under which work was begun stated: The Bauhaus aims at the reunification of all artistic work and the reunification of all disciplines of the artistic workshop in a new architecture, so that they are inseparable elements. The ultimate, if remote, goal of the Bauhaus is the unitary work of art (the great building), in which there is no boundary between monumental and decorative art.

The dominant thought at the Bauhaus is thus the idea of a new unity, the bringing together of the many arts, trends and phenomena into an indivisible whole, which is anchored in man himself and which takes on meaning and significance in his life.

It could only become clearer if we were to replace construction or work with nation or homeland. As has been said on more than one occasion, the Bauhaus was the architectural expression of the German counterrevolution, or, more shockingly, Nazism was the Bauhaus by other means.

The first building and the jump to Dessau

First Bauhaus building. Dessau, Germany
First Bauhaus building. Dessau, Germany

In 1922 the government granted a loan to the Bauhaus with the intention of exhibiting the work developed so far, in a kind of progress exhibition. To meet the request, everyone is put to work on the order and a kind of state of emergency is declared. It is decided to intensify the work in workshops and the Council of Masters decides to exhibit a fully installed model house, thanks to which for the first time the Bauhaus program, in which all the workshops collaborate, is shown to the public.

The work began in 1923, but the financing of the Bauhaus house was somewhat complicated because inflation did not allow the performance of the subsidy granted, so it received the missing boost thanks to the credit granted by the businessman Sommerfeld, in exchange for the right of precedence on the house and the estate. While the effort was important, it received much criticism, but it was supported by important critics who called the house important and significant.

The Bauhaus was a public school and thus received not only funding but also political direction from the state. Gropius had been adroit at imposing his ideas in the chaos that followed World War I, but his luck soon changed and in 1925, because of disagreements with the political decision makers in Thuringia, the Bauhaus was disbanded.

The Weimar teachers had revoked their contracts with the state with no apparent alternative, but in the months that followed, it became clear that the Bauhaus, as a new type of school, was in such good shape and had such a good reputation, that other cities became interested in reconvening it. Proposals came from Dessau, Frankfurt am Main, Mannheim, Munich, Darmstadt, Krefeld, Hamburg or Hagen in Westphalia. Dessau was chosen because it offered the best conditions. Its mayor, the Social Democrat Fritz Hesse, was sympathetic to the Bauhaus.

Dessau was an industrial city… and a symbol of post-Counterrevolution Germany. Among the most important companies were the Junkers factories, and industrial monopolies such as the IG Farben. If the Junkers 87 will be synonymous with the bombing of civilian populations and the blitzkrieg, IG Farben will be remembered for its collaboration with the SS and the development of Zyklon B, the gas with which millions of people were murdered in the extermination camps.

In 1925 Dessau had 50,000 inhabitants and by 1928 there were already 80,000. The housing shortage was great, there was a lack of an urban development plan and above all of living space, so the ideas of technification and rationalization of construction propagated by Gropius were welcomed with open arms.

Törten, first Bauhaus district
Törten, first Bauhaus district

It was not long before the Bauhaus got a commission for the model colony, in Dessau – Törten. In this colony Gropius was able to implement ideas he had already been maturing about the use of prefabricated components and standardization. It was built in three stages: the 60 houses built in 1926 were followed by 100 houses in 1927 and 156 houses in 1928.

The key idea: careful planning aimed at reducing the price of production at the expense of all other considerations.

The result, a collection of blind cubes in which to store workers. A preview of the oppressive architecture that the Bauhaus would bring to the extended and which reduced workers to storable, moveable labor.

The first Törten houses were opened together with the school complex. But at the Bauhaus class differences were not challenged. The houses for the director and the colony for the Bauhaus teachers were no longer just functional containers identical one after the other. Nina Kandinsky marveled: each room was an architectural individual.

Subjugation of life to the profitability of construction and exaltation of class division under new forms that, in the first place emphasized the unity of goals around national capital and the reduction of workers to labor mobilized for production and stored in hives. The great work of the Bauhaus was underway. It was the counterrevolutionary spirit of the German petty bourgeoisie of the time… and not only: the Bauhaus became a veritable pilgrimage center that received numerous German and an increasing number of foreign visitors.

The large factory of containers for workers

Westhausen Siedlunge by Ernst May 1925. The bauhaus "social housing" model
Westhausen Siedlunge by Ernst May 1925. The bauhaus “social housing” model

Educational reforms within the school went on intensively. Gropius did not lose sight of transforming it into an economically productive business. The division of work in the workshop into formative and productive sections was already implemented in all curricula. In addition, the group of employees already included several former students who were fully trained in the Bauhaus concept.

With Adolf Sommerfeld’s money, Gropius had already founded a limited company and the hiring of a legal advisor opened the door to the marketing of Bauhaus products. But not everything was rosy, as the balance sheets did not reflect the forecasts that the city had assumed. The company’s limited partnership and licensing was to bear fruit much later than expected.

In 1925, Gropius published the book Internationale Architektur, which was the first volume of the edition of 14 Bauhaus monographs. Again Gropius outlined his goals and sought to realize them. Gropius said:

This book is essentially a compendium of the work of the leading modern architects of the cultured countries (kulturländer), with the aim of disseminating the current state of architectural creation …

…. Contemplating the illustrations in this book, it becomes apparent that the succinct use of time, space, materials and money in industry and economy decisively determines the form of all modern architectural organisms: precise forms, simplicity in the multiple, the articulation of all architectural units in accordance with the functions of the volumes of the building, of the streets and of the means of transport, limitation to elementary type forms and their seriality and repetition….

… The architects in this book reaffirm the contemporary world of machines and vehicles, and their speed; they yearn for ever more daring formal means of overcoming earthly gravity by means of suspension, in effect and in appearance.

The reference to the machinization of life through architecture and speed -accelerate accumulation-is not a nod to the Italian futurists, it is a total agreement. Accelerationism and machine-like functionalism are more fascist than uniforms. In fact, they are the uniforms of vital space which explicitly reduce life, and in particular and with emphasis that of the workers, to their usefulness for a national capital which struggles violently to revalue itself between armed competition with its rivals and the revolutionary pressure of a proletariat which it cannot then consider defeated in a lasting way.

It is thanks to this publication that Gropius begins to strengthen ties with Dutch architects and makes them referents of the new movement that is emerging and that already in those years influenced the projects developed by some renowned German architects.

A year later, he published the paper Bauhaus. Dessau Grundsütze der Bauhausproduktion (Bauhaus. Principles of production at the Bauhaus Dessau). It reflects the director’s commitment to production and functionality once certain formal determinisms had been overcome, but above all, it sets out the role that the Bauhaus was to play in German industry. Gropius said:

… The Bauhaus workshops are essentially laboratories in which models, typical of our time, are made and continuously refined until they are suitable for mass production.

The Bauhaus will train in these laboratories a new type of collaborators of industry and craftsmanship, which hitherto did not exist; these men will equally master the technical and formal aspects of production…

The standard models produced in the Bauhaus workshops will be mass-produced in external factories, which will maintain a collaboration with the workshops.

Thus, Bauhaus production does not mean competition for industry and craftsmanship, but rather provides them with a new productive factor. The Bauhaus launches into productive and economic life men endowed with creative abilities and practical experience who will perform the preparatory work that must necessarily precede production in industry and the crafts and skilled trades

Once again the counterrevolutionary program in its purest expression and yet in the first half of the 1920s: industrialization and mass production of housing in the perspective of making housing a new industrial export sector. And at its head new men endowed with creative and practical abilities. We have gone from Marinetti’s reverie to the epic embedding of the fascist petty bourgeoisie in the corporate state.

Gropius’ imperialist dream would materialize a few years later. In 1931, he forges close ties with the Argentine intellectual Victoria Ocampo and publishes articles in the magazine SUR. One of his collaborators moved to Buenos Aires to found the Gropius-Moller office and, with the help of Victoria Ocampo and the German Embassy, managed to win the first commissions at a time of economic crisis in Europe. Among the commissions he receives the one for the seaside resort of Chapadmalal, which is developed from Berlin and serves as a beachhead for other German exports.

Am Weissenhof, the Bauhaus townhouse for the petite bourgeoisie
Am Weissenhof, the Bauhaus townhouse for the petite bourgeoisie

But let’s go back to 1926-27. In those years, two key events in the evolution of the Bauhaus stood out: the exhibition Die Wohnung (The Apartment), organized by the Deuschern Werkbund Association (under the direction of Mies van der Rohe), which materializes in the Am Weissenhof in Stuttgart (1927) that featured Gropius’ participation with two prefabricated prototypes of H°A° with metal structure.

In the book Popular Housing in the Modern Movement, Auke van der Woude summarizes it as follows:

.

… “The exhibition comprised in addition to this actual display of the new housing, an exhibition of industrial and manufactured items related to housing in the historic city center on the grounds of the Gewerbehalle, with subsidiary pavilions on the Stadtgartenumgang” …

… “Two issues focused attention: a new way of building and a new way of living. The various possibilities of the new way of building were made clear by different examples. Although Poelzig and Döcker built two timber-framed houses, which by the way were invisible, what was dominant in new housing construction was: steel framing (among others Mies, Rading, Bruno and Max Taut, Gropius); concrete frame (Le Corbusier); monolithic concrete (Oud); housing made of precast concrete (Behrens, Gropius, Bourgeois).

For finishing, newly discovered products were used: crushed chipboard or coarse sawdust, cork, plywood, asbestos, pumice concrete. Exterior facades were stuccoed white, roofs were flat.

Buildings took the form of 17 one- and two-family houses, two row housing complexes (Oud, Stam) and two buildings with apartments (Mies, Behrens).

Features of this new way of building: rapidity of execution (Gropius’s dry-assembled prefabricated housing at Brückmannweg 6 did not even require time to dry); the addition to traditional craftsmanship with much manual labor, the choice of mechanized production and incorporation of low-skilled building trades, ease of application to mass production and because of the meeting of all factors, relative cheapening of the finished house. ..

But Am Weissenhof is a self-homage and in a way a petty bourgeois utopia for itself. Regarding the workers, the discourse will become more outspoken also as the decade progresses… and with it the defeat of the workers in Germany.

Workers cease to be subjects of living in society and come to be treated by the Bauhaus as a mere logistical-spatial problem. A category proper and characteristic of the Bauhaus emerges: minimal housing.

It will bring quite a few great moments to Gropius and his entourage. In 1929, he is part of the guild of experts advising the RFG, Reich Research Society for Economics in Housing Construction and in October of that year he participates in the II Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) in Frankfurt, where he delivers a lecture on The sociological foundations of minimum housing (for the urban industrial population).

Meanwhile the Bauhaus has formally inaugurated its Bauhaus architecture section, Gropius has resigned as director in January 1927 and had Hannes Meyer appointed in his place. The Bauhaus starts to be ready to go out and sell itself outside of Germany… although in reality, by then, it was already a reference and everything that the Bauhaus stands for had already taken its first roots all over the world. In some places it was in conversation with what the movement was doing in Germany, in others as a solution of its own.

The Bauhaus is the architectural theorization of a global trend of decadent capital and is therefore worldwide: from Stalinist Russia to the USA

Apartments in Bahrenfelder Steindamm, Altona, 1927
Apartments in Bahrenfelder Steindamm, Altona, 1927

The participation of Dutch architects in the Die Wohnung exhibition is key, since remaining neutral during World War I allowed the Dutch state to reform institutions dedicated to public works and invest capital in the construction of collective housing complexes in different cities.

In Rotterdam J.P. Oud was appointed in 1925 Head of the Gemeentelijke Woningdienst (Housing Department), which by those years had merged into the Office of Building Supervision, giving Oud the possibility to experiment fully in the design and construction of residential complexes, initiating a process in which the new construction and new materials were adopted at the same time that a group of architects who worked in this direction and a group of intellectuals who made them known both in Europe and in the U.S. emerged.

The city of Amsterdam took over the management of municipal housing, which had already decided in 1914 to build several thousand apartments for workers, and appointed Arie Keppler, a Social Democrat, as director of the housing department.

The design basis for the new residential areas was the urban development model of the uniformly designed apartment block initially formulated in Germany, which found expression in Walter Curt Behrendt’s 1911 book The Uniform Block Front as a Spatial Problem in Urban Construction.

The multi-story apartment blocks in Amsterdam, which were intended to illustrate the new social position of workers in the way of workers’ palaces, are among the first consistent implementations of this model. A prime example is the Amsterdam-Zuid urban expansion area.

As the Oelsner and Taut buildings show, residential construction in the German Empire was heavily influenced by Dutch architecture and specifically by Oud buildings. In fact, the community architect of Rotterdam was given a special position: as an employee of the housing department, he was able to construct large-scale residential buildings for middle- and low-income groups as early as 1918, comparable to the architects of the Amsterdam school.

It was precisely this building task that was the main interest of German architects, who drew inspiration from neighboring countries to the west for the major housing construction programs of the Weimar Republic. Oud also benefited from the fact that the most important representative of the Amsterdam School, the talented and productive Michel de Klerk, had died prematurely in 1923 at the age of 39.

Building in the Amsterdam School style soon proved too costly and was replaced by reduced, factual solutions in the sense of social architecture, which also proved suitable for the housing projects of the Weimar Republic.

Oud also knew how to make his work known in exhibitions, through publications and through personal contact with colleagues, art historians and publicists: in this way, he built up a large international network for himself in the 1920s. which he cultivated intensively over the years.

Among his acquaintances and friends were not only the most important architects of the time such as Otto Bartning, Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but also influential authors such as Adolf Behne, Walter Curt Behrendt, Sigfried Giedion and Henry-Russell Hitchcock (related to MOMA and the young Phillipe Jonhson).

The list of names suggests that Oud specifically sought contact with representatives and mediators of modernity, not primarily with the Dutch, but with foreign or international actors. Above all, he was very interested in the large neighboring Germany, with its lively art and architectural scene and large housing projects as a zone of influence…

Most of the German Reich’s architectural exhibitions and publications presented contemporary architecture as an international movement into which German architects wanted to integrate after the lost war.

One of the earliest examples of this is the prestigious International Architecture Exhibition, which was shown in Weimar from August 15 to September 30, parallel to the Great Bauhaus Exhibition of 1923. The aim of Bauhaus director Walter Gropius was to develop modern architecture toward a dynamic-functional side, to present what should be done deliberately using international examples.

However, Gropius only selected buildings that had similar design principles and thus were able to express the new building spirit. As expected, Dutch architecture played an important role. Trusting his judgment, he asked Oud to appoint suitable Dutch representatives.

After renewed consultation with Gropius, he finally invited several architects to participate, among them Gerrit Thomas Rietveld and Jan Wils, his former colleagues from the De Stijl group of artists, and Johannes Bernardus van Loghem, who had been proposed by him earlier. A total of ten Dutch works were shown, in addition to 14 works from Germany and six from France.

In 1925, Gropius published the book Internationale Architektur, which was the first volume of the edition of 14 Bauhaus monographs. Again Gropius outlined his goals and sought to realize them. The narrative exalts that which defined the Bauhaus as the architectural expression of a stifled and increasingly concentrated, totalitarian and imperialist global capital.

Let’s recall the quote we already made above in this new context.

This book is essentially a compendium of the work of the leading modern architects of the cultured countries (kulturländer), with the aim of disseminating the current state of architectural creation…

…. Looking at the illustrations in this book, it becomes apparent that the succinct use of time, space, materials and money in industry and economy decisively determines the form of all modern architectural organisms: precise forms, simplicity in the multiple, the articulation of all architectural units in accordance with the functions of building volumes, streets and means of transport, limitation to elementary type forms and their seriality and repetition…

…The architects in this book reaffirm the contemporary world of machines and vehicles, and their speed; they yearn for ever more daring formal means of overcoming earthly gravity by means of suspension, in effect and in appearance.

In 1928, after resigning as head of the school, Gropius leaves for Berlin where he runs his own studio, the Bauatelier Gropius. In 1933, the year of Hitler’s rise to power, he took part in the exhibition Deutsches Volk – Deutsches Arbeit (German People – German Work, the launch of the Nazi industrialist program). After closing his atelier in Berlin, he moved to London with the endorsement of the Chamber of Culture of the Reich, where he founded a studio to collaborate with Maxwell Fry. It is clear that the new German government sees him as an asset to its foreign influence.

In 1937 Gropius will leave Britain and migrate to the USA where he will work as a professor at Harvard and develop businesses that will be the vanguard of the industrialized model of houses hegemonic even today in the US, until his death in 1969. His success in the main imperialist rival of his home country is self-explanatory: the needs of U.S. capital were no different from those of German or Dutch capital.

The Bauhaus, 1929, 1933… and to this day

Lafayette Park building in Detroit, by Mies van der Rohe: stacking, alienation, ugliness, opposition to Nature... and maximum profitability of fixed capital. The modern program in a single cube.
Lafayette Park building in Detroit, by Mies van der Rohe: stacking, alienation, ugliness, opposition to Nature… and maximum profitability of fixed capital. The modern program in a single cube.

The Bauhaus that remained in Germany, with Meyer at the head and later with Mies van der Rohe faced a fundamental problem with the crash of 1929: the increasing difficulty of making the invested capital profitable when housing was intended for the working class and to a lesser extent for the petty bourgeoisie closer to proletarianization.

Auke van der Woude in Popular Housing in the Modern Movement tells how they solved this problem: even smaller spaces for workers, trade union organization and state intervention… to the relief of big companies like Siemens. The petty bourgeoisie squeezes into smaller spaces than had been customary until then, but architects and builders make an effort to keep class differences visible.

The Siemensstadt colony [in Berlin], located a little to the east, very close to the Siemens company complex that built the neighborhood, consists of a single street with relatively cheap housing on a part of Goebelstrasse (architect Otto Bartning).

It is typical of the financial problem that precisely this part had to be built by a [trade union] cooperative: social housing construction could not be realized without losses of private or company capital. Small houses with two rooms, kitchen and bathroom could still be built by housing associations; smaller ones, intended for minimum subsistence, only by means of large public subsidies.

Also, the houses that were built for the middle class were not large either. They usually had two rooms (three at most), bathroom and kitchen; all of course laid out as rationally as possible, often with a balcony or veranda as extra space. Most of these dwellings were in blocks of 4 and sometimes 3 or 5 stories.

That is, until the end of the original movement, the Bauhaus will represent the vanguard of the spatial program of totalitarian state capitalism and the angry petty bourgeoisie. The Bauhaus is architectural fascism… even beyond and against fascism… which paradoxically would allow it to survive intact with an air of resistance even during the postwar period. Then its principles will not only turn reconstructed Germany into a massive cubic horror. Its logic will become the universal form of social housing, class segregation and the workers’ ghetto.

Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse in Marseille (1960)
Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille (1960)

Paradox after paradox, what alienated Nazism in power from the Bauhaus is the failure of the architectural translation of Fascist ideas to live up to its own promises. The ugliness and manifest and insulting ornamental poverty of Bauhaus housing produces rejection in the Nazi social base itself. The petty bourgeoisie, however angry it might be and however much it might buy the machinist speech… did not want it for itself but for the workers. It wanted a pretty house, inspiring in its own way. It wanted status, not function. But the Bauhaus, and fascism itself, could offer it nothing else.

We must conclude that the New Construction had not provided hard evidence that its architecture was actually better than the traditional one. On the contrary, it seems that even in objective respects such as productivity and efficiency, health and cheapness of construction, and as a result of poor presentation, it led to an emotional climate of reaction and opposition…

When Taut finished building Britz how would the first inhabitants of the Frizt Reuter Allee, who lived in pleasant blocks of houses, look at the long red stuccoed facade across the street? Today [it is considered] a beautiful fence behind the trees, then [it felt like] an inaccessible wall, das rote Front (the red front).

The emphasis on international character was no advertisement in times of popular character; collectivism chimed only when propaganda flattered the family. Housing as a standard object of use did not recognize the need for trust and security that a house was supposed to deliver.

The Bauhaus is the Dorian Grey mirror showing the philo-Nazi petty bourgeoisie the sad future of proletarianization towards which it marches with uniforms and banners. That is why Nazism shatters it before it evidences its own nudity.

Since 1930 it has been evident that the New Builders had not taken the ever-present resistance of public opinion too seriously. Because of their faulty relations with it, they became an easy target after 1933, sometimes just for not being Aryan enough. Many emigrated. That’s where that Jewish Bolshevik will finally go, where he feels at home, the Oberthessische Zeitung would write about Werner Hebebrand as early as 1930, when he followed Ernst May to go to work in the Soviet Union.

And yes, no doubt the Bauhaus and what it stood for could feel at home in the oppressive and terrorist Stalinist state capitalism that had already swept away what had been advanced by the revolution also in housing… but no less than in the American, the European or its infinite post-colonial variants. In fact, the essentials of the Bauhaus have survived to this day: the logistical conception of workers as a problem for the arrangement of space, the systematic stacking in hives, the negation of space, the permanent symbolization of the artificial opposition between Humanity and Nature…

Thus, the New European Bauhaus which they are now trying to impose on us cannot be new at all. The only thing it pretends to renew is the search in housing for a field of accumulation and a way to place production and capital in foreign markets, that is, the vigor of the imperialist zeal of the German architects of the time. For the workers… the same as always: minimum housing and cubicle, machinelike living, segregation and murderous ugliness.