Its Architecture Week – and in celebration I’ve decided to write about one of my favourite buildings. For some reason this building has come to represent for me something fundamental to my beliefs about design and my enthusiasm for modernist ideas.
Since 1982 I held an ambition to visit The Bauhaus in Dessau. At that time, pre – perestroika – Dessau was in communist East Germany and the prospect of a visit was fairly remote. All I knew about the building at that time was from my studies. It’s symbolic construction in 1925. The Bauhaus as the seat of a revolution in design, the ripples of which continue to spread across the world to this day. The dissolution of the Bauhaus under the Nazi regime in the 1930s and the spread of it’s ideas to the US underpinning the post war boom in American industrial design and architecture. A huge legacy for one building eh? Only this, I realised, was my personal myth of the Bauhaus. The building was a manifestation of the Idea and therefore came to symbolise it for me. My delight in the work of the Bauhaus masters, Kandinsky in particular, was a delight in the freshness and new thinking that the Bauhaus philosophy allowed in the design and production of objects. The unashamed use of modern materials, an embrace of machine methods, beauty in pure forms, a modern reinterpretation of classicism – a reconnection of the spiritual element in man with the mass produced objects that surround us.
In 1999 I finally walked through the doors of The Dessau Bauhaus and up those wide stairs iconically rendered in Schlemmers 1932 painting. It was one of the most thrilling days of my life. For so long anticipated and now finally to be here. It was also disappointing because I realised only then that what had drawn me to this place was a desire to more fully understand the ripples from here that had affected my own perceptions and ideas.
Gropius’s building which now looks not unlike every other modern office building was the first – there was nothing else quite like it at the time. It pioneered the use of glass curtain walling, prefabrication, steel framing. The aesthetic was revolutionary: steel framed furniture, colour blocked walls, machine made fittings – everywhere clean unadorned rationality and space.
Tons of space and light – everything for which we now strive in our modern buildings.
The building today although still in use as a Design Institute, is no longer home to what made it famous. My romance with the Bauhaus is a romance with the possibilities it opened up. Beautiful, well designed objects and environments of our time – embracing technology, not fearing it. Celebrating human creativity in our own era – pioneering new approaches. Making the world anew. For me this is what architecture and design is.
Still time to scoop some points on the Architecture Week Quiz – 4 questions left – answer as many as you like!