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Travel to Germany: Dessau and the Bauhaus

The Bauhaus opened in Weimar in 1919 as a consolidation of the School of Art and the School of Applied Arts of the Grand Duchy of Saxony. The scholl was forced to closed in 1925, but officials in Dessau offered their support, and a new Bauhaus was built there in 1925 and 1926. Walter Gropius, who was both the school's director and the building's designer, didn't last long; he was replaced by Hannes Meyer in 1928. Meyer was replaced by Mies van der Rohe in 1930. The school closed in 1933, its faculty scattered around the world. The building itself was heavily damaged in 1943 and sat in semi-ruin until restoration in 1956. Rarely has a building with such a truncated history had such influence.

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Germany: Dessau and the Bauhaus picture 1

The railway station in Dessau. Nothing special, but unusual if considered alongside the furiously ornate stations so common in Germany. Where did such simplication come from? The answer lies a couple of hundred meters behind the station.

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Before going over there: this oak in front of the station was planted in 1890 to mark Bismarck's 75th birthday. The next year the stone was added. It was removed in 1945 but restored in 1993.

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So much for the Iron Chancellor. We've gone through the station and walked a block before bumping into this building, one of several housing the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences. This building houses MAID, an acronyum for the school's M.A. in Integrated Design. Integrated design was part of the Bauhaus philosophy, of course.

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Another campus building.

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And yet another, but at the end of the axis there's something else.

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It's Walter Gropius' baby, the famous Bauhaus building. with its iconic bridge across a street. The taller part is the studio building, with compact residential apartments and shared kitchens on each floor. The bridge housed the architecture department.

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We've walked around to south side of the studio building. the low bridge links it the high bridge and, on the left, to the huge room of the glass-walled workshop building.

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Here is that workshop with the famous name at the far left.

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The Bauhaus font was designed by Herbert Bayer in 1925.

Here is Gropius' original program for the school, as he conceived it in his 1919 "Manifesto and Programme for the Staatliches Bauhaus."

"Let us together will, devise and create a new form of building for the future, that will be everything in one: architecture and sculpture and painting, that will one day ascend towards heaven as a crystal symbol of a new faith that is to come." (Quoted in The Dessau Bauhaus Building 1926-1999, ed. by Margret Kentgens-Craig, 1998.)

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A few years later Gropius explained more prosaically that "glass is the purest building material consisting of earthly matter, closing off space and keeping out weather, but also having the effect of opening up space, without being and light.... [G]lass architecture, a poetic utopia until recently, is becoming an uninhibited realiy."

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The staircase at the south end of the higher bridge was designed to foster conversation.

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The workshop wing seen through the staircase window.

Not all visitors were enraptured. Ilya Ehrenburg recalled in his Memoiren, "I was in Dessau, where the bauhaus now is--the school of Modern art. A building made of glass. The style of the era has been found: the cult of dry reason." Elsewhere he wrote: "this building is to a certain extent in a state of hostile contrast to its neighbours and to the ground itself, for the first time the earth sees a cult of naked reason here... every angle, every line, right down to the last detail, repeats the conclusion of theorems forgotten since schooldays: 'qed...'"

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North of the workshops is the wing occupied by the technical college, or Technische Lehranstalten.

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The "masters," or professors as we might say, lived in several nearby houses faithful to the creed. Here, from 1925-6, is the house occupied by László Moholy-Nagy, who as an industrial designer taught the foundation course at the school. The house was later occupied by Lyonel Feininger, primarily a painter. Like Moholy-Nagy, he too emigrated to the United States. The house was destroyed in 1945, but restored in 1992-1994.

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Next door is the house occupied by Wassily Kandinsky, who taught design. Later, the house was occupied by Paul Klee, who taught bookbinding, stained glass, and mural painting. Both men left Germany in 1933, Kandinsky for Paris, Klee for Locarno.

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Gropius designed not only the school but between 1926 and 1928 a residential neighborhood called Törten, on the southeastern edge of Dessau. Here is the central Konsumgebäude, the "consumer building" that housed a grocery, butcher shop, and cafe, as well as three upstairs apartments, with balconies for kitchens and living rooms.

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Housing on Am Dreick, the triangle.

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Most of the houses of Törten lie on one of three concentric quarter-circles called simply Kleinring, Mittelring, and Grossering. All three are very, very similar.

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Close-up.

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If not for the color, it would be hard to tell one residence from another.

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Columns add another variant.

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All the houses have large backyards, which extend to an alley.

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Much of the alley frontage is now occupied by garages.

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Nothing so elegant or at least uniform as the houses.

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As for Dessau itself, the center was rebuilt after the devastation of war. Most of the core was rebuilt along very traditional design, like this black of Kavalierstrasse, ending at the Peter and Paul Church. The massive apartment blocks wrap and hide an interior open space that is partly in grass, partly in trees, partly in parking areas, and partly in scattered buildings.

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Farther from that core, post-war housing takes the form of apartment blocks.

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Color comes to their rescue.

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Without it, the results can be oppressive.

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Creativity is not dead in Dessau, however. Here's the town's old power station.

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It's now in the business of solar-power generation.

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And adjoining it is this building.

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The other side.

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Another angle. What could it be?

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Why, it's the federal office for Man and Environment. Gropius might be pleased, although 80 years after the Bauhaus, typography seems to be little improved.


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