The Bauhaus school in Dessau by Walter Gropius
Interested in creating a new form of design found at the intersection of architecture, art, industrial design, typography, graphic design, and interior design, Walter Gropius was inspired to create an institution known as the Bauhaus at Dessau, with an emerging style that would forever influence architecture.
Initially a school in Weimar, growing political resentment forced the move to Dessau. Gropius took this as an opportunity to build a school that reflected his hopes for the education that would be had within it’s walls. The style of the Dessau facilities hints at the more futuristic style of Gropius in 1914, also showing similarities to the International style more than the Neo-classic style.
Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus in 1919 and its director until 1928, designed the building on behalf of the city of Dessau and in cooperation with Carl Fieger, Ernst Neufert and others in his private architectural practice – the Bauhaus did not have its own department of architecture until 1927.
The Bauhaus workshops were integrated within the building’s interior design. The city of Dessau provided money for the new school building on a development site close to the train station and also for the Masters’ Houses, and remained the owner of both properties.
In his design, Walter Gropius refined architectonic ideas he first put into practice before WW I in the construction of the Fagus-Werke in Alfeld an der Leine. In Dessau as in Alfeld, the glass curtain wall suspended in front of the load-bearing framework defines the exterior of the workshop wing and openly shows the constructive elements. Gropius, rather than visually amplifying the corners of the cubic body of the building, allowed the glass surface to overlap the edges, thereby creating the impression of lightness.
Gropius consistently separated the parts of the Bauhaus building according to their functions and designed each differently. He thereby arranged the different wings asymmetrically – in relation to what is today the Bauhausstraße and the Gropiusallee respectively. In order to appreciate the overall design of the complex, the observer must therefore move around the whole building. There is no central viewpoint.
The glazed, three-storey workshop wing, the block for the vocational school (also three storeys high) with its unostentatious rows of windows, and the five-storey studio building with its conspicuous, projecting balconies are the main elements of the complex.
The building is indeed comprised of three wings all connected by bridges. The school and workshop spaces are associated through a large two-story bridge, which creates the roof of the administration located on the underside of the bridge. The housing units and school building are connected through a wing to create easy access to the assembly hall and dining rooms. The educational wing contains administration and classrooms, staff room, library, physics laboratory, model rooms, fully finished basement, raised ground-floor and two upper floors.
The entire complex is rendered and painted mainly in light tones, creating an attractive contrast to the window frames, which are dark. To incorporate the students of the Bauhaus, the interior decoration of the entire building was done by the wall painting workshop, the lighting fixtures by the metal workshop, and the lettering by the print shop. With the Bauhaus building, Gropius thoughtfully laid out his notion of the building as a ‘total work’ of compositional architecture. The junior master of the mural workshop, Hinnerk Scheper, designed a detailed colour plan that, by differentiating between supporting and masking elements through the use of colour, aimed to accentuate the construction of the building.
The huge curtain window facade of the workshop building became an integral part of the building’s design. Hoping to create transparency, the wall emphasized the ‘mechanical’ and open spatial nature of the new architecture. These vast windows enabled sunlight to pour in throughout the day, although creating a negative effect on warmer summer days. In order to preserve the curtain wall as one expanse, the load bearing columns were recessed back from the main walls.
As a practiced architect, Gropius was interested in including structural and technological advancements as he designed this revolutionary school for architecture and design students. Some of the various progressions include a window glazing, a skeleton of reinforced concrete and brickwork, mushroom-like ceilings of the lower level, and roofs covered with asphalt tiles that were meant to be walked on. The total area for construction of the Dessau Bauhaus was 113,400 sq ft, the building itself containing approximately 250,600 sq ft. The total cost was around 902,500 marks, or 27.8 mars per cubic m of space.
Under pressure from the National Socialists, the “Hochschule für Gestaltung” (school of design) at the Bauhaus was closed in 1932. After suffering heavy bomb damage towards the end of the war, the building was provisionally repaired. Designated a protected monument in 1974, it was comprehensively restored for the first time in 1976. The Wissenschaftlich-kulturelle Zentrum Bauhaus Dessau (WKZ), which began to establish a Bauhaus collection and which organised events, introduced an institution that focused on the work of the Bauhaus Dessau into the building.
The WKZ merged with two further education institutes in 1987 to form the Bauhaus Dessau, which in 1994 became the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. With its declaration as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1996, it was decided to carry out further extensive restoration, which was completed in 2006. Today, the Bauhaus is therefore once more a vital place for experimental design, research and teaching, similarly dedicated to the cultivation and communication of the Bauhaus legacy, and to work on contemporary urban issues.
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