Model Houses for the Modern Age

Between 1925 and 1932 the ‘Bauhäusler’ experimented in Dessau with working, living and housing for a new age and built revolutionary prototypes for the future.

By Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Kandinsky/Klee Master House (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, 2019 (2018) by Walter Gropius (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The famous Masters’ Houses are just a few steps away from the legendary Bauhaus school building and are seen today as modern icons. Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus founder and visionary architect, wanted nothing less than “to create the clear organic building, bare and radiant, whose sense of meaning derives from itself by the clear tension created by its size versus its functions. Everything that is unnecessary is rejected as it disguises the absolute design of the building”. Gropius threw conventional rules out of the window; for him, building meant “shaping life’s processes”:

Kandinsky/Klee Master House (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, 2020 (2018) by Walter Gropius (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

"the organism of a house arises from the course of the processes that play out in it. … the building is not there for its own sake, it arises solely from the essence of building, from the function it is to fulfil.”

The masters of the Bauhaus (after 1926) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Gropius (the man with the cigarette) put this central idea into practice when in 1925-26 he built the Masters’ Houses ensemble for himself and his Masters:

Masters' Houses Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, bedroom window of a master's house (um 1926) by Moholy, Lucia (née Schulz)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Asymmetrical cubic bodies made of concrete, steel and lots of glass. With flat roofs, large studios with floor to ceiling windows and a terrace running all the way around.

Walter Gropius in front of his home in Dessau (1926/27) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

One exemplary single villa he designed for himself as Director and three semi-detached houses for his Bauhaus masters. The white buildings are lined up in a row like modern sculptures.

Untitled (Georg and El Muche, Wassily and Nina Kandinsky near the masters' houses, Burgkühnauer Allee, Dessau) (1926/1927) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

In the colony in the Kiefernwald the artists lived next door to each other as close neighbours. Wassily Kandinsky (on the right with his wife Nina) next to Paul Klee. Georg Muche (on the left with his wife El) next to Oskar Schlemmer. László Moholy-Nagy next to Lyonel Feininger.

Feininger House

The masters of the Bauhaus (after 1926) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

The painter Lyonel Feininger (3rd from right) was one of the first artists to be brought to the Bauhaus as a Master by Walter Gropius in 1919. His name is inseparably associated with the Bauhaus Manifesto, with his woodcut of a cathedral ornamenting its title page.

The messenger (1912) by Lyonel FeiningerMart, Museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto

Born in America, he became known as a caricaturist for German and American newspapers and for his expressionist drawings.

Gaberndorf II (1914) by Lyonel FeiningerMart, Museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto

In Weimar Feininger was head of the graphic print workshops. He helped his students to find themselves artistically and was immensely popular as a teacher. But he didn’t want to make the move to Dessau, saying that the path from being a school of design to a production shop for industry was …

Walter gropius / dessau: duplex, complex of bauhaus masters' houses (um 1926) by Moholy, Lucia (née Schulz)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

… "terrible and the end of all art”, as he complained in a letter to his wife Julia. Finally Gropius managed to persuade him to stay on as a Master, but without any teaching commitments.

In his beautiful studio in his Master’s House, Feininger was able to devote himself completely to his painting. And even if he was dissatisfied with his work at the “construction kit”, as he liked to label the Bauhaus, he liked to meet Bauhaus students in his studio.

The semi-detached houses were conceived for fine artists, with the studio upstairs as the largest and brightest rooms. The wall closet, here covered by a curtain, could be used from both sides.

Muche/Schlemmer Master House (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, 2018 (2018) by Walter Gropius (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

While from the outside the houses gleamed uniformly white, the Masters could do as they pleased inside.

Georg Muche, for instance, had a black bedroom, Wassily Kandinsky had a wall in his living room provided with gold leaf. And Feininger?

Was constantly changing the paint scheme. Feininger’s was a house of many colours.

“The colours in the stairwell are my whole joy,” wrote Feininger in his letters. While in the 1990s the colours when he left the house were initially restored, since 2011 visitors have been able to wonder at the colours from when he moved in. There are 40 different shades of paint in the house.

Actually, Feininger was supposed to be a musician as both his parents were. Like Kandinsky and Klee his painting dealt intensively with music, and he even composed music himself. How fitting, then, that the Kurt Weill Society is now housed in the painter’s Master's House. And there’s something else that Feininger and Weill share:

By Andreas FeiningerLIFE Photo Collection

The composer Kurt Weill, born in Dessau, emigrated to the USA in the 1930s. He went to New York, the city of Feininger’s birth. When the Bauhaus Dessau was shut down by the Nazis in 1932, Feininger returned to New York, where his son Andreas became a celebrated photographer.

At first Andreas Feininger studied in the carpentry shop at the Dessau Bauhaus. When photography was added as a subject in 1928, he was one of the first students. He lived with his brothers Laurence and T. Lux in one of these plain rooms in the Master’s House.

The artists next door could always be observed through the big industrial windows. On this side; all-rounders Oskar Schlemmer and Georg Muche. In this model housing estate for the modern age the residents did everything together – working, living, teaching, exhibiting and partying.

Untitled (Nina Kandinsky, Georg and El Muche in front of their house in Dessau) (1926/1927) by Wassily Kandinsky (?)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

It was rarely as quiet as in this picture. Illustrious guests came from all over the world to acquaint themselves with his hotspot of the international avant-garde: the collector Salomon R. Guggenheim, the artist Georg Grosz, the composer Béla Bartók, the dancer Gret Palucca and many more.

Feininger found the constant commotion of visitors completely annoying, as he wrote to his wife in 1927: “Sunday is a frightful day for me anyway, but these people incessantly strolling past from early ‘til late and standing gawping outside our houses! (Not to mention the ones who come into the garden and gawp in through the downstairs windows). The public breaking in on us like this is dreadful.”

What might his neighbour László Moholy-Nagy have thought of it?

New Master Houses Dessau (Gropius House and Moholy-Nagy House), Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects (2010-2014), Berlin, 2015 (2015) by Bruno Fioretti Marquez ArchitectsBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Moholy-Nagy House

Untitled (László Moholy-Nagy on the shore of the Elbe) (1925-05-21) by Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

László Moholy-Nagy was the man for New Media and one of the most creative minds of the Bauhaus. Hungarian by birth, until 1928 he headed the metal workshop and collaborated with industry.

Jealousy (1927, 1979) by László Moholy-NagyBauhaus Dessau Foundation

He did his famous photographic studies on the side – photography was not a subject at the Bauhaus yet during his time there.

Masters' Houses Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, view from west window of a master's house (um 1926) by Moholy, Lucia (née Schulz)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Lucia Moholy, his wife, was one of the few trained women photographers in the Bauhaus milieu. For Gropius she photographed the Dessau model houses for the modern age, including the Masters’ Houses. Her eye was crucial in creating the image of Bauhaus architecture.

New Master Houses Dessau (Gropius House and Moholy-Nagy House), Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects (2010-2014), Berlin, 2015 (2015) by Bruno Fioretti Marquez ArchitectsBauhaus Dessau Foundation

In the Second World War bombs completely destroyed the Moholy-Nagy House.

The ensemble of the Masters’ Houses was incorporated into the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 1996 and there were long considerations and arguments in Dessau as to what to do with the destroyed part of the historical heritage. Restore it in its original form? But there weren’t enough preserved documents for that. And wouldn’t the copy obliterate the legitimacy of the original?

In the end the concept of “blurred“ recollection by the Berlin firm of architects Bruno Fioretti Marquez won through. In 2011-2014 it was restored using contemporary reconstruction and joined to the Feininger House.

Today there are no intermediate levels or dividing walls on the inside, which means that the viewer can experience the shell as a whole and necessarily be involved in dealing with loss, memory and history.

The windows are made of inserted panes of frosted glass which are translucent and allow only a hazy view of the outside world.

Today the rooms are played in by the Kurt Weill Society and used for concerts as well as for performances by artists in the Bauhaus Residency programme:

Bauhaus Residency | Špela Mastnak and Paul Beckett (2018)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

during their Bauhaus residency in 2017 percussionist Špela Mastnak and viola player Paul Beckett used the open ground floor of the Moholy-Nagy Master’s House as a quite unique resonating chamber.

New Master Houses Dessau (Gropius House and Moholy-Nagy House), Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects (2010-2014), Berlin, 2015 (2015) by Bruno Fioretti Marquez ArchitectsBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Gropius House

Walter Gropius in front of his home in Dessau (1926/27) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation

In the early 20th Century Walter Gropius wanted his school of design not only to revolutionise education and design but also to markedly influence modern architecture. With his Masters’ Houses he created prototypes for the smart living of the future. And Gropius wanted to show that to the world.

Masters' Houses Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, Gropius House, west view (1926) by Lucia Moholy (née Schulz) (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Through his Director’s House he had a whole series of films produced: How can we live in a healthy and economically-effective way? Ise Gropius, his “Mrs. Bauhaus”, took thousands of visitors on tours of the light and functional living rooms to demonstrate labour-saving innovations to them like the plug sockets set into the floor next to the dining room table.

Thomas Flake and Hannes Meyer (during inspection of the building site for the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau) (1928) by Erich ConsemüllerBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Walter Gropius lived in his Director’s House until 1928, when he moved to Berlin with his architectural firm. His successor Hannes Meyer lived here after him with his wife and two children. After Meyer was sacked in 1930, the new Director, Mies van der Rohe, came and stayed here until the Bauhaus moved to Berlin in 1932.

House Emmer, Master House estate (before 2011) by Silvia Höll (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

In 1945 incendiary bombs razed the avant-garde house to the foundations. In 1956 the Emmer House was built on them with a traditional pitched roof and remained there until it was demolished in 2010.

New Master Houses Dessau (Gropius House), Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects (2010-2014), Berlin, 2015 (2015) by Bruno Fioretti Marquez ArchitectsBauhaus Dessau Foundation

In 2011-2014 the architects Bruno Fioretti Marquez created the new Gropius Master’s House: as a “blurred” reconstruction.

New Master Houses Dessau (Gropius House and Moholy-Nagy House), Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects (2010-2014), Berlin, 2015 (2015) by Bruno Fioretti Marquez ArchitectsBauhaus Dessau Foundation

The external shell is an exact reproduction of the proportions of the Director’s House, while inside ...

... the layout of the house is traced only fragmentarily.

For the abstract replacement of the original poured insulating concrete was used, which in its surface structure alone embodies the concept of inexactitude.

Inside, what was once the Director’s residence is now an exhibition space where contemporary works by young international artists are shown that have been created during their Bauhaus residencies.

Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Astrid Alexander

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

www.bauhaus-dessau.de

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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