When Walter Gropius opened his new school for design in Weimar in 1919, he could not guess that by doing so he would have a lasting influence on generations of designers and architects all over the world. At the time he had just one idea in his head – to create “new architecture for the future” which, according to his manifesto, "will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.”
Untitled (Bauhaus building, Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, southwest view) (1931/1932) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation
In the mid-1920s the Bauhaus descended on an open field just outside the burgeoning industrial city of Dessau (Junkers, IG Farben) like a UFO. Dessau was the tech hotspot of its day and so the ideal location for the laboratory of the Modern Age – and not to mention the fact that the city provided not just the land but also the money needed for building the new school.
The Dessau authorities had one condition: Gropius should also plan for a building for the vocational training school on the campus. Since the land that had been allocated was split by a road, he designed five interlinked buildings – one for the vocational technical school (left), three for the Bauhäusler to live and work in and in the middle, on the bridge, the command centre for the boss.
Built in 1925-6, the spectacular school building finally fulfilled the Director’s vision of architecture as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” (comprehensive artwork): “The ultimate goal of all art is the building!”
Only by walking around the building, stated Gropius, was it possible to grasp its architecture, to “get the measure of its physicality and the function of its parts”. Let’s start at the main entrance. Its doors are painted red, one of the three basic colours in the colour theory at the Bauhaus.
The magnificent glass curtain facade can be seen here from two sides. The windows are formed in such a way that they seem to flow into each other at the corners – suspended in front of a concrete and steel construction like a glass skin.
A reinforced concrete skeleton holds the workshop wing together – conventional walls are dispensed with. The ceiling is supported by concrete pillars that are offset towards the inside. The way to the Modern Age is brightly lit from the outside and is intended at the same time to be visible to all.
Bauhaus Building (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, view from South West, 2018 (2018) by Walter Gropius (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
The workshop section is the heart of the building. This is where practical experiments were worked on and industrial prototypes were developed. At the southern end hangs the iconic name sign of the school in all its splendour. Herbert Bayer used capital letters for his design, even though he had introduced the use of lower case letters in the typography workshop.
Each building is of a different height and each has its own function – for working (workshop, left), for living (studio house, right) and for partying (stretched festive area, center).
Cabinetmaking workshop. Kaminski, Levedag, Bayer, Groß, Decker, Meyer-Waldeck, Bücking, Hassenpflug (students of the cabinetmaking workshop on the canteen terrace) (ca. 1928) by Konrad PüschelBauhaus Dessau Foundation
The flat building includes a canteen with a generously-sized terrace – fresh air for fresh visions, here for carpentry students (1928).
Studio Building (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, view from East, 2018 (2018) by Walter Gropius (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
The studio building has five storeys plus an elevated basement floor, making it the tallest building. This is where the junior Masters and selected students lived. The balconies were especially popular …
Dessau Bauhaus heads (from the Bauhaus photo album by Fritz Schreiber) (1931/32) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation
… people could crowd out onto them – sometimes a bit close to the edge.
The industrial look is no accident. Handcrafts were the basis, technology the innovation. Everything that was taught, thought up and researched in these halls, corridors and rooms served just one overriding purpose – practical work on the “Gesamtkunstwerk”.
In the vestibule as well. The lamps were made in the metal workshop (Max Krajewksi). The colour system
for better orientation was thought up in the wall painting workshop (Hinnerk Scheper). And the chairs in the auditorium (left) were developed in the furniture workshop (Marcel Breuer).
From the bridge we get a wonderful view of the workshops. To the left behind the doors were the teachers’ rooms. The red strip at the base marks this area as belonging to the most important person in the building – the Director. The open door just there leads into his room.
This is Walter Gropius’ famous Director’s Room, the spiritual centre of the building. Gropius brought his desk and armchair with him from Weimar. On the floor is some triolin, one of the first plastic materials. The bast covering on the wall is intended to improve the acoustics.
In the glass case the Director had the most important Bauhaus products in his sight at all times. There is a wardrobe with a wash basin concealed in the built-in cupboard behind it.
One floor above the Director’s Room was the architecture room with its large drawing tables. Even though the Bauhaus was a school of architecture it was not until 1927 that architecture was taught there as a specialist subject. Until then this was used by Gropius for his private architectural firm.
Here we are in one of the few conventional classrooms. The globe lamps hanging from the ceiling are by Marianne Brandt, whose glass and metal product designs made her one of the best known Bauhaus women artists.
In front of the panorama window on the second floor are the famous Wassily chairs, designed at the Bauhaus in 1926 by Marcel Breuer. Its bent tubular steel construction made it a forerunner of modern furniture design.
This workshop room was partitioned in 1926. We are standing in what was once the paint shop, which was next to the wall painting workshop. On the opposite window side were the smithy, the machine room and two rooms for the Masters. To the right, behind the white wall, was the metal workshop.
The metal workshop is where lamps, utility objects and the famous tubular steel furniture were made. Let’s take a closer look at the front of the windows – several windows can be opened at the same time using a pulley system.
The radiators are set like parapets in front of the glass facade. There was once a gap in between to allow air to circulate to all three storeys, but it allowed dust, smells and noise from the various workshops to get in as well.
For instance from the weaving workshop …
Ruth Hollos on loom in self-woven dress (1931/32) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
… once an array of looms clattered here ...
Upholstery fabric, eisengarn fabric, grey/black/beige (1926/1927) by Gertrud Arndt (née Hantschk)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
… this is where the robust iron thread fabric was invented.
Nowadays the glass wall ends at the floor. The construction is no longer made of steel, but of aluminium. Bombs destroyed the striking curtain facade during the Second World War. After the war it was almost completely dismantled and installed in its present form in 1976.
This room (next to the weaving workshop) is where the famous foundation course was taught. It was developed in Weimar by Johannes Itten, then led by László Moholy-Nagy in Dessau, and finally it was Josef Albers who taught students the basics of materials and forms …
Study from Josef Albers' preliminary course. Folded and striated paper (ca. 1926) by unknownBauhaus Dessau Foundation
… and developed with them spatial structures with minimal effort and expense (here folded paper).
While the steel, glass and concrete in the rest of the building created a quite sober atmosphere, the entrance to the auditorium was given quite a splendid look with its shiny black doors.
The festive area with auditorium, stage and canteen, separated from the theatre by a folding door, was the real centre of the building. This is where work met life.
Choric Pantomime: Concentric group (1927) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
This is where Oskar Schlemmer’s stage workshop rehearsed. This is where the legendary Bauhaus parties happened.
Industrial aesthetic on the auditorium walls, with radiators replacing the wall paintings. The wheel (right) could be used to open all the window elements at once, the students cranking it for fresh air like factory workers.
Here we are standing directly on the stage. Ahead of us is the auditorium – with the innovative tubular steel chairs by Marcel Breuer – and behind us, we just need to turn around ...
… is the canteen. Everything here, too, is Made by Bauhaus and really efficient. The tables (extra high to save time eating) and the plain tubular steel stools were designed by Marcel Breuer. The lamps are by Max Krajewski.
From the canteen we get directly to the studio building. This was the first student hall of residence to be integrated into a school complex. Gropius intended this to facilitate a new way of living together.
Room 2.55 in the studio building, Bauhaus building, 2.8.2018 (2018) by Walter Gropius (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
The 28 residential studios were fitted with furniture from the school’s own workshop. 23 of them can be hired as guest rooms.
Bauhaus stage. Pantomime 'Treppenwitz' by Oskar Schlemmer (1927) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
The whole building served as an experimental space and a testing ground for manufacturing. Even the roof terrace of the studio building. The Bauhäusler did gymnastic exercises here and used the open architecture as a stage. Oskar Schlemmer explored the relationship between body, form, movement and space here.
What Walter Gropius designed and built here was an avant-garde building that was way ahead of its time and had a huge influence on the style of modern architecture.
Read more about Bauhaus Architecture
Text / Concept / Realisation: Astrid Alexander
Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske
Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt
© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau