The silent Visionary

Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Carl Fieger - the Man behind Walter Gropius

Untitled (Bauhaus buildings in Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, photo of preliminary design drawing by Carl Fieger, west elevation), Carl Fieger (design), 1925, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Gropius is equal to Bauhaus, everyone knows that. But Fieger is equal to Bauhaus: not so many know that anymore. And yet he was the silent visionary behind the man who created the Bauhaus and made that avant-garde school great. Walter Gropius had big ideas for innovative, groundbreaking architecture for the future, but he was not able to draw them. For that he depended on his staff, primarily: Carl Fieger.
Untitled (Bauhaus buildings in Dessau, architect Walter Gropius, photo of preliminary design drawing by Carl Fieger, west elevation), Carl Fieger (design), 1925, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Four preliminary designs exist by him for what is probably the most famous building in Bauhaus architecture, the Bauhaus School in Dessau.

And it is because of his designs that the Bauhaus building ...

... and the Masters’ Houses in Dessau became modern icons.

Members of the site office of Walter Gropius in Berlin, including Carl Fieger, unknown, 1929, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

What do we know about the architect and designer who preferred to work behind the scenes “with no ambition to step into the spotlight“? He was camera-shy too: this photo shows him in a dark work coat in Walter Gropius’s construction office and is one of the few of him that exist.

Untitled (German Embassy, Saint Petersburg, architect Peter Behrens. Interior design elements - ornamental grille, chandeliers, ceiling rosette and coffered ceiling element or trim), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Early work
Untitled (German Embassy, Saint Petersburg, architect Peter Behrens. Interior design elements - ornamental grille, chandeliers, ceiling rosette and coffered ceiling element or trim), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Carl Fieger was born in 1893 and studied structural engineering and interior design at the School of Arts and Crafts in Mainz. When he was 18, he went to Neubabelsberg near Potsdam and in 1911 began work as a draughtsman in the renowned architectural firm of Peter Behrens, one of the most influential German architects of the early 20th Century.

Untitled (German Embassy, Saint Petersburg, architect Peter Behrens. Interior design elements - ornamental grille, chandeliers, ceiling rosette and coffered ceiling element or trim), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Many architects who later achieved fame trained in Behrens’ studio, and this is where the young Fieger met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.

Behrens, who made his name as an art nouveau artist, was one of the founders of the German Werkbund, which played a crucial role in preparing the way into the modern age.

Untitled (Design for an interior with white varnished cupboard for the German Embassy in Saint Petersburg), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

"Form follows function" – this famous statement by Luis Sullivan, the first great American skyscraper architect, became the design principle of the Werkbund. Decoration and ornamentation were at the time still part of the functional approach.

Untitled (Design for an interior with white varnished cupboard for the German Embassy in Saint Petersburg), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

And that is why there are some wonderful embellishments in Carl Fieger’s initial furniture designs for this monumental prestige building ...

Built in 1911-12, the Imperial German Embassy in St. Petersburg – today a city administration building – was intended in the era of Kaiser Wilhelm II to represent Prussian architecture. It is not by coincidence that its red-grey granite facade with its row of columns is reminiscent of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Untitled (German Embassy, Saint Petersburg, architect Peter Behrens. Preliminary draft, perspective view of a hall with staircase), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The shell construction was overseen by Mies van der Rohe, who, as a young site manager at the time, still went by the name of Ludwig Mies. Carl Fieger worked on the interior design and in his coloured drawings displayed his remarkable talent ...

Untitled (German Embassy, Saint Petersburg, architect Peter Behrens. Preliminary draft, perspective view of a hall with staircase), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

... for showing rooms in perspective and bringing out the different fabric textures, as we can see in this residential hall with a double staircase, three arcade windows of room height ...

Untitled (German Embassy, Saint Petersburg, architect Peter Behrens. Preliminary draft, perspective view of a hall with staircase), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

... console tables with lidded vases ...

Untitled (German Embassy, Saint Petersburg, architect Peter Behrens. Preliminary draft, perspective view of a hall with staircase), Carl Fieger, ca. 1911, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

... and a panelled ceiling with plain light bulbs.

Wicker chair, Carl Fieger, 1920/1921, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
From expressive to constructive
FAUN (Sign), Carl Fieger, ca. 1924, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Carl Fieger first joined the firm of the ten years older Walter Gropius in 1913 as an interior designer and furniture designer and worked on some of the major projects of that time. In 1920 he went to Weimar with Walter Gropius, who had founded the Bauhaus School there with the aim of bringing all the artistic and craft disciplines together to create a unified work of art – the great building.

At the same time, Fieger was working as a freelance typographer and designer. He was experimenting with fonts and the ideal ratio of script to image and designing company logos.

Wicker chair, Carl Fieger, 1920/1921, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

In just such a Cubist-Expressionist form Fieger drew this basket chair on spherical feet, fully in the spirit of the Bauhaus manifesto of 1919 – “Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all go back to our handcraft”.

Untitled (Sommerfeld House, Berlin-Lichterfelde, architects Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer. Concept, perspective view of a reading room), Carl Fieger, 1920/1921, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

In 1920-21 Fieger worked on the designs for the Sommerfeld House in Berlin, the first joint project undertaken by the private construction firm of Walter Gropius, who ran it with the architect Adolf Meyer, together with the Bauhaus workshops.

Untitled (Interior design, seating area with table and lamp, perspective view), Carl Fieger, undated (ca. 1923/1924), From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

It was also the Bauhaus and its protagonists who provided what were now the crucial aesthetic impulses for Fieger’s work.

Untitled (Interior design, seating area with table and lamp, perspective view), Carl Fieger, undated (ca. 1923/1924), From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

As the Gropius-Meyer private architectural firm was based in the premises of the Weimar Bauhaus, Fieger got to know the work of Marcel Breuer, who was at the time still a carpentry apprentice, and adapted his geometric forms for his design for a house interior.

Design for a reinforced concrete building for the Chicago Tribune newspaper, competition entry, Carl Fieger, 1922, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

From 1922 Fieger turned increasingly to architecture. His own design for an administrative building for the Chicago Tribune newspaper was his commitment to a new plain and functional style of architecture.

Design for a reinforced concrete building for the Chicago Tribune newspaper, competition entry, Carl Fieger, 1922, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Influenced by Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, this design reflected the current trends at the Bauhaus, which interpreted "form follows function" as "doing away with all ornament".

Design for a reinforced concrete building for the Chicago Tribune newspaper, competition entry, Carl Fieger, 1922, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Steel, glass and concrete were the new building materials of the age. The skeleton construction of the building and the glass cube fronting it prefigured the striking Curtain Wall of the later Bauhaus building. In the end, Fieger did not submit this design for the competition, presumably because the firm of Gropius and Meyer was taking part in it with a similar project.

Garden front of a pair of semi-detached houses for doctors, Carl Fieger, undated (ca. 1924), From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The architecture Fieger designed as an independent architect is innovative. His ‘double house for doctors’ was never built, but was nonetheless included in the prestigious standard textbooks of modern architecture and Gropius also published the design in his Bauhaus series.

Garden front of a pair of semi-detached houses for doctors, Carl Fieger, undated (ca. 1924), From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Two intersecting cubes of different sizes and their apertures are intended to make different room functions apparent from the outside. Projecting sun roofs are characteristic construction details. An unusual feature are the strip windows, which are set deep in the walls and run round corners where they are broken only by a narrow window bar.

Round house, architect Carl Fieger, 2 variants with ground plan, section and views, Carl Fieger (design), 1930/1931, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

This design for a round house built from standardised components was also spectacular and unusual. There was a huge housing shortage in 1924 and Fieger called for a new type of house that could be industrially manufactured and built in series.

Round house, architect Carl Fieger, 2 variants with ground plan, section and views, Carl Fieger (design), 1930/1931, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

"We need today to invent the house incorporating all modern technical achievements, and that must be cheap enough to be affordable for the majority of those who need housing.”

At 70 square metres it offered room for an entire flat.

Nearly 100 years after it was designed, Fieger’s round house could be seen for the first time to the original scale in 2018 as an inflatable airdome. The model was made in PVC from the historical designs for the exhibition "Carl Fieger: From Bauhaus to Building Academy".

Bauhaus estate Dessau-Törten, house type Sietö 2 - 1927, Kleinring, in the foreground House of the family Eichhorn, 2012, Walter Gropius (Architecture), Yvonne Tenchert (Photo), 2012, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
New building
Bauhaus Building (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, view from South West, 2018, Walter Gropius (Architecture), Yakob Israel Willmington-Lu (Photo), 2018, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

For political reasons, Gropius took the Bauhaus from Weimar to Dessau in 1925, and so the private firm moved there as well. Carl Fieger went with him and that is where met his future wife, Dora Sommer. Fieger was now crucially involved in the creative development of project designs and as such was involved in drawing up the fundamental organising idea of the new Bauhaus building complex. The function of each part of the building was intended to be visible from the outside and realised by means of differing heights and facade details.

Bauhaus Building (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, view from South West, 2018, Walter Gropius (Architecture), Yakob Israel Willmington-Lu (Photo), 2018, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The most spectacular part of the building is the glazed workshop section. The facade, known as the Curtain Wall, hangs like a skin of glass with a grid of steel glazing bars, seemingly weightless on the load-bearing reinforced concrete skeleton construction.

Bauhaus estate Dessau-Törten, house type Sietö 2 - 1927, Kleinring, in the foreground House of the family Eichhorn, 2012, Walter Gropius (Architecture), Yvonne Tenchert (Photo), 2012, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Dessau-Törten housing estate
Fieger also played a prominent part in designing the housing estate in Törten, which was built in 1926-28. With its 314 single family houses, it was the most comprehensive project of the Bauhaus in Dessau. Fieger created the designs for three sections of the estate and a shop building. Here for the first time slag concrete hollow blocks were assembled which had on site been manufactured as if on a conveyor belt.
The ideal small flat (for the German Building Exhibition Berlin 1931), Carl Fieger, 1930, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
New ideal for living
The architect designed administrative buildings, factories, sports centres, schools and residential buildings, but what was most important to him was finding a new ideal for living and optimising the layout of the mini-house and the smallest flat. In this he was pursuing a "plan nouveau" in the spirit of Le Corbusier.
Untitled (Adaptable small flat by Carl Fieger. Layout with text montages and photos of furnishings. Exhibition panel for the Deutsche Bauausstellung (German building exhibition) Berlin 1931), Carl Fieger, 1930/1931, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Fieger was against the idea of a fixed, defined layout, and called for multi-functional room use. Here are 40 m² for day and night, arranged using separating walls and a folding bed.

Untitled (Bauhaus buildings in Dessau, Dessau-Törten housing estate, Fieger House, architect Carl Fieger, west facade), Carl Fieger, ca. 1928, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Fieger House
His residential house of 1927 is the only design of Fieger‘s for rationally planned small houses that was actually built. The two-storey house with floor space of 74 m² is in the Bauhaus estate in Törten; its cubic form and semi-circular stairway clearly bear his signature.
Untitled (Dessau-Törten housing estate, Fieger House, view and groundplans), Carl Fieger, 1926, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

In his design of 1926, the model is symmetrically rotated and accentuated in striking colours.

Fieger House, Dessau, architect Carl Fieger; living room with view of bedroom, Carl Fieger (attributed to), ca. 1928, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The interior design included built-in cupboards which were used as flexible room dividers.

Fieger furnishings, bedroom, Carl Fieger (design), Bauhaus Dessau, joinery, 1927, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The wooden bedroom furniture is modular. Orange, grey and white reinforce the geometric forms.

House Fieger: seating group with tubular steel chairs and wooden table, Carl Fieger (design), 1927, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Fieger also experimented with curved tubular steel and designed for himself this armchair with runners and conventional legs. In this he is clearly responding to Marcel Breuer‘s B3 club chair design, although Fieger’s arm rests seem disproportionately large.

Kornhaus (1929-30), 2018, Carl Fieger (Architecture), Yakob Israel Willmington-Lu (Photo), 1929/30, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Kornhaus
The Kornhaus in Dessau is a remarkable unified work of art or “Gesamtkunstwerk” of modern art in which Fieger synthesises architecture, design and nature in an impressive way. This avant-garde building from 1929-30 on the bank of the Elbe fits organically into the river landscape. Two cuboid blocks offset against each other in parallel are rounded at the ends, and the restaurant is given its striking appearance by the glazed conservatory.
Restaurant Kornhaus (1929-30), Dessau-Roßlau, 2008, Carl Fieger (Architecture), Doreen Ritzau (Photo), 1929/30, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The Glass Terrace offers an open view over the landscape and, in the spirit of Walter Gropius, is able “weightlessly to overcome the suspended torpor of the world“.

Untitled (Kornhaus restaurant, Dessau, preliminary design perspective view), Carl Fieger, 1929, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Fieger’s draft design shows an imposing, axially-symmetrical two-storey building.

Kornhaus, Dessau (groundplan of the embankment level), Carl Fieger, 1929/1930, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The surviving drawings bear witness to Flieger’s intention to make this excursion restaurant into a mission combining all the arts – a “Gesamtkunstwerk“.

Restaurant Kornhaus (1929-30), Saal, 2010, Carl Fieger (Architecture), Tadashi Okochi (Photo), 1929/30, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The architect also designed furniture, interior furnishings and colour arrangements.

Untitled (Master's semidetached house, architect Walter Gropius), Franz Ehrlich, 1928 (?), From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Fieger as a teacher
When Walter Gropius founded the faculty of architecture at the Dessau Bauhaus, he appointed Fieger as a teacher of technical drawing. From 1925 to 1928, Fieger used the originals to train the eye of his Bauhaus students, using the Masters' Houses to practise proportion and shadow construction with them. While T. Lux Feininger, the son of the painter and Bauhaus master Lyonel Feininger, recalled Fieger’s attention to detail only with some discomfort, Bauhaus student Paul Linder valued Fieger’s extraordinary skill highly:
The evolution of Dessau (ironic depiction of the city of Dessau with a bridge over the river Mulde), Carl Fieger, 1926, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

“His skill and dexterity in architectural representation were amazing and unequalled. We beginners admired him when he used both hands at the same time to conjure charcoal perspectives that nobody was able to imitate.”

Members of the site office of Walter Gropius in Berlin, including Carl Fieger, unknown, 1929, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

In 1928 Walter Gropius gave up his position as Director and moved his architectural firm into his twelve-room flat in Berlin. Fieger, too, left the Bauhaus with Gropius.

Occupational ban
The political situation for modern artists and architects deteriorated under the Nazi regime. After 1934 only those who were members of the so-called Reich Chamber of Culture were allowed to work as freelance architects. At first, Fieger was turned down because he would not join the Nazi party. This meant that, like many other Bauhaus architects, he was de facto banned from working. He worked anonymously on the designs for the Olympic Village in the west of Berlin as part of Werner March’s team. 

This is the world’s oldest Olympic Village and was built in 1936 for 3,600 athletes from various countries. Its flat roof, elliptical form and a clever system of organisation for the Restaurant of Nations lead one to suspect the hand of Fieger, but there is no evidence for this.

The first prefabricated building in the GDR
After the war Carl Fieger returned to Dessau where he was involved in the reconstruction of the destroyed city, designing four variations for a variable type of house. He tried in vain to resurrect the Bauhaus until in 1952 the former Bauhaus student Richard Paulick appointed him to the German Building Academy in Berlin, where he built the first prefabricated building in the GDR.

This does not look at all like prefabricated construction and is now a listed building. It is an experimental building, concealing its prefabricated construction behind a conventional facade.

Only above the front door is there a relief that betrays the fact that standardised and prefabricated panels have been used for building the house.

Portrait Carl Fieger, Foto-Fischer, Dessau, 1935/36, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Carl Fieger became seriously ill in 1953 and returned to Dessau, where he died in 1960 at the age of 67. His wife lived until her death in 1987 in the Fieger House with the furniture he had designed. She left the estate to the Bauhaus.

In the 1960s a committed city archivist in Dessau called for the city to buy Fieger’s house, but this never happened. Today the house is privately owned, hidden behind high hedges, and cannot be viewed.

After Walter Gropius emigrated via England to the USA in 1934, Fieger kept in touch with him by letter. They never saw each other again.

Read more about Walter Gropius

Read more about Bauhaus Architecture

Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau
Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Astrid Alexander

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

Based on: Carl Fieger. Vom Bauhaus zur Bauakademie. Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung im Bauhaus Dessau 22.03 bis 31.10.2018. Herausgegeben für die Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau von Claudia Perren und Wolfgang Thöner. Text von Uta Karin Schmitt, Edition Bauhaus 52, Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld/Berlin 2018

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

www.bauhaus-dessau.de

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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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