bauhaus
imaginista
Article

From Recognition to Rejection

Hannes Meyer and the Reception of the Bauhaus in the Soviet Union

Hannes Meyer, Béla Scheffler und Arkadij Mordvinov 1930–31 in Moskau,
from: A-Z-I, Vol. X, No. 1, 1931, p. 19, photo: Archiv der Moderne Weimar.

The history of the Stalinist critique of the Bauhaus and Hannes Meyer has two chapters. The first chapter spans the time from 1929 to the Architects’ Congress in the Soviet Union in 1937; the second consists in the condemnation of the Bauhaus in the GDR that took place on the trip by East German architects to Moscow in spring of 1950.

Front page of ABC, No. 2, 1926, created with Hannes Meyer as editor.

This history has two protagonists: Hannes Meyer and Arkady Mordvinov. While both had close ties during the first phase—Meyer himself served as a key witness to overcoming the Bauhaus—in 1950/51, Meyer stood in the ideological dock for a position that he believed to have long left behind in the Soviet Union, without being able to partake in the discussion. His former fellow traveller and student, Mordvinov, at that point the president of the Soviet Academy of Architecture, had become his judge. Whatever shady political tricks Meyer might have played, no matter how strongly he may have been involved in political intrigues and disappointed his fellow travellers,1 he was not capable of capitulating as an architect. That is also a reason why very few of his buildings were realised. In this text, I limit myself to the first chapter of this history

1919–1929: Mutual Resonance between the Bauhaus and Soviet architecture

The beginning of the relationship between the Bauhaus and Soviet architecture following World War I and the revolutions in Russia and Germany is marked by the mutual declarations of internationalism and the departure to a new world; by the cables between the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers’ Council for Art) in Berlin and the Department for Visual Art (IZO) at the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment; and by the names of Bruno Taut, Walter Gropius and Adolf Behne and of Wassily Kandinsky, the commissioner of the IZO for Germany. After in January 1919 Kandinsky had sent the ‘Art Programme’ of the Russian government to Walter Gropius in Weimar and the Arbeitsrat für Kunst in Berlin, among others,2 via an emissary3 who had set off to Germany in December 1918, it was also Kandinsky who first reported on the Bauhaus in the Russian press and on the fact that Gropius’ response to the Russian programme of an ‘integration of the arts under the roof of architecture’ was very positive, as Kandinsky notes in his essay ‘Architecture as Synthetic Art’ (1920).4), in: Художественная жизнь (Artistic Life), No. 4,5, 1920, p. 23f.] There were evidently mutual influences between Gropius’ programme for the Bauhaus and Kandinsky’s proposals for the Moscow Institute of Artistic Culture (InKhuK).5 However, Kandinsky was defeated in the internal dispute at the InKhuK by the radical constructivists around Aleksander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova, who rejected Kandinsky’s theoretical work ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ (1911). Kandinsky ultimately left Moscow in December 1921 and travelled to Berlin via Riga. He accepted Gropius’ call to the Bauhaus as early as in June 1922 and was therefore no longer a contact partner in Russia.

At the Internationalen Architekturausstellung (International Architecture Exhibition) held in the frame of the Bauhaus week in 1923, Gropius was highly intent on also displaying the ‘development of the new Russian architecture’6. But this failed, because the emissary from Moscow (Evsej Davidovič Šor), a staff member of the architecture workshop of the MOSSOVET and the architecture section of the State Academy of Artistic Sciences (GAKhN), used his stay to emigrate.7

Instead, Ėl’ Lisickij (El Lissitzky) came from Switzerland to Weimar and—after the project of a ‘Constructivist Internationale’ had failed a year earlier—on 17 August, 1923, presented the proposal for an ‘international architects’ congress in Moscow’ during a ‘meeting with Gropius’ (probably with Bruno and Max Taut, Erich Mendelsohn, Mies van der Rohe, Adolf Behne and J.J.P. Oud).8 When Gropius made plans for his first Bauhaus book Internationale Architektur in 1924, László Moholy-Nagy also turned to Lissitzky for a Russian contribution.9

It was Lissitzky’s elastic concept of constructivism, among other things, that allowed him to take on the role of a central mediator between the different factions of the avant-garde and between East and West.

From the first encounter between Lissitzky and Mart Stam in Berlin in 1922, via the passing on of Lissitzky’s inspirations through Stam to Hans Schmidt and Werner Moser, who stayed in Holland a short while afterwards, one can draw a direct line to the invitation extended to the Swiss architects Hannes Meyer, Hans Wittwer, Paul Artaria and Emil Roth in early 1923 to join the group that was just forming at the time. With the participation of Stam and Lissitzky, they founded ABC in spring of 1924, ‘an association that became the most important group of constructivist architects outside of the USSR’,10 and from 1924 to 1928 published the eponymous magazine. The ten published issues of ABC. Beiträge zum Bauen dealt with building as well as more recent art in cultural-critical, manifesto-like texts, presenting the cultural concept of ‘New Building’.

Moisei Ginzburg’s article ‘The International Front of Modern Architecture’, in: Sovremennaja Architektura (Soviet Architecture), No. 2, 1926.

Joost Schmidt, Poster for the Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar, lithography, 1923, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2018.

By the mid-1920s, the reception of the Bauhaus and the efforts to establish international contacts among the modern architects had become an important issue in the budding debate on the further development of the Soviet Union itself. Confronted with imminent strategic decisions in the wake of the country’s industrialisation, avant-gardists and traditionalists continued to fight for cultural hegemony. Immediately after the 1st All-Union Congress for Civil Engineering and Engineering in May 1926,11 during which Moisei Ginzburg had spoken about the ‘recent architectural trends in our country and abroad’,12, Сегодняшний день в архитектуре и строительстве (The Today in Architecture and the Building Industry), in: Izvestija, 13 May, 1926.] the OSA periodical Sovremennaja Architektura (Modern Architecture) published his article ‘The International Front of Modern Architecture’13. The issue also contained a report on the meeting of Bruno Taut and Erich Mendelsohn with Ginzburg, David Arkin, Aleksei Gan, and others at the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS), in which their chairwoman Ol’ga Kameneva had also participated. They jointly discussed the creation of the ‘International Front of Modern Architecture’. The first step was taken by establishing official contacts between the Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops in Moscow (Vkhutemas) and the Bauhaus. Ginzburg refers to Lissitzky’s faculty at the Vkhutemas, ‘where the constructivists design objects of everyday use and realise them in practice’.14 Aleksei Gan, responsible for the design of the Sovremennaja Architektura, also hoped for the connection with ‘the progressive architects of the West and America’ and especially with ‘the German constructivists of the Bauhaus’, to help ‘them take the more correct and consistent path of our constructivism.’15

A half year later, at the turn of 1926/27, Hannes Meyer accepted Gropius’ offer to take over the master class for architecture at the Bauhaus, the so-called ‘Baulehre’ (building theory), as of 1 April, 1927. According to sources, Gropius got to know Meyer only at the opening of the Bauhaus building in Dessau on 4 December, 1926. Gropius had previously asked Mart Stam to take charge of the architecture department, but he declined. One can only speculate about Gropius’ reasons for his choice. I presume that the ABC network and Lissitzky were behind it. Already on 18 December, 1926, Gropius made Meyer his offer.16 When reading the letters of Meyer to Gropius, he leaves no doubt about his programmatic orientation: ‘the basic tendency of my classes will be absolutely functional-collectivist-constructive in the sense of “abc” and the “neue welt”.’17 One could assume that with the initiative of Gropius—first Stam, then Meyer—the expectations of the Soviet side to lead the Bauhaus to a ‘more correct and consistent path of constructivism’ had been optimally fulfilled.

Poster of the OSA exhibition 1927 by Aleksei Gan.

At any rate, in early 1927 Lissitzky reported quite positively on the Bauhaus that had opened in Dessau under Gropius, drawing a connection line to the November Revolution, the Workers’ Committee for Art and the Vkhutemas.18

With his contributions to ABC and his programmatic text ‘Die neue Welt’ (The New World),19 Meyer had orientated himself to Lissitzky; the designs for the Petersschule in Basel and the League of Nations in Geneva (both with Hans Wittwer) and his experience with the construction of residential buildings corresponded with this ‘general line’.

On 5 February, 1927, David Arkin gave an account of the contact made between the Bauhaus and the Vkhutemas in the government newspaper Izvestija.20: ‘Вхутемас и германский 'Баухауз'’ (The Vkhutemas and the German ‘Bauhaus’), in: Izvestija, 5 February, 1927. Arkin underscored the special interest on the Soviet side in the orientation of the Bauhaus towards ‘the mass production of objects of daily use’ and questions of ‘furnishing homes’, taking ‘the newest demands on living hygiene and the economic and rational organisation of living’ into account. He wrote that the Bauhaus had recently made the proposal of exchanging exhibitions of student works with the Vkhutemas. Excursions of students was to facilitate getting to know each other better. ‘Under the direction of the excellent architect Walter Gropius, the masters of the ‘Bauhaus’ expressed particularly great interest in the artistic movement of the USSR.’] The contacts, which were now official, resulted not only in the legendary visit of Muscovite students to the Bauhaus in autumn of 1927 and the visit of Bauhaus students to the Vkhutemas in spring of 1928,21 but also in the participation of the Bauhaus in the First Exhibition of Modern Architecture in Moscow (18 June to 15 August, 1927), which was organised by the OSA, designed by Aleksei Gan and hosted in the spaces of the Vkhutemas.22

While in his 1926 essay ‘The International Front of Modern Architecture’, Ginzburg had still disregarded the Bauhaus and mentioned Walter Gropius alongside Arthur Korn, Fritz Glantz, Bruno and Max Taut, Erich Mendelsohn, and Mies van der Rohe—they ‘and others open a new stage of development of modern German architecture’23—the First (International) Exhibition of Modern Architecture in Moscow now featured the Bauhaus with an own section and, quite prominently, works by Walter Gropius and Hannes Meyer in the section dedicated to foreign architecture (Meyer: Freidorf, Co-op interior, Basel School, League of Nations). No. 6, 1927 of Sovremennaja Architektura was entirely dedicated to the First Exhibition of Modern Architecture. Ginzburg’s editorial ‘Constructivism as a Method of Experimental and Pedagogical Work’ was accompanied exclusively by illustrations of the Bauhaus projects by Walter Gropius in Dessau and the project by Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer for the palace of the League of Nations.24

View of the Bauhaus section of the OSA exhibition 1927.

Sovremennaja Architektura No. 5, 1928 also riveted on the change in the Bauhaus directorship from Gropius to Meyer that took place on 1 April, 1928—directly after the paper ‘Constructivism in Architecture’ which Ginzburg had delivered at the first conference of the OSA. Gropius’ text ‘The Architect as Organiser of the Building Industry’25 was followed by Ernst Kállai’s26 contribution ‘The Bauhaus Lives’27 that countered the fears of a new crisis or even the end of the Bauhaus. The description of the project of the national school for the ADGB by Meyer and Wittwer is confronted by the editors’ question of whether—in the light of the reformist character of the Allgemeinen Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbundes (General Federation of German Trade Unions, AGDB)—a ‘non-proletarian’ goal can also be discerned in the building task. The original plan was to obtain a statement by the communist unions, but that never materialised. As if to assure his correct ideological position, Meyer’s programmatic text ‘The New World” (1926) was also printed. And Ginzburg, too, stressed the continuity from Gropius to Meyer.

In his speech held at the OSA conference in April 1928 published in the same issue, he had pointed out: ‘Functionalism in architecture […] opens up new perspectives for us—the creation of a socially new, standard architecture. But there are also many architects in the West who seek to overcome individualistic contradictions […]. In Germany, one should note and highlight the German “Bauhaus” school in Dessau which under the direction of Gropius and Hannes Meyer has successfully overcome all the enumerated deficiencies of new German architecture, bringing it [the Bauhaus school] closest to our constructivist architecture regarding its entire ideological foundation.’28), in: Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 5, 1928, p. 143–145.] It is remarkable how strongly Ginzburg highlights the proximity of Gropius und Meyer, while a bit later, and especially after Meyer’s move to the Soviet Union in 1930, others—above all Gropius and Meyer themselves—accentuated their differences. This was first underscored Ginzburg’s appreciation for Gropius in 1928. It must also be considered that this paper was simultaneously Ginzburg’s showcase for his participation in the foundation of the CIAM in 1928, which he couldn’t attend, however, because his visa for Switzerland was issued too late. At the foundation of the CIAM in 1928, one point was to integrate the German national group, which was initially in disagreement because of the qualms of Hugo Häring, the chairman of the association of architects Der Ring. For this reason, Gropius was not a founding member of the CIAM either; only at a later point in time did he assume the position of the German representative. In a letter, Sigfried Giedion had assured Lissitzky that ‘the way in which the whole matter has developed, [...] the actual avant-garde [will most likely] take over control at this congress’29—meaning the ABC circle, Lissitzky, Ginzburg and Le Corbusier, and the Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer.

The year 1928 was without doubt the climax of the mutual resonance between Soviet constructivism and the international movement of New Building, including the Bauhaus headed by Walter Gropius and Hannes Meyer. A further indication of this was the commissioning of Le Corbusier to build the Centrosojuz building in Moscow.

View of the Bauhaus section of the OSA exhibition 1927.

Facsimile of the article by Ernst Kállai ‘The Bauhaus Lives’, in: Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 5, 1928, p. 148.

The Year 1929

In the wrangling between traditionalists and modernists in the Soviet Union, the victory of constructivism appeared inevitable in 1928/29. The OSA had important allies at this time: the trade unions, the co-operative movement, the People’s Commissariats for Labour, for Workers and Farmers Inspection, and for Enlightenment (education), the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy, the Building Commission of the RSFSR, parts of the Communist Academy, etc. In socio-political terms (from the economy to culture), the issue was to connect the developments in the Western countries with the development of the Soviet Union. Close relations were sought, even though the spreading of the revolution was no longer at the fore after the relative stabilisation in the capitalistically dominated countries and the building up of the Soviet Union was now orientated towards the development of its own modes of production and living. The catch-up modernisation in the Soviet Union was based on the advanced technology of the West, but the development of a socialist mode of housing and living was to be attractive for the majority of the population in the West as well. The leftist social democracy and cultural bolshevism oriented towards the life-world had much in common. The problem of the new contracting authority, clearly addressed by Ginzburg and others, of having to grasp the social and aesthetic dimension of New Building, aimed at internal democratisation. And vice versa: The inner logic of the development of questions to be raised at the CIAM congresses—from housing for the subsistence level (1929), to rational modes of construction (1930) and finally to the functional city (1931) —was in line with the assumption that socialism could free and develop on a large scale the productive forces of New Building that had evolved in capitalism by abolishing private ownership of land. The New Building and public housing were to be realised in socialist urban development in the Soviet Union.

The competition for the construction of the Lenin Library became one of the crystallisation points of the hegemonic dispute between avant-gardists and traditionalists in the field of architecture. In early 1929, the result of the competition, which Vladimir Ščuko had won, was sharply criticised by the ARU (Association of Architect-Urbanists), ASNOVA, the circle of architects of the VKhUTEIN (until 1926 Vkhutemas) and initially also the VOPRA (All-Union Association of Proletarian Architects). Sovremennaja Architektura, in issue 3/1929, published a protest letter against eclecticism by the mentioned architecture organisations and presented the counter-model of the Vesnin brothers. Yet when the editorial staff of Stroitel’stvo Moskvy (Building Moscow) published the competition contribution in issue 7/1929, the statement of the VOPRA was now missing from subsequently printed protest letters. The editors of Stroitel’stvo Moskvy bravely demanded an explanation for the bad decision from the chairman of the government commission, the former people’s commissioner for education Anatoly Lunaskarsky. Instead of an answer, the next issue included the ‘Declaration of the All-Union Association of Proletarian Architects’ (VOPRA) arguing against ‘eclecticism’, ‘constructivism’ and ‘formalism’ in architecture and in favour of a ‘proletarian architecture’30

Lenin Library by Vladimir Ščuko und Vladimir Gel’frejch (1928–41).

The breaking of ranks and subsequent ideological offensive of the VOPRA can only be explained by Stalin’s policy shift at the April plenum of the CPSU (B) in 1929. After Stalin—first in alliance with Nikolai Bukharin and based on an evolutionary concept of the industrialisation of the Soviet Union—had eliminated Lev Trockij (Trotzky) and the ‘leftist opposition’, in April 1929 he began the fight on the public stage of the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Committee against Bukharin (as the chairman of the Communist International) and against Aleksei Rykov (as the chairman of the Council of People’s Commissioners, i.e. the union government) and shifted to the concept of ‘a rapid rate of development of our industry’ and the application of ‘emergency measures’ against the independent peasants. Based on the assessment that the relative stability of capitalism had come to an end, he mentioned facts that ‘indicate beyond a doubt that the elements of a new revolutionary upsurge are accumulating in the capitalist countries’, while in the Soviet Union, the ‘offensive of socialism against the capitalist elements of the national economy along the whole front’ was on the agenda, resulting in ‘the task of intensifying the fight against Social-Democracy, and, above all, against its “Left” wing, as being the social buttress of capitalism. Hence the task of intensifying the fight in the Communist Parties against the Right elements, as being the agents of Social-Democratic influence.’31

Based on the devastating thesis of the ‘general intensification of the class struggle’, the VOPRA, which was directly connected with the party, reordered the discursive field and opened the fight between the factions. In their view, the architecture of the USSR was still navigating ‘in the wake of bourgeois art’. In a sociologically reductionist manner, the VOPRA attributed the various architectural movements to different development stages and milieus of bourgeois society. Eclecticism, as the mechanical imitation of old architecture, was deemed an expression of the era of industrial and merchant capitalism. Although formalism is based on the separation between decoration and new technical constructions, it resorts to the escapist, abstract search for ‘new’ forms and follows a dangerous utopianism, it is a petit-bourgeois reaction to finance capitalism. Constructivism, which emerged with monopolistic capitalism, leads to the negation of art and replaces it with technology and engineering. With its machine fetishism, anti-psychologism and vulgar materialism, it corresponds with the ‘psycho-ideology’ of the technical intelligence of big business.32

Competition contribution by the Vesnin brothers for the building of the Lenin Library, Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 3, 1929.

Competition contribution by the Vesnin brothers for the building of the Lenin Library, Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 3, 1929.

Now, sights were set on international modernism, as well. Here is an exemplary quote by the VOPRA member Vasily Simbircev in Stroitel’stvo Moskvy 11/1929: ‘Starting with the practice of eclectic groups that tenaciously resurge and in a dignified way make use of old, outdated forms and styles of feudal and merchant-capitalist architecture, and ending with ultra-left constructivism, which transfers the architecture of big business (Corbusier, Bauhaus in Dessau in Germany, among others) to our [Soviet] ground, we have works of the most various schools and movements in the new architecture of Moscow. These movements are incessantly fighting for hegemony in architecture, and the latter, as with other areas of our building up, appears not as a unified stream but is sharply distinguished according to the class-related expression of the groups that not only make their appearance with manifestos and declarations, not only lead lengthy theoretical discussions, but battle with each other in practice. This battle is intensifying today, in connection with the general intensification of class struggle in the country.’33

And a year later, the VOPRA member Michail Krjukov declared that, as opposed to eclecticism, formalism and constructivism, a ‘fourth direction’ has emerged with the ‘new society of proletarian architects’: ‘It is faced with the task of being the fighting organisation for the proletarian ideology in the field of architecture. Unfortunately, the young organisation is much too small and has only had a weak influence in the first year of its existence.’34

Altered discursive structure

This was the discursive structure in which Hannes Meyer got involved after arriving in Moscow in autumn of 1930.35 Meyer joined ranks with the VOPRA, thus taking the side of the ideological opponents of the international movement of New Building—the forces that interpreted the Bauhaus as the aesthetic expression of big business and the monopolistic bourgeoisie. This orientation towards ‘proletarian architecture’ did not yet have direct consequences in terms of design, but indeed in political and theoretical respect. The basic line of argument was the following: The eclecticists may have acknowledged the artistic character of architecture, but they drew their forms exclusively from the past, while the formalists and, above all, the constructivists/functionalists flatly denied the artistic character of architecture. But at stake, in their view, was precisely to unfold the artistic character of architecture through new architectural forms that corresponded with the class content of the proletariat.

Hence, Meyer, too, was recommitted to the ‘art of felt imitation’ and the ‘demands we make on life […] depending on social stratification’ that he had sought to leave behind with the orientation towards world citizenship and standard production in his programmatic text ‘The New World’ (1926). Now, the proletariat was to be conceded what he had denied the bohemians: ‘colour values, burr, mellow tones, and random brush-strokes’, ‘the novel’, ‘picture and sculpture as images of the real world’.36

The Stalinist critique of the Bauhaus took place simultaneously in view of and with Hannes Meyer. In this ideological setting, he was both object and subject. In the process, the fatal social fascism thesis and the reactivation of architecture as the art of building were interwoven. This can be discerned quite well in the catalogue of the Bauhaus exhibition held in Moscow from June to September 1931, three quarters of a year after Meyer’s arrival.

In the introduction, Meyer gives an account in the third person of the history of the Bauhaus up to that point and of his dismissal for political reasons. He comes to the following conclusion: ‘Fascist reaction had overwhelmed Bauhaus.’ In the very next sentence he switches to the first person plural: ‘Our experience in Bauhaus Dessau showed that “Red Bauhaus” as an educational institute was infeasible under capitalist conditions.’ To then conclude the report, oddly, in the third person again: ‘Basing themselves on this conclusion, Hannes Meyer and a group of his colleagues from Bauhaus made themselves available to the Soviet Union for socialist construction.’37 The subjective testimony becomes part of the legitimisation of an allegedly ‘objective’ process—that of bourgeois-capitalist society inevitably becoming fascist, with the only resort being the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat or the participation in the socialist building up in the Soviet Union.

Facsimile of the article by Arkady Mordvinov in Sovetskaja Architektura, No. 1/2, 1931.

Arkady Mordvinov wrote the longer text of the catalogue. In 1927 he and other architecture students had visited the Bauhaus in Dessau and in 1929 he co-founded the VOPRA. In his text, he endeavours to outline ‘the leading trends and contradictions of capitalist Germany, including the formation of proletarian art in its core’, an art ‘in irreconcilable contradiction to the ruling bourgeois ideology’.

Mordvinov distinguishes between three phases of the Bauhaus:

'In its first phase of development during its time in Weimar, Bauhaus was characterized by the dominance of the brushwork of easel painters. From the artist’s easel they move on to ‘objects’ in which they found the synthesis of arts. Insofar as they see each artistic form as a pure form (painting—colour, surface; sculpture—volume; architecture—space) the synthesis of painting, sculpture, architecture, and objects was in a formal sense abstract and thus beyond the scope of art.

In its second period a thoroughgoing formalistic ‘thingism’ is dominant in Bauhaus. Instead of paintings we have the painting of murals, photomontage and graphics; instead of sculpture we have the production of furniture from wood and metal. In this field Bauhaus breaks with its previous eclectic architecture, ornamental, imitative style, and its attempt to restore ancient styles. Instead it takes the path of creating a new architecture. Just like in its production of objects, so in architecture, there existed two schools of thought and work methods in Bauhaus: the formalist constructivism under Walter Gropius predominating in the second Bauhaus period; in the third period, under Hannes Meyer, it is replaced by functionalism and an engineering focus.

The school of Walter Gropius aestheticizes the technical whereas the school of Hannes Meyer brings it into a sharp focus and negates any aestheticism.'38

Facsimile of the article by Arkady Mordvinov in Sovetskaja Architektura, No. 1/2, 1931.

What Ginzburg sees as a continuity from Gropius to Meyer, Mordvinov sees as a break, exaggerating and schematising the differences. Mordvinov now contends that the social moment is developed the highest at the Bauhaus not in architecture and the production of objects of everyday use, but in the poster, in photo-montage and the design of periodicals, books and brochures: ‘In this field we already see a reversal of formalism, a technicism, a rejection of art towards an art of proletarian content. // This change of course had still not embraced the spheres of fresco painting, monumental sculpture, the design of mass worker festivals and demonstrations and had no impact on architecture.’39

But it must have been very bitter for Meyer that Mordvinov did not mention his pergola houses or the national school of the AGDB—buildings that are today UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites—as positive examples of the era Meyer, but instead the non-architectural poster designs.

Mordvinov deemed three points of the ‘Meyer school’ positive: 1. The scientific method for designing architectural works, 2. the concept of rationalising production (classification/standardisation), 3. the system of architectural education in which professors and students worked on real projects together.

But the negative critique was more crucial: In his view, the neglecting of the class contents of art and especially the banning of artistic moments from architecture resulted in reducing the architectural work to fulfilling elementary functions. Mordvinov concluded: ‘Let’s hope that in Soviet conditions the negative features of Hannes Meyer and his group will be overcome.’40

Meyer accepted this lesson. While in the Soviet Union he still wrote in his text ‘On Marxist Architecture’ (Manuscript dated 13 June, 1931): ‘architecture is no longer the art of building’,41 but by 1932 he was converted: ‘I judge the rejection of art in building, advocated by some modern, capitalist architects, as one of the symptoms of the collapse of bourgeois culture. […] In regard to socialist architecture, we grasp “art’” as the sum of all measures demanded by the ideological organisation of a building or city, to become directly vivid to the proletariat. The value of this art is determined by its political content. In this proletarian architecture, the maximum experience of the mass of workers is the prime achievement, the ideology of the working class, its heroism and its revolutionary will are the inexhaustible sources of this architecture.’42

However, this process of the Stalinisation of architecture must not be regarded as completed. At the same time in which the exhibition The Bauhaus in Dessau 1928–1930 was presented in Moscow, Walter Gropius negotiated in Berlin with Soviet representatives on taking over the city development department at GIPROGOR and on his contribution to the competition for the Palace of the Soviets. But in this competition, neither Walter Gropius nor Hannes Meyer stood a chance.

The German version of this text "Von der Anerkennung zur Ablehnung. Hannes Meyer und die Bauhaus-Rezeption in der Sowjetunion" will be published in October 2018 in: Thomas Flierl & Philipp Oswalt (eds.): Hannes Meyer nach dem Bauhaus. Im Streit der Deutungen, Spector Books, Leipzig 2018.

●Footnotes
  • 1 Cf. Harald Bodenschatz & Thomas Flierl (eds.): Von Adenauer zu Stalin, Theater der Zeit, Berlin 2016, p. 9–14 and p. 131–138.
  • 2 Cf. Adolf Behne: ‘Vorschlag einer brüderlichen Zusammenkunft der Künstler aller Länder’, in: Sozialistische Monatshefte, 3/1919, p. 155–157.
  • 3 Ludwig Bаеhr was the lawyer of Kandinsky when he separated from Gabriele Münter. He was also an artist and wound up in Russia as a German prisoner of war. Cf. Из истории художественной жизни СССР. Интернациональные связи в области изобразительного искусства 1917–1940 (From the History of Art Life in the USSR. International relations in the Field of Visual Art 1917–1940), Moscow 1987, p. 42.
  • 4 Архитектура как синтетическое искусство (из писем и программ германских художников) (Architecture as Synthetic Art [from  letters and programmes of German artists
  • 5 Cf. Christina Lodder: ‘The VKhUTEMAS and the Bauhaus’, in: Gail Harrison Roman & Virginia Hagelstein Marquardt (eds.): The Avant-Garde Frontier. Russia Meets the West, 1910–1930, University Press of Florida, Gainesville 1992, p. 196–240, here p. 224.
  • 6 Walter Gropius to Edwin Redslob, letter dated May, 1923, ThHStAW, Bestand Bauhaus, Akte 33, Bl. 34.
  • 7 For biographical data on Šor see Dmitry Segal, Вячеслав Иванов и семя Шор (Vjačeslav Ivanov and the Šor Family), in: Cahiers du Monde russe, Vol. XXXV, No. 1–2, 1994, p. 331–352.
  • 8 Oskar Beyer (ed.): Erich Mendelsohn. Briefe eines Architekten, Prestel-Verlag, Munich 1961, p. 56–58.
  • 9 László Moholy-Nagy to El Lissitzky, letter dated 7 April, 1924, in: Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers (ed.): El Lissitzky. Proun und Wolkenbügel. Schriften, Briefe, Dokumente, Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1977, p. 179. Tat’iana Ėfrussi thinks it is conceivable that Lisickij also negotiated the participation of the Bauhaus in the First German Art Exhibition (1924) in Moscow and Saratov. Cf. same, Баухауз на выставках в СССР 1924–1932 (The Bauhaus at Exhibitions in the USSR 1924-1932), http://www.actual-art.org/en/132-st2012/rus20/521-efrussi-baukhauz-na-vystavkakh-v-sssr.html (07/25/2018).
  • 10 Sima Ingberman: ABCDie Internationale Konstruktivistische Architektur 1922–1939, Birkhäuser Verlag, Braunschweig/Wiesbaden 1997, p.  8.
  • 11 Труды Первого Всесоюзного съезда по гражданскому и инженерному строительству (6–15 мая 1926) (Documents of the First All-Union Congress for Civil Engineering and Engineering, 6–15 May, 1926), Moscow 1928 (http://нэб.рф/catalog/000219_000026_RU___ГПНТБ+России___IBIS___0000639353/) (07/25/2018).
  • 12 During the congress, David Arkin wrote a report for Izvestija (news, government paper) stating: ‘The creation of Soviet architecture corresponds with the efforts of Gropius, Mendelsohn, Corbusier, Mallet-Stevens and other progressive architects in Germany, France and Holland.’ (A. Vetrov [David Arkin
  • 13 Moisei Ginzburg: „Международный фронт современной архитектуры” (The International Front of Modern Architecture), in: Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 2, 1926, p. 41–46.
  • 14 „Собеседование в Вокс'е” (A Discussion at VOKS), in: Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 2, 1926, p. 60.
  • 15 Ibid., p. 62.
  • 16 Cf. Walter Gropius to Hannes Meyer, letter dated 18 December, 1926, in: Martin Kieren: Hannes Meyer. Dokumente zur Frühzeit. Architektur und Gestaltungsversuche 1919–1927, Niggli, Heiden 1990, p. 141.
  • 17 Hannes Meyer to Walter Gropius, letter dated 16 February, 1927 (as a subsequent fixing of the agreement), in: Hannes Meyer: Bauen und Gesellschaft. Schriften, Briefe, Projekte, ed. by Lena Meyer-Bergner, VEB Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1980, p. 44.
  • 18 In summer and autumn of 1926, Lisickij was in Germany. For the Dresdner Internationale Kunstausstellung (June to September), he designed his ‘Room for Constructivist Art’ and later began installing ‘The Abstract Cabinet’ in Hanover. In issue 1/1927 of Stroitel’naja Promyšlennost’ (The Building Industry) he outlined the history of the Bauhaus on the occasion of its opening.
  • 19 Hannes Meyer: ‘Die neue Welt’, in: Das Werk, No. 7, 1926, p. 205–224; English translation: ‘The New World’, in: Hannes Mayer, Buildings, Projects and Writings, Arthur Niggli Ltd., Teufen AR, Switzerland 1965.
  • 20 А.[rkin
  • 21 Cf. Tat’iana Ėfrussi: „ВХУТЕМАС в Баухаузе. Баухауз во ВХУТЕМАСе. История двух путешествий” (The Vkhutemas at the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus at the Vkhutemas, The Storyof Two Trips), in: Архитектура. Строительство. Дизайн (Architecture, Building Industry, Design, 2004), http://www.archjournal.ru/rus/03602010/whiutemas.htm (25 July, 2018).
  • 22 Cf. Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 4, 5 and 6, 1927.
  • 23 Moisei Ginzburg: ‘The International Front of Modern Architecture’, in: Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 2, 1926, p. 42.
  • 24 Cf. Moisei Ginzburg: ‘Конструктивизм как метод лабораторной и педагогической работы’ (Constructivism as a Method of Experimental and Pedagogical Work), in: Sovremennaja Architektura, No. 6, 1927, p. 160–166.
  • 25 Cf. ‘Der Architekt als Organisator der modernen Bauwirtschaft und seine Forderungen an die Industrie’, in: Fritz Block (ed.): Probleme des Bauens, Potsdam, 1928, also printed in: Hartmut Probst & Christian Schädlich (eds.): Walter Gropius, Vol. 3, Ernst & Sohn, Berlin 1988, p. 118–122.
  • 26 Art critic and editor of the periodical bauhaus. zeitschrift für gestaltung in 1928–29.
  • 27 The text had previously been published in the periodical bauhaus. zeitschrift für gestaltung, No. 2–3, 1928, edited by the Bauhaus Dessau.
  • 28 Moisei Ginzburg: ‘Конструктивизм в архитектуре (доклад на первой конференции ОСА)’ (Constructivism in Architecture [Lecture at the first OSA Conference
  • 29 Sigfried Giedion to El Lissitzky, letter dated 20 June, 1928, gta-Archiv/ETH Zürich.
  • 30 Stroitel'stvo Moskvy, No. 8, 1929, p. 25f. As founding members VOPRA signed by: Alabjan, Baburov, Babenkov, Vlasov, Derjabin, Zapletin, Zaslavsky, Zil'bert, Ivanov, Kozelkov, Kočar, Krestin, Krjukov, Kupovsky, Mazmanjan, Maca, Michajlov, Mordvinov, Poljakov, Terechin, Simbircev, Solodovnik, Fajfel'.
  • 31 J. W. Stalin: ‘The Right Deviation in the C.P.S.U. (B). Speech Delivered at the Plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission of the C.P.S.U.(B.) in April 1929’ (Verbatim Report), in: J. W. Stalin: Works, Vol. 12, April 1929–June 1930, pp. 1–113, Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1954.
  • 32 See Stroitel'stvo Moskvy, No. 8, 1929.
  • 33 V.N. Simbircev: ‘Итоги года’ (Annual Results), in: Stroitel'stvo Moskvy, No. 11, 1929, p. 2.
  • 34 M. V. Krjukov: ‘Год борьбы на строительном фронте’ (A Year of Fighting on the Building Front), in: Stroitel'stvo Moskvy, No. 11, 1930, p. 9–12.
  • 35 Accounts on the events at the Bauhaus and Hannes Meyer’s arrival in Moscow: A. Gartman in Pravda (Truth, central organ of the CP) on 11 August and 12 October, 1930, Stroitel’stvo Moskvy, No. 11, 1930, E. Zargorskaja: ‘Ганнес Мейер в Москве’ (Hannes Meyer in Moscow), in: Za proletarskoe iskusstvo (For Proletarian Art), No. 2, 1931, p. 28.
  • 36 Hannes Meyer: ‘Die neue Welt’ (1926), see note 19.
  • 37 ‘Баухауз Дессау 1928–1930’ (Bauhaus Dessau, 1928–1930), in: VOKZ/GMNZI, Moscow 1930, p. 10.
  • 38 Catalogue of the Bauhaus exhibition The Bauhaus in Dessau 1928–1930 in Moscow, 1931.
  • 39 This line of argument must, of course, also be read as an implicit reckoning with El Lissitzky, Nikolai Ladovsky and Moisei Ginzburg.
  • 40 David Е. Arkin, Nikolaj А. Miljutin, Roman Ja. Chiger, A. Michajlov and Lev M. Perčik also argued along the lines of Mordvinov.
  • 41 Hannes Meyer: ‘Über marxistische Architektur’, in: Meyer: Bauen und Gesellschaft, 1980, p. 92.
  • 42 Hannes Meyer: ‘Antworten auf Fragen der Prager Architektengruppe “Leva Fronta”’ (1932), ibid., p. 122f.
●Author(s)
●Latest Articles
●Article
After the Ball — Hannes Meyer presenting the Bauhaus in Moscow

Hannes Meyer arrived in the USSR just a couple of months after being dismissed from his position as Bauhaus director in October 1930. These months were filled with attempts by Meyer and his supporters to protest this decision through all possible means: media campaigns, open letters, student demonstration and court trials. After arriving in Moscow, Meyer carried on the fight against his unfair dismissal. → more

●Article
Meyer’s Russia, or the Land that never was

It is quite hard to know where to start with Hannes Meyer in Moscow. It’s hard because, while there is plenty of documentation on him and his team in the Bauhaus Brigade—as well as other Western designers and architects (of these, Ernst May is at least as significant as Meyer, as is the Dutch designer Mart Stam, and each went on to produce more substantial work than Meyer after their respective Russian episodes)—the legacy of his work there presents certain difficulties in evaluating. → more

●Article
The “School in the Woods” as a Socio-pedagogical Ideal — Functional Analyses and Photographs by Peterhans

The building theory classes at the Bauhaus focused on imparting a functional understanding of architecture. Building had become a science. As a result, the ADGB Trade Union School was designed logically from the inside out. Walter Peterhans’ photographs of the school images illustrate both the architect’s intentions for the building and the environmental studies conducted by Bauhaus students. → more

●Translation
The Moscow Bauhaus exhibition catalogue (1931)

When Hannes Meyer had emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1930, one of the first things he did was organizing an exhibition about "his" Bauhaus. As early as in February 1931 Meyer had the exhibition “Bauhaus Dessau. Period of Hannes Meyer’s directorship. 1928-1930” already ready to receive the Moscow public. It was shown at the renown State Museum of New Western Art. This is the first English translation of the exhibition catalogue. → more

●Artistic Work
To Philipp Tolziner

For the exhibition bauhaus imaginista: Moving Away. The Internationalist Architect at Garage Contemporary Museum of Art, the contemporary artist Alice Creischer has been invited to respond to the personal archive of Bauhaus architect Philipp Tolziner. She produced reading of material relating to the architect’s socialist backgrounds and his work in the Soviet Union.  → more

●Article
The “Hungarian Bauhaus” — Sándor Bortnyik’s Bauhaus-inspired Budapest School Műhely 1928–1938

One of the many Hungarians associated with the Bauhaus, painter and graphic designer Sándor Bortnyik (1893-1976) opened his art and design school, Műhely, in Budapest in 1928 to bring the Bauhaus’s sprit and some of its teaching methods into Hungary. Even if Bortnyik’s school did not have the scope of the Bauhaus, it was an efficient experiment in an independent form of institutionalized education in the field of modern graphic design and typography. → more

●Article
The Spread of the Bauhaus in China

As early as the end of the 19th century up to the beginning of the 20th century, which is to say before the founding of the Bauhaus and after China’s forced opening through war to the outside world, China had already been witness to various experiments in modernization. Such experiments contributed to the laying down of a foundational mindset necessary for the acceptance of the Bauhaus in China’s traditional culture. → more

●Article
Modern Vernacular — Walter Gropius and Chinese Architecture

This essay explores the connection between Walter Gropius and I. M. Pei, as well as the influence of the one on the other. After completing his studies, I. M. Pei worked with Gropius on plans for a university in Shanghai, which he subsequently realized in Taiwan, than in association with Chang Chao-Kang and Chen Chi-Kuan. → more

●Video
Architects' Congress

The passenger ship Patris II transported the participants of the 4th International Congresses of Modern Architecture (CIAM) from Marseilles to Athens and back. Bauhaus teacher Moholy-Nagy, travelling as a “friend of the new building movement” produced this half-hour soundless film as a travel journal. → more

●Video
Jawaja Project — A Case study

The NID was involved in a joint venture with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in the adoption for development of a group of villages in Rajasthan. Could local self-reliance emerge from a process of mutual learning between communities and other groups of people? The film shows how leather work and weaving emerged as the opportunity and basis for sustained group effort. → more

●Article
Bauhausmoderne und chinesische Tradition — Franz Ehrlichs Entwurf für ein Haus des Handels in Peking (1954–1956)

In den frühen 1950er-Jahren bestanden gute diplomatische, politische und ökonomische Beziehungen zwischen der Volksrepublik China und der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. Beide, sich als sozialistisch verstehende Staaten, waren 1949 gegründet worden. In diesem Aufsatz geht es um die besondere Beziehung zur chinesischen Architektur, Kunst und Gestaltung, die Franz Ehrlich entwickelte. → more

+ Add this text to your collection!