Communistic Functionalist

The Anglophone Reception of Hannes Meyer

Philip Johnson described Hannes Meyer as a “communistic functionalist” whose most notable achievement was to have preceded Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as director of the Bauhaus. The position he assigned to Meyer was reinforced in the Bauhaus Exhibition of 1938 at MoMA. The particular view of the Bauhaus presented at MoMA in 1938 corresponds to the place of Meyer in the historiography of modern architecture in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The view that Meyer’s work allegedly lacked aesthetic interest, rendering it irrelevant to an Anglophone audience.

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Modern Architecture: International Exhibition. MoMA, NY, 1932. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), with a photograph of Villa Tugendhat, © 2019. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

Writing in 1932, in the catalogue to the Museum of Modern Art’s Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, Philip Johnson described Hannes Meyer as a “communistic functionalist” whose most notable achievement was to have preceded Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as director of the Bauhaus.1 The conflation of left-wing politics and anti-aesthetic design principles that characterized Johnson’s view of Meyer was symptomatic of the Anglophone reception of the Swiss Bauhaus director in the decades that followed. Henry Russell Hitchcock, co-author of MoMA’s Modern Architecture catalogue, shared Johnson’s damning appraisal of Meyer as a functionalist. “Under Hannes Meyer,” Hitchcock wrote, “… the functionalists for a time obtained control. Meyer has built at Törten apartments deliberately devoid of aesthetic interest.”2 Hitchcock’s description of Meyer’s tenure as Bauhaus director reads as an inversion of the view of modern architecture he and Johnson espoused in the exhibition and in The International Style, their book-length treatment of the subject.3 While Meyer scarcely appeared in this latter publication, it is clear that his work served as a foil to the stylistic principles identified by Johnson and Hitchcock as central to the “international style.” Meyer’s “extreme functionalism” tacitly served as a counterpoint to the aesthetic interest evident in the work of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius, among others.4

The position Johnson and Hitchcock assigned to Meyer in the international field of modern architecture was reinforced in the Bauhaus Exhibition of 1938 at MoMA. Largely devoted to Gropius’s time as director of the Bauhaus, the exhibition minimized Meyer’s role in the historiography of the institution. In the exhibition catalogue, conceived under the direction of Gropius and executed by Herbert Bayer, Meyer appeared in a short description of the foundation of the architecture department within the school. The emphasis on Gropius’s agency in Meyer’s appointment is typical of the tone of the MoMA catalogue:

“In 1927 Gropius succeeded in bringing the Swiss Hannes Meyer to the Bauhaus as instructor in architecture. Hannes Meyer became head of the Architecture Department and, after Gropius left in 1928, Director of the entire Bauhaus for a short period.”5

At the end of the catalogue, Meyer appeared again in a section entitled “Administrative changes, 1928”—little more than a brief description of Gropius’s departure that notes in passing Hannes Meyer’s appointment to the directorship.6 Without describing Meyer’s activities at the Bauhaus, the catalogue simply states that he served until conflict with the municipal authorities led to his resignation in 1930. At this point Mies van der Rohe’s tenure as director of the Bauhaus came into focus. In essence, in the MoMA catalogue Hannes Meyer functioned as a hyphen between Gropius and Mies—his activities at the Bauhaus neither commented upon or described. He was simply a placeholder.

Wraparound catalogue cover Bauhaus. 1919-1928, MoMA, NY, 1938. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The Museum of Modern Art Library, © 2019. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

The particular view of the Bauhaus presented at MoMA in 1938 corresponds to the place of Meyer in the historiography of modern architecture in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The view that Meyer’s work allegedly lacked aesthetic interest, rendering it irrelevant to an Anglophone audience, was reinforced in the first chronicles of modern architecture’s development. In Pioneers of the Modern Movement, first published in 1936 and later known as Pioneers of Modern Design, Nikolaus Pevsner charted a genealogy that extended from the arts and crafts movement to the work of Walter Gropius.7 While Pevsner’s book addressed little work from the period following the First World War, it is clear that the criteria of his history of form would exclude Meyer from serious consideration. A few years later, Sigfried Giedion, in his Space, Time and Architecture (first delivered as a Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1938 and 1939), offered a history of modern architecture focusing on the aesthetic treatment of space.8 In his book, Giedion presented his famous comparison between Picasso’s Arlésienne and Gropius’s Bauhaus Building in Dessau—a juxtaposition emphasizing transparency and dematerialization as constituent elements of modern architecture. As is well known, in its first editions the book focused primarily on the achievements of Gropius and Le Corbusier and neglected figures such as Mies. Hannes Meyer, of course, is nowhere to be found in this book, which shaped the way several generations of American architects understood the history of modernism. The same is true for the most authoritative survey of modern architecture of the 1950s, Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, first published in the Pelican History of Art series in 1958.9 As in The International Style, his work with Philip Johnson from 25 years earlier, Hitchcock’s Architecture… treated developments at the Bauhaus in purely stylistic terms, without once mentioning Meyer’s name. Pevsner, Giedion, and Hitchcock shared an indifference to Meyer’s contribution to modern architecture—an indifference that exposed the formal and aesthetic point of view underpinning each of their respective books.

Despite the relative absence of Meyer’s activities from Anglophone architectural historiography, Meyer was not completely unknown to architects in the United States. Indeed, we find a significant publication of Meyer’s work at Harvard during World War II. In 1942, the remarkable student-run magazine Task published a special issue devoted to architecture and city planning in the Soviet Union—a focus directly related to the wartime alliance between the United States and the USSR. As the editors of the issue noted, “the achievements of a nation which has built and planned on a scale larger than any yet contemplated elsewhere should receive the serious consideration of all planning technicians.”10 The lead article in this issue was Hannes Meyer’s text, “The Soviet Architect,” which had been published in the Mexican journal Arquitectura that very same year.11 What is more, the brief biographical note accompanying Meyer’s contribution is an early English-language publication that addresses his career from the Bauhaus, to the Soviet Union, to the beginning of his sojourn in Mexico. This biography, undoubtedly prepared by Meyer himself, stressed his role in the Soviet Union and minimized his work at the Bauhaus. It described his membership on the jury for the Palace of the Soviets competition, his position within GIPROGOR (The State Institute for the Planning of Cities), his planning of Birobidzhan and even that he was appointed as a professor of the Academy of Architecture of the USSR. While Mayer’s article offered perhaps the first synthetic history of Soviet architecture to appear in English, it revealed little about Meyer’s own work, either in the USSR or earlier in his career. Instead, it manifested one dimension of Meyer’s reception in the Anglophone world, which was not as an architect but as an expert on the Soviet Union.

Task, No. 3, 1943, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Archiv der Moderne.

The 1960s witnessed several shifts in the reception of Meyer. At the beginning of the decade, Reyner Banham made a few sparse but significant references to Meyer in his Theory and Design in the First Machine Age of 1960.12 In line with the book’s general aim, Banham sought to highlight the symbolic content within the legacy of the Bauhaus, opposing those who would describe it as the source of architectural utilitarianism. Instead, he emphasized the “spiritual” origins of Gropius’s project. Banham emphasized the theme of Durchgeistigung in Gropius’s Idee und Aufbau des Staatlichen Bauhauses Weimar. In this context, Banham offered a revealing description of Meyer’s work:

“Gropius … was far from being the Materialist or Functionalist he is commonly thought to have been—indeed, the Bauhaus had no Functionalist phase until Hannes Meyer took over on Gropius’s retirement.”13

Elsewhere in his book, Banham associated Meyer’s materialism with the influence of El Lissitzky. In other words, Banham reprised Johnson and Hitchcock’s 1932 assessment of Meyer as a functionalist with leftist political motivations, but with a crucial difference. The concluding chapter of Banham’s book offered a reappraisal of the concept of functionalism through a discussion of the deeply symbolic content of the work of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. In contrast, Banham praised Buckminster Fuller’s ability to understand and adapt to the rapid pace of technological change. Banham only tacitly suggested that Fuller’s work represented something like an authentic functionalism. It is nevertheless clear that, for Banham, functionalism was no longer a term of derision, as Johnson and Hitchcock had used it, but rather a positive label. Banham’s description of the Bauhaus under Meyer as a “functionalist phase” should thus be read as a compliment rather than a pejorative term.

Also beginning in 1960, there was a parallel and concerted effort to collect and interpret Hannes Meyer’s legacy on the West Coast of the United States. At this time, Roger Sherwood, an architecture student at the University of Oregon, initiated a comprehensive study of Meyer’s work. Letters in the German Architectural Museum and more recent correspondence reveal that Sherwood contacted Lena Meyer-Bergner directly on behalf of the association of architectural students of the University of Oregon:14 a clear expression of interest in the work of Meyer and an enthusiasm for his work as an architect. Sherwood expressed specific interest in the League of Nations project by Meyer and Wittwer, going so far as to write, “I consider this ensemble to be one of the most significant works of modern architecture but that its importance is as yet largely undiscovered.”15 In another letter, Sherwood described Meyer as “one of the most important and possibly one of the most overlooked contributors to the development of modern architecture,” and proposed to hold an exhibition of Meyer’s work in Oregon based on reproductions that Meyer-Bergner offered to send.16 It is unclear whether this exhibition took place, but in the following years, Sherwood moved on to study architecture at Columbia University, where he continued to research the work of Hannes Meyer. By 1962, he had proposed to Meyer-Bergner that it would be possible to publish a comprehensive study of Meyer’s work if he were able to travel to Switzerland to assist her in collecting and sorting throuugh the material at her disposal. In his correspondence with Meyer-Bergner, Sherwood also indicated some reasons Meyer’s work was not well understood in the United States:

“… W. Gropius does not reflect the same interest as HM, but Gropius has had a definite influence upon the world of architecture and his silence regarding HM has had a definite effect upon the acceptance of HM as an outstanding modern architect. Gropius’ silence, I feel, needs to be questioned—why did he refuse to mention HM, why Albers, and why many others? I think these questions and many more need to be answered and documented before the real image of Hannes Meyer and the high level of thought he represented is going to emerge and found acceptable.”17

Cover of Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject by K. Michael Hays, published by The MIT Press.

Throughout this endeavor Sherwood demonstrated a remarkable awareness of the historiographical stakes. He pointedly noted that a comprehensive study of Meyer would force American historians, who had previously referred to Meyer as a “communist functionalist” and a “fanatical functionalist,” to defend their positions. Despite Sherwood’s perceptive research and his efforts at assembling a great mass of material, his professional life as an architect and educator prevented him from completing the manuscript for a book on Meyer. The publication of Claude Schnaidt’s monograph on Meyer in 1965 made Sherwood’s continued efforts redundant, as this multilingual volume set the stage for some of the first serious appraisals of Meyer’s work in Anglophone criticism.18

Schnaidt’s book was fundamental to Kenneth Frampton’s influential comparison of Meyer and Le Corbusier as representatives of alternative approaches to architecture. Frampton’s essay “The Humanist v. The Utilitarian Ideal,” published in Architectural Design in 1968 set the tone for much of the subsequent English-language scholarship on Meyer.19 Frampton’s primary objects of analysis were the entries to the competition for the League of Nations headquarters by Le Corbusier and Meyer. His comparison consistently highlighted the alleged strict utilitarianism of Meyer and Wittwer’s project. Meyer’s project demonstrated a lack of concern for nature20 while Le Corbusier sought to embed his project in the landscape, orchestrating a processional approach: the architectural promenade was anathema to Meyer. Frampton described the opposing tendencies evident in these two projects as evidence of the “schism between humanism and utilitarianism” in modern architecture,21 arguing that this split presented an opportunity to assess the subsequent development of modern architecture as a conflict between the two. It is worth noting the associations Frampton drew from Meyer’s alleged utilitarianism:

“The iconography of Meyer’s Palais des Nations clearly derives from the early utilitarian socialist architecture evolved in Russia immediately after the Revolution. The glazed elevator shafts of the Secretariat block are evidence enough, quite apart from the radio aerial and sky sign which echo the imagery of the Pravda project designed by the Vesnin brothers in 1923.”22

Here, the forms of early constructivist architecture served to indicate the radicality of Meyer’s project—or at least his radical iconography—yet there is little discussion of Meyer’s actual work in the Soviet Union. An abstract notion of Meyer’s approach to architecture, as manifest in the League of Nations project, took precedence over a clear understanding of Meyer’s actual work. Frampton would subsequently use this project as a symbol for a utilitarian impulse to replace architecture with a techno-scientific understanding of building design. In his contributions to the journal Oppositions as well as his much-read Modern Architecture: A Critical History, the League of Nations project played this role.23

Frampton’s interpretation of the League of Nations project requires qualification. In much of his later writing he maintained a healthy skepticism about the possibility of achieving Meyer’s aim of a building that “represents nothing,” insisting that Meyer’s utilitarian impulse remained caught within the demands of representation, which is why Frampton persisted in insisting upon the Constructivist origins of Meyer’s iconography. Other authors approached Meyer with less subtlety. For Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, the authors of Collage City from 1978, Meyer is a figure with little depth and dimension.24 In their now infamous division of architects according to Isaiah Berlin’s schema of the fox who knows many things and the hedgehog who knows one big thing, Meyer (along with Gropius, Mies, and Buckminster Fuller) is placed in the hedgehog camp, a caricatured modernist category in opposition to a pluralistic approach to architecture and the city where collision, density, historical forms and a lack of overall planning were celebrated. The charicature of Meyer served in Rowe and Koetter’s book as a one-dimensional representative of all that was allegedly wrong with modern architecture and urbanism.

It was precisely in response to such an interpretation that the most sustained English-language analysis of Meyer’s legacy was articulated. In K. Michael Hays’s Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject: The Architecture of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer from 1992, his intention, as elsewhere in his writing, was to identify architectural practices that opposed the “cognitive project of humanist modernism.” Hays’s problem with modern architecture as a humanist project was that it “encoded the values and norms of a bourgeoisie still emergent in a market economy, providing a system of representation that exactly sufficed the sense of self, the aesthetic preferences, social habits, and forms of entertainment of that class.”25 His examples of such architecture included Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera, and Otto Wagner’s Postal Savings Bank. However, when one reads between the lines, Hays’s book appears as a critique of a much wider body of work. Given that Frampton had already defined Le Corbusier’s work as humanist in opposition to Meyer’s utilitarianism, it might be safely assumed that Hays saw much of Le Corbusier’s work as also representative of bourgeois values. Moreover, it is possible to understand Hays’s references to Charles Garnier and Otto Wagner as veiled references to the celebration of formal exuberance by contemporary postmodernist approaches to architecture. Against this background, Hays interpreted Meyer as the representative of an architectural position that could offer a critique of dominant bourgeois ideology, in which the subject’s authority vis-à-vis the systematic nature of modernization and representation prevails. In this sense, Hays’s assertion that Meyer’s architecture was “pitted against hegemony” is to belatedly claim Meyer as a precursor to the neo avant-garde projects of the 1970s and 80s by figures such as Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi.26 In this remarkable, but admittedly partial view of Meyer’s work, Hays cast Meyer as a radical alternative to the allegedly humanist modernism and postmodernism that had dominated American understandings of architectural history.

  • 1 Philip Johnson: Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1932, p. 113.
  • 2 Ibid., 60.
  • 3 Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson: The International Style: Architecture since 1922, W.W. Norton & Co., New York 1932.
  • 4 On Meyer’s “extreme functionalism,” see Johnson: Modern Architecture, 1932 p. 21.
  • 5 Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius (eds.): Bauhaus: 1919-1928, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1938, p. 110.
  • 6 Ibid., 204.
  • 7 Nikolaus Pevsner: Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius, Faber & Faber, London 1936.
  • 8 Sigfried Giedion: Space, Time, and Architecture. The Growth of a New Tradition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1941.
  • 9 Henry Russell Hitchcock: Architecture. Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 4th ed., Yale University Press, New Haven 1977.
  • 10 Editors: "Introduction to Soviet Issue," in: Task, No. 3, 1942, p. 23.
  • 11 Hannes Meyer: "The Soviet architecture," in: Task, No. 3, 1942, pp. 24–32; Hannes Meyer: "El arquitecto soviético," in: Arquitectura. Mexico, No. 9, 1942, pp. 3–19.
  • 12 Reyner Banham: Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, Praeger, New York 1960.
  • 13 Ibid., 280.
  • 14 Letter from Roger Sherwood to Lena Meyer-Bergner, 4 April 1960, Nachlass Hannes Meyer, Deutsches Architekturmuseum Frankfurt am Main (DAM).
  • 15 Sherwood to Meyer-Bergner, 16 June 1960, Hannes Meyer Estate, DAM.
  • 16 Sherwood to Meyer-Bergner, 28 Jul7 1960, Hannes Meyer Estate, DAM.
  • 17 Sherwood to Meyer-Bergner, 29 April 1962, Hannes Meyer Estate, DAM.
  • 18 Claude Schnaidt: Hannes Meyer. Bauten, Projekte und Schriften, A. Niggli, Teufen AR/Schweiz 1965.
  • 19 Kenneth Frampton: "The Humanist v. the Utilitarian Ideal," in: Architectural Design, Vol., 38, No. 3, 1968, pp. 134–36.
  • 20 See Anja Guttenberger: “The ‘School in the Woods’ as a Socio-pedagogical Ideal Functional Analyses and Photographs by Peterhans,” in: bauhaus imaginista Online Journal (accessed on 5 March 2019).
  • 21 Frampton: "The Humanist v. the Utilitarian Ideal,"1968, p. 134.
  • 22 Ibid., 136.
  • 23 Kenneth Frampton: Modern Architecture. A Critical History  Oxford University Press, New York 1980.
  • 24 Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter: Collage City, MIT Press, Cambridge 1978.
  • 25 K. Michael Hays: Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject. The Architecture of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer, MIT Press, 1992, Cambridge, p. 5.
  • 26 Ibid., 286.
●Latest Articles
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

Richard Paulick and the Remaking of a Greater Shanghai 1933–1949

The article focusses on Richard Paulick’s sixteen-year exile in Shanghai. It is an examination of the interaction between a Bauhaus socialist and a Far East port city in its rush to modernize at the midpoint of the twentieth century. → more

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

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

Bauhaus and the Origin of Design Education in India

This article is an example of “writing by being,” because the author had the privilege of being part of the pilot “batch” of Indian design teachers. These students, many from an engineering background, were to be India’s future design educators, and their first exposure to design education took place at the newly-founded National Institute of Design, India’s first design institute, established in 1961 and inspired to a large measure by Bauhaus ideology. → more

Moving Away from Bauhaus and Ulm — The Development of an Environmental Focus in the Foundation Programme at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad

The National Institute of Design (NID) came into existence at the intersection of postcolonial aspirations to design a new nation and the new citizen and Cold War cultural diplomacy. It was located in Ahmedabad, a medieval western Indian city on the banks of the river Sabarmati, famous for its textile mills and as the place where Gandhi began his anti-British campaigns. Initially it was housed, perhaps quite appropriately, in a museum building designed by Le Corbusier where discussions began on the appropriate educational philosophy and pedagogy: Who would produce new lotas for the new nation? Who would teach them and how? → more

Contemporary Reflections on NID History — Teaching through the Design Archive

I often stage chance encounters for students with archival materials at the NID: a rare photograph of the building in construction, an odd handwritten scribble on a drawing by M.P. Ranjan, a stunning collection of sound recordings by David Tudor and John Cage. The amazement and wonder created by this staging becomes the starting point for the pedagogical value of archives. → more

On Behalf of Progressive Design — Two Modern Campuses in Transcultural Dialogue

“The Indian state has only existed for 13 years. And world history would be unthinkable without its unorthodox influence. India has delivered more new content in the last decade than any other country.” HfG Ulm founder Otl Aicher’s report on his trip to India in 1960 and the slides he took during his journey across the country are impressive observations of a country in upheaval. From today’s perspective, this material reads like an overture to the future collaboration between two design schools: the HfG Ulm and the NID in Ahmedabad.   → more

Design for Need — Der Milchkiosk von Sudhakar Nadkarni

Während der Designstudent Sudhakar Nadkarni 1965 an der HfG Ulm an seiner Diplomarbeit zur Gestaltung eines Milchkiosks für seine Heimatstadt Bombay arbeitete, reiste der deutsche Architekt und Designer Hans Gugelot an das 1961 gegründete NID in Ahmedabad. An beiden Schulen war man überzeugt, dass nur ein rational begründetes Design, das sich mit den grundlegenden Systemen der Gesellschaft, der Infrastruktur, der Gesundheits- und Nahrungsmittelversorgung befasst, die unmittelbaren Bedürfnisse der Menschen ernst nehmen kann. Der Milchkiosk-Entwurf ist ein herausragendes Dokument einer Gestaltungshaltung, die Design als ein Mittel zur Verbesserung des Alltags begreift. → more

●Photo Essay
Abraham & Thakore — NID Fashion

Like most designer start-ups, A&T started as a very small design studio. We began by designing and manufacturing modest batches of textile and fashion items, manufactured mostly on handlooms and tiny printing and embroidery sheds in India’s still pervasive small-scale industrial sector. And indeed, 25 years on, our supply chain is still reliant on and supportive of many of these small enterprises. → more

Habib Rahman — A Bauhaus Legacy in India

Habib Rahman, born 1915 in Calcutta, studied architecture at MIT under Lawrence Anderson, William Wurster and Walter Gropius, who taught next door at Harvard University. Gropius got Rahman his first job after graduation in his firm where Rahman worked until he returned to India in 1946. Ram Rahman’s account of his father’s legacy and his contribution to modernist Indian architecture. → more

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

Der CIAM-Protest — Von Moskau zur Patris II (1932)

Entgegen allen internationalen Erwartungen – schließlich waren Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Erich Mendelsohn und andere eingeladen – befand sich am 29. Februar 1932 kein moderner Architekt unter den Hauptpreisträgern der ersten Wettbewerbsrunde für den Palast der Sowjets in Moskau. → more

A Migratory Life—from Dessau to Moscow to Mexico — Hannes Meyer and Lena Bergner and the Arts

In this article Marion von Osten focusses on the curatorial research involved in two of the project’s four chapters: Moving Away and Learning From. She rethinks the importance of the migratory life of the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer and Bauhaus weaver Lena Bergner, starting with Meyer’s two-year directorship of the Bauhaus Dessau, the couple’s time working in the USSR (1931–1936), and, finally, their decade-long period as exiles in Mexico, which lasted from 1939 to 1949, the year they returned to Switzerland. → more

Die Sozialisierung des Wissens und das Streben nach Deutungsmacht — Lena Bergners Transfer der Isotype nach Mexiko

Lena Bergner wird normalerweise als am Bauhaus ausgebildete Textilgestalterin charakterisiert. In ihrem zehnjährigen Exil in Mexiko widmete sie sich allerdings der grafischen Gestaltung, fast ausschließlich für antifaschistische Projekte. Eine Ausnahme sind ihre weitestgehend unbekannten Leistungen im Bereich der visuellen Kommunikation für das mexikanische Schulbaukomitee. Hier verwendete sie Otto Neuraths „Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik“ (Isotype). Dieser Text erörtert den Transfer der Isotype von Europa nach Mexiko am Beispiel von Bergner und ihren möglichen Berührungspunkten mit Neuraths bildpädagogischen Methode und untersucht, wie sich die Isotype von propagandistischen visuellen Kommunikationsformen abgrenzt. → more

Praised, Sentenced, Forgotten, Rediscovered — 62 Members of the Bauhaus in the Land of the Soviets

In this interview with Astrid Volpert, she reviews her decades of research on Bauhäusler who emigrated to the SU and makes it clear that there were far more than seven of them heading east. Persons traveling from the Bauhaus to Russia were from eleven countries. They belonged to various denominations—there were Protestants and Catholics, Jews and atheists. Of the 15 women and 47 men, only 21 of them were members of communist parties. → more

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

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

From Recognition to Rejection — Hannes Meyer and the Reception of the Bauhaus in the Soviet Union

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. This text tells the story of the first chapter. → more

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

Moving Away to the Other End of the World — Reflections on the Letters Between Tibor Weiner and Hannes Meyer from the DAM Archive

This article examines the correspondence between a teacher (Hannes Meyer) and his former student (Tibor Weiner), who met at the Bauhaus in Dessau, going on to live for a period in the Soviet Union. Each migrated to Latin America shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, and returned to Europe in the late 1940s. The surviving letters between Meyer and Weiner, preserved in the DAM Archive in Frankfurt am Main, are not only a testimony of comradeship but also a window into some key moments in the first half of the twentieth century. → more

●Artists Work
Bauhaus in Russia — Haunted Houses

The following material was produced during the photographic workshop Bauhaus in Russia: Haunted houses, which took place in the framework of the exhibition bauhaus imaginista. Moving Away: The Internationalist Architect at the museum of contemporary art Garage in Moscow. Through an open-call we invited participants from several Russian cities to take part in the visual research on both the visible and invisible legacies of the “bauhauslers”. → more

●Artist 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

●Artist Work
Sketch One: Lotte and Hermina — Script-Reading and Screening by Wendelien van Oldenborgh

The script that the artist Wendelin van Oldenborgh created for bauhaus imaginista: Moving Away. The Internationalist Architect as a public moment is an insight into the development of her larger film project which will premiere as a contribution to the bauhaus imaginista exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, March 2019. It features archive material around the personas Lotte Beese and Hannes Meyer, Hermine Huiswoud and Langston Hughes. → more

Hamhŭng’s Two Orphans (To Konrad Püschel) — East German Internationalism in North-Korea Emerging through a Chronopolitical Lens

Doreen Mende’s work Hamhung’s Two Orphans, which borrows its title from a chapter of the cine-essay Coréennes (1959) by Chris Marker, proposes to trace the transformation of the Bauhaus’s relevance from its prewar internationalist modernity into elements of the GDR’s socialist internationalism when architecture operated as a state-crafting instrument during the global Cold War. → more

“All artists interlock!” — How Bauhäuslers created the “New Germany” and promoted the national economy

The Third Reich was in ruins, the surrender not yet signed. An architect painstakingly working his way through the debris to the Schöneberg town hall found a sign on the door of the building authority with his name. Appointed to office by the German Communist Party (KPD), city counselor Hans Scharoun immediately looked around for his people: “I’ve looked everywhere for you, where are you? Here we go!” → more

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

●Artist Work
Scenes from the Most Beautiful Campus in Africa — A Film about the Ife Campus

Zvi Efrat, 2019, film stills from the exhibition video projection, 25 min, color, sound, English.
Courtesy of the artist. → more

The Legacy of Arieh Sharon’s Postcolonial Modernist Architecture at the Obafemi Awolowo University Campus in Ile-Ife Nigeria

The significance of Arieh Sharon’s postcolonial modernist architecture at Obafemi Awolowo University Campus at Ile-Ife is multi-dimensional. Built between 1960 and 1978, at first glance the campus core consists of an ensemble of modernist buildings. In this article Bayo Amole examines some of the physical and conceptual characteristics of the campus master plan and core area design in order to illustrate their significance as examples of postcolonial modernist architecture—identifying the most important aspects of their legacy, which has continued to guide the design of the campus as it has developed over the course of more than a half century. → more

Bauhaus Modernism and the Nigerian Connection — The Socio-Political Context of Arieh Sharon and the University Of Ife Design

It should be considered “against the run of play” for a Bauhaus-trained Israeli architect such as Arieh Sharon to have been named designer of the post-independence University of Ife. This paper examines how developments in the socio-political context of Nigeria and international politics—including history and policies in the education sector—“constructed” Sharon’s involvement in the University of Ife design and the spread of Bauhaus modernism to tropical architecture. → more

Nigerian Campus Design — A Juxtaposition of Traditional and Contemporary Architecture

The early to mid-twentieth century saw the International Style and modernism rapidly influence major Nigerian cities and towns, first as a result of colonialism and then independence. Discussing the architecture of two first-generation Nigerian Universities, the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University, this article builds upon the established discourse concerning how architects assimilated the International Style into the tropical climate and sociocultural context of Nigeria. → more

Colonial Architecture in Ile-Ife

The architectural heritage credited to the colonial intervention of the British in Nigeria is a blend of features imported by Europeans accustomed to a temperate climate, mixed with adaptations derived from the principles of modern architecture and concessions to the region’s tropical climate. As such, colonial buildings of this era can be regarded as a hybrid architectural style. → more

The New Culture School for Arts and Design — Launched in 1995

The New Culture School for Arts and Design in Ibadan, Nigeria has involved the development and construction of a space for creative people working in many different media in order to advance their professional proficiency in the fine arts, theater, music, film, photography, design, writing and more. → more

Nation Building through Campus Architecture — Israeli Architects Arieh Sharon and Eldar Sharon’s Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Campus in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1962–1976

The campus of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria, the first phase of which was built between 1962 and 1972, is a fascinating example of modernist architecture in Africa. As a case study of Africa’s assimilation of the modern style, its design is intriguing also due to the fact that it was built by Israeli architect Arieh Sharon (1900–1984), aided by his son, Eldar Sharon (1933–1994). → more

Beyond Cement and Iron — Contextualizing Israeli Architecture in Africa

My focus on construction and planning is not incidental. These fields played a crucial role in space-shaping processes during the first decades of the Israeli state, as well as in the construction of the territorial identity of its new citizens. Simultaneously, during the 1960s, the modernist construction projects undertaken in African countries post-independence were also evidence of a desire amongst newly independent African nations for postcolonial national unity. → more

Tropical Architecture / Building Skin

Like the modernist architecture that preceded it, tropical architecture was co-defined with modern bodies and the bodies of the tropics: initially those of colonizers but soon colonized bodies as well. The technologies of tropical architecture, based on a modernist rationalism adapted to tropical climatic conditions, were, in turn, offered as a developmental asset to colonized subjects, especially young people. → more

A Hot Topic — Tropical Architecture and Its Aftermath

Both the tropical architecture discourse in general and British notions of modernism in particular were embedded in larger discussions on climatic and culturally sensitive approaches to building developed within the International Congresses of Modern Architecture (Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne—CIAM) from the 1950s onward—notions rooted in the hygienic and medical discourses of colonial occupation. → more

The Extension Buildings of the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau — Documents of the Formalism Debate in the GDR

The former ADGB Trade Union School is regarded today as an icon of modern architecture. Designed at the Bauhaus under the direction of Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer together with the students of architecture, the building ensemble still stands as a paragon of collective work, reform pedagogical ideas and analytic architecture. Less attention has been paid to the extensions to the school, planned 1949–51 by Georg Waterstradt. These buildings stand as a valuable testimony to the vigor of GDR architecture. The “formalism debate” led to a rejection of Bauhaus architecture, and thus, the set of political-architectural principles exemplified by the Trade Union School. → more

Selman Selmanagić at the Crossroads of Different Cultures — From Childhood Years in Bosnia to Bauhaus Education and Travels

Selman Selmanagić’s childhood years in Bosnia, on the eve of the First World War, as well as his education in Sarajevo, Ljubljana and at Bauhaus Dessau between the two world wars, together with his work in Palestine and Berlin, shaped his worldview and experience with different cultures and traditions. Throughout his career, he perpetually strove to find contemporary answers for the challenges of the time he was living in. → more

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

Biology and Educational Models in the Pacific Southern Cone

The Chilean encounter with second-order cybernetics in the early 1970s was an essential part of the modernization project the state had been promoting since the 1920s, a project which also encompasses the 1945 reform of the architecture school. But if one reviews the history of this project with greater care, one can identify the reform of the new art school of 1928, which was the product of a social movement that began after the First World War, and that was able to implement in the main school of art of the country, a “first year of trial” similar to the methodology of the Bauhaus preliminary course, influenced by the trends of the “Active” or “New” school of the time. → more

For the Faculty of Architecture at METU — Bauhaus was a Promise

“ARCH 101 Basic Design” is the title of the introductory course offered to the first-year students in the METU Faculty of Architecture (Middle East Technical University, Ankara). Since the establishment of the school, this course has been conducted with a very strong Bauhaus impact. → more

From Social Democratic Experiment to Postwar Avant-Gardism — Asger Jorn and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus

The project bauhaus imaginista would be negligent if it did not address the artist group referenced by its title, the Mouvement Internationale pour un Bauhaus Imaginiste (International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, or IMIB), founded in 1953 by Danish artist Asger Jorn together with a handful of French and Italian colleagues. Many of the theoretical and artistic positions advocated by the IMIB were developed dialectically in response both to the historical Bauhaus and the reconstitution of a Bauhaus-inspired pedagogical program at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in Ulm. → more

Letter from Asger Jorn to Max Bill — February 12, 1954

Asger Jorn read of Max Bill’s plans for the new Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm (HfG), a school modeled after the Bauhaus, in the British Architects’ Yearbook 1953, where Bill had placed a promotional article to attract prospective students and teachers. Excited by the possibility of participating in a new democratic pedagogical experiment and in pursuing his interest in fusing art and architecture, he wrote to Bill, inquiring about the role of art at Ulm and expressing his desire to secure a teaching position.

This is a translation of one of the letters Jorn send to Bill. → more

+ Add this text to your collection!