The Bauhaus from a Brazilian Perspective–Le Corbusier vs. Gropius
There is no such thing as “Bauhaus architecture.” This work, however, does not attempt to demonstrate the influence of a uniform Bauhaus style, but rather to identify the impulses from the Bauhaus’s immediate surroundings in order to draw attention to a distinction or demarcation between German and French Modernisms (or between the “Neues Bauen” and Le Corbusier). This approach arose as a reaction to the prevailing attitude within Brazilian architectural history research, which places modernism almost exclusively under Le Corbusier’s influence, in particular his Five Points of Architecture. It is certainly difficult to distinguish between the different schools of modernism, especially since there were many overlaps and a detailed genesis of provenance remains part of contemporary historical research. And yet, within institutions such as the Bauhaus and associations close to it, such as Der Ring, there are common characteristics, such as the corner window, the interaction between closed and open space on wall surfaces, the play of sun and shadow, the hiding of main entrances, protruding elements or emphasis on volume and structural functions that can be highlighted and serve as criteria for attribution.1 This selection of characteristic features are examples of how many architectural elements first developed at the Bauhaus later became popular motifs within Neues Bauen architecture.
It should also be noted that these influences must be viewed from a Brazilian perspective. Due to the distance and the incomplete flow of information to Brazil, no distinction was initially made between the architecture of Hannes Meyer or Ernst May, for instance, and scarcely any intermediate steps were perceived in the development of European modernism in general. Different projects were simply categorized as falling under French (aka Le Corbusier) or German (aka Gropius) influence. The present work elaborates on the many gradations in attribution and influence that exist in Brazilian modern architecture, and in so doing opens up a new discourse. The concept of an International Style is deliberately avoided, since it is the term under which Hitchcock attempted to unite under one name a subjective selection of “white cube” architectures, but this is by no means true of what Zukovsky termed the “diversity of modernity in Germany.”2 Instead, the term Neues Bauen is used, which certainly overlaps with the International Style, but is nevertheless an extended and appropriate term when considering of German impulses in Brazil.
The Beginnings of Brazilian Modernism
Since its first steps towards the end of the 1920s, Brazilian modern architecture has produced outstanding buildings and is still recognized as possessing its own architectural identity. Since its beginnings with the first exhibitions of modern houses by Gregori Warchavchik in São Paulo and the emergence of the Escola Carioca around Lúcio Costa, modern Brazilian architecture was considered to be mainly influenced by Le Corbusier. In fact, at the beginning of modernism, Brazilian architects oriented themselves in relation to various avant-garde art schools— in particular also to German rationalism, which was introduced primarily by the country’s numerous German-speaking emigrants (many of them Jewish) who frequently saw the Bauhaus as a manifestation of their own cause.
An interpretation and classification of Bauhaus influences, however, remains problematic to this day. In the Brazil of the 1920s, the program of the Bauhaus and the names of the architects connected to the Neues Bauen were largely unknown. Only its most important representatives—Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer to name several—were known, rather than the overall concept of the Bauhaus school which provided the initial impetus. The Bauhaus principles were received mainly through scientific publications—international, German and Brazilian alike—as well as through exhibitions and architectural training at the Escola National das Belas Artes (ENBA).
ENBA’s first “Functional Architecture” class, which produced the first generation of committed modernists, was initiated by its young director Lúcio Costa as part of a reform of architecture education. The Bauhaus corresponded to Costa’s idea of a perfect art school. But against the resistance of the traditionalists, he did not succeed in implementing an equally radical plan during his short directorship,3 even though he had employed two architects of foreign origin as professors for the teaching of “functional architecture”—the aforementioned Gregori Warchavchik and Alexander Buddeus. Warchavchik’s and Buddeus’s own buildings show strong parallels to those designed by Walter Gropius during his Bauhaus directorship, which, with their special construction method, also exerted a profound influence on his Bauhaus students. Probably Warchavchik and Buddeus had been inspired and influenced by Gropius’s understanding of architecture, which had already been featured in Europe in journals with international circulation. With their employment at ENBA, Costa won two teachers for his school who were already dedicated Modernists, laying the foundation for a new generation of modern Brazilian architects.4 Paulo Ferreira Santos, architectural historian and contemporary witness—being himself an architecture lecturer at ENBA from the 1930s to the 1940s—reported: “Buddeus and Warchavchik made the school a real revolution,” which was to have an enormous influence on the young generation.5 In addition, Buddeus’s great merit was that he introduced the German architecture journals Moderne Bauformen and Die Form to Brazil.6
The Bauhaus has been followed in the press since the beginnings of its institutional existence, and its social and cultural dimensions were much discussed.7 At that time, Moderne Bauformen and Die Form, as well as Bauwelt, were among the most influential German modernist architecture journals, playing an important role in disseminating the ideas of Neues Bauen and the Bauhaus; from 1929, they were included in the holdings of the libraries and soon subscribed to by other institutions across the country.8 In addition to the conservatively oriented Deutsche Bauzeitung, which only began to bow to the trend in modernist architecture in 1928, reporting increasingly on Neues Bauen, Brazilian libraries also carried other titles dealing with modernist themes since the early 1920s, such as Der Architekt and Wasmuth’s Monatshefte für Baukunst. In addition, a number of technical architectural journals can be listed, including Beton und Eisen, Die Bautechnik, the Zeitschrift des Vereins Deutscher Ingenieure, Baumeister and Baugilde,9 as well as several titles in the field of art and academic art-historical journals, including Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, Das Kunstblatt and Der Querschnitt. German journals were so dominant that Diógenes Rebouças, an architect and university professor of the time, reported that the journals circulating in Brazil in the 1930s were all German.10
As might be expected, the international trade press also followed architectural developments in Germany with great interest.11 In Brazil, various institutions received a considerable amount of international architectural and art-historical periodicals from the United States, France and Great Britain. All leading international journals were accessible in the country’s most important libraries: in addition to the Architectural Record and Architectural Forum, which played a decisive role in the publication of Bauhaus contents, Architectural Review, L’architecture d’aujourd’hui, Pencil Point and The RIBA Journal were also available.
With regard to the popularization of Bauhaus ideas, scientific monographs and reference books played a major role alongside periodicals. Among the publications of Bauhaus masters present in Brazil were the classics Die Internationale Architektur (Bauhaus books 1, 1925) and The New Architecture and the Bauhaus (1934) by Walter Gropius, as well as The New Vision: From Material to Architecture (1932) and Telehor: International Journal for Visual Culture (1936), both by László Moholy-Nagy. The country’s most important libraries also included standard works by international specialists reporting on the Bauhaus, such as Sigfried Giedion’s Liberated Living and Walter Gropius, Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s and Philip Johnson’s The International Style: Architecture since 1922, Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture and Catherine Bauer’s Modern Housing.12
In addition to public institutions, private individuals also had access to specialist press publications and many assembled their own collections, some of which were remarkably extensive. It is well known that the private library of the Lithuanian Jewish Expressionist and family member of Warchavchik, Lasar Segall contained six editions of the Bauhaus books, including Gropius’s Internationale Architektur and Adolf Meyer’s Ein Versuchshaus des Bauhauses in Weimar.13 Interestingly, among the poorly preserved items in Warchavchik’s library are titles such as Wie bauen? Materialien und Konstruktionen für industrielle Produktion (How to build? Materials and constructions for industrial production) by Heinz and Bodo Rasch from 1928, and Adolf Schneck’s Türen aus Holz und Metall. Konstruktion und Maueranschlag (Doors made of wood and metal; 1933),14 indicating that Brazilian architects not only had access to relevant publications and, thus, to general positions, but also to smaller editions and specialist books. Of particular note here is the collection of the architectural historian Paulo Santos, who had an impressive collection on the bibliography of modernism and whose estate is now a specialized library for architectural history.
The Reception of the Bauhaus in the Brazilian Trade Press
Until the end of the 1920s, the Brazilian trade press only published sporadic news about new architectural trends. At that time, there were only a few trade journals circulating in the country, mostly of a conservative orientation, such as Architectura no Brasil (which began publication in 1921), A Casa (1924) and Técnica e Arte (1928).15 In the 1930s, the number of modern journals in the country slowly increased, led in this upsurge by A casa, which after 1929 was published under the title A Casa: Revista das construcções modernas and dealt with topics such as construction, craftsmanship and foreign species of urbanism, and from 1930 covered the modernist movement in Europe in articles with titles such as “A architectura moderna no velho continente” (Modern Architecture on the old continent).16
Another journal, the Revista de Engenharia da Prefeitura do Distrito Federal (PDF), began publication in 1932 and dealt primarily with problems of urban planning. Within the pages of the magazine, in addition to reporting on the program of the Congrès internationaux d'architecture moderne (CIAM), an article about Gropius by Armando de Godoys (an architect and publicist) was also published, recognizing him as an important reference in the exhibition of the 1° Salão de Arquitetura Tropical held a month earlier.17 Arquitetura e Urbanismo a periodical which started publication in 1936 should also be mentioned: in addition to relevant Brazilian projects, it published several brief illustrated accounts of Neues Bauen works and, significantly, detailed reports on social housing. For example, the magazine ran articles such as “Apartamentos Económicos” on the housing estates of Bruno Taut, Paul Mebes and Paul Emmerich in Berlin-Neukölln and Taut’s Onkel Toms Hütte estate in Berlin-Zehlendorf, while the section “Fotografias e Comentários de Viagens” discussed other major housing projects like the Berlin Siemens city, industrial buildings, but also small residences on the outskirts of the German capital.18
At the beginning of the 1930s the magazine forma—published in the period 1930–32 by Alejandro Baldassini and Emílio Baumgart with the participation of Di Cavalcanti and Gregori Warchavchik—took its place alongside A Casa as one of the few proponent of modernism, although existing only for a short time. The founders borrowed the name of the journal from that of the German journal Die Form. Similar to Alexandre Altberg’s base, which appeared somewhat later, forma was printed using lowercase letters in the style of the universal alphabet developed by Herbert Bayer for the Bauhaus in 1925. The focus of the newspaper was on disseminating ideas about modern construction methods and their technological aspects—mainly with reference to German modernism—as well as promoting the activities of German associations in Brazil such as Pró-Arte. The Pró-Arte, a community of German artists and art lovers operating in Rio de Janeiro since 1931, also founded its own bilingual magazine named Intercâmbio (Exchange), which ran from 1935 to 1980. Theodor Heuberger, founder of Pró-Arte and publisher of Intercâmbio, was known as a strong advocate of the Bauhaus.19 In the first show he organized in 1924, Arte e Arte Decorativa Alemã (German Art and Handicrafts), Heuberger exhibited works of the Munich New Secession and German crafts in several Brazilian cities, apparently choosing the title, following the example of the Bauhaus, as an indication of the abolition of the boundaries between fine art and handicrafts.20 With the recognition of Heuberger’s curatorial work, further exhibitions of German Modernism followed, such as Arte Decorativa Alemã (German Arts and Crafts), at which trend-setting Bauhaus design objects were first presented to a broad public in Rio at the ENBA, and later also in São Paulo.21 Intercâmbio supported Heuberger’s curatorial work and was intended to function as a platform for exchange between Brazilian and German art and culture, but also to build a bridge between the various genres of art. During the time it existed, Pró-Arte succeeded in taking on an important role in Rio’s cultural life. Having achieved a certain cult status within the circles of architects and artists, the artists’ association had a strong impact on the spread and formation of Brazilian Modernism.
In light of how few magazines were reporting on the modern architectural movement at the start of the 1930s, the German-Jewish architect and former Bauhaus student Alexandre Altberg decided to publish his own magazine under the name base—revista de arte, técnica e pensamento, in which he tried not only to present the new architecture, often using the example of his own buildings, but also strived to link architecture to art and craftsmanship, and to convince the reader of the interaction of different artistic genres. Altberg was not only the main force behind the magazine, he also financed its first issue, writing several articles, photographing works and taking over the graphic design to reduce overhead. In so doing he influenced the design of the magazine, using it to apply Bauhaus design principles, for example by placing the content in clearly structured blocks, with the vertical and horizontal coexisting and contrasting. The strong orientation of base towards Bauhaus books as well as the magazine die neue linie,22 which was close to the Bauhaus, is undeniable. Altberg arrived in Brazil with typographical experience, having participated in the editing of the catalogue for the Proletarische Bauausstellung (Proletarian Building Exhibition) in Berlin, augmenting this with his work for an exhibition of particular importance to Brazilian modern architecture, the 1° salão de arquitetura tropical (1. Salon of Tropical Architecture). He used lower case lettering exclusively, which had been part of the Bauhaus program since the introduction of Bayer’s universal font, who wrote: “we write everything in small letters, because it saves us time. moreover: why 2 alfabete (sic), if one achieves the same thing? why capitalize, if you can’t speak big?”23 In addition to the combination typeface by Josef Albers, he mainly used Bayer’s “sturm blond”—a typeface based on two geometric forms: circle and line. The line, as a black, vertical or diagonal bar, was also used in the layout of base for emphasis and demarcation.24
Even during his first years in Rio, as an architect and publicist Altberg tried to propagate Bauhaus ideas and obviously saw the use of the language of form, which was innovative for Brazil, as an opportunity for his recognition as an architect “where ideas were still very rare.”25 His merit, however, lay mainly in the journalistic networking and dissemination of the contents of German Modernism. Both the publication of base and the 1o salão de arquitetura tropical catalogue mark milestones for their content and design alike, as well as serving as important steps in constituting the aesthetics of Brazilian modernity.
Neues Bauen in Brazil
Despite his enthusiastic start in Brazil, Altberg did not manage to permanently establish himself as an architect. In the face of growing anti-Semitism within the country, Altberg, along with Warchavchik, failed in his efforts to win the attention of Brazilian clients and colleagues, in spite of the fact that Bauhaus design principles, as a symbol of a modern social-democratic lifestyle, had become programmatic for many of the German-speaking avant-garde members in Brazil. Examples of such Bauhaus-inspired projects by German-speaking architects or clients include the Casa Vertecz and Casa Rua Joana Angélica by Altberg in Rio de Janeiro, the Instituto Normal da Bahia by Alexander Buddeus in Bahia,26 the Residência Gerhard H. W. Karl von Willy Stein and the Residência Johan Wihan by Robert Wihan in the south of the country,27 or the Residência Nordschild in Rio de Janeiro and the Residência Max Graf in São Paulo by Warchavchik.28
Warchavchik, who was born in the Ukraine and emigrated to São Paulo in 1923, became acquainted with the circle of modernists shortly after he entered the country. In the following years he built his first houses, which clearly took its inspiration from Bauhaus architecture.29 In it, Warchavchik experimented intensively with the simple cuboid, which was supplemented by canopy-like bands protruding from the alignment of the façade, which was designed asymmetrically, following the ground plan and emphasized through the use of variegated window shapes. At the same time, the corner windows often used by Walter Gropius, among others, were applied, enabling the viewer’s gaze to continue around the corner. Warchavchik’s use of the motifs of a decentralized entrance with L-shaped building elements, inviting visitors to walk on and under, as well as interact with the closed and open spaces of the building’s surfaces (which themselves engaged in a kind of sun-shadow play), were other features frequently applied by Bauhaus architects. They can best be understood using the example of the “Baukasten im Großen” (large-scale building blocks), a project that has gained a worldwide reputation since the 1923 exhibition and Gropius’s publication Internationale Architektur.
The Residência Max Graf, in which Warchavchik engaged the theme of the cube, is an especially interesting example of the architect’s approach. The composition of the residence was kept as simple as possible, with an L-shaped canopy in front of a bigger cube and a smaller cube behind of it, both connected with a low wall. The distribution of the window openings follows the floor plan, which was designed without an entrance hall and with the living and sleeping areas functionally separated from each other. The overall concept, the design of the facades, as well as the disposition of the floor plan and the formal connection of the opposing volumes owe an obvious debt to “The Red Cube” by Farkas Molnár, the concept of which was developed in the final phase of the “Baukasten im Großen” and quickly gained recognition, having been made public both at the Internationale Architekturausstellung of 1923 and in several publications by Gropius.30 The comparison was accentuated by the façade of the Max Graf House being painted in red and white, a further echo of Molnár’s iconic design.