Habib Rahman

A Bauhaus Legacy in India

Habib Rahman, MIT Studio, 1944. Habib Rahman archives.

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.

My father Habib Rahman started out with a degree in mechanical engineering from Calcutta University in 1939. He had designed his father’s house in Calcutta in the mid-1930s, but was not an architect. He first travelled to Delhi in 1939 to sit for an exam to work for the railway service, failing to qualify. He recalled Delhi as “a city of tonga’s (horse carriages) and monuments.” The British had built their imperial capital by then. Southwards, Delhi was a barren landscape, littered with the ruins of earlier medieval cities. The same year as his failed railway service examination, he was awarded a Bengal government scholarship directed at Muslim students to further his studies in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There was a degree of irony in this award, as my father was an atheist and greatly suspicious of all organized religions. Once at MIT, he switched to architecture, becoming the first Indian to complete both undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture at an American university. His teachers at MIT were Lawrence Anderson, William Wurster and Walter Gropius, who taught next door at Harvard University. Rahman completed his bachelor’s in architecture in 1943, finishing his master’s the following year. Though Gropius was at Harvard, Rahman attended his lectures and crits, becoming a personal friend. He would sometimes perform a so-called “Indian sword dance” at gatherings in Gropius’s home outside Cambridge. Gropius exerted a particular influence on Rahman’s nascent interest in mass housing.

Gropius fled Nazi Germany the year after the Gestapo closed the Bauhaus in 1933, bringing with him to the United States—after a brief sojourn in England—the design philosophy he had evolved there in the 1920s. The Bauhaus school of modernism was characterized by a belief in the necessity for modern design to provide a better living environment for the average person, particularly the working class. It emphasized the importance of mass production techniques to design and manufacture high-quality affordable goods, accessible to the masses. In architecture, the Bauhaus strongly emphasized the functional aspect of design, espousing a philosophy of designing buildings of simple and clear structure, using modern materials like steel and glass. At MIT, Rahman’s understanding of modern architecture was shaped by the exciting cross-fertilization then taking place in the United States between American and European modernist movements. As a young student coming from Bengal, a witness to the poverty and social stresses of India, which at that time was fighting for independence from British colonial rule, the social ideals inherent in the architecture he was exposed to were both exciting and formative.

Walter Gropius got Rahman his first job after graduation in the firm he had set up with fellow German architect Konrad Wachsmann, who had a history of working on pre-fabricated housing in Germany before he, too, fled Nazi Germany. Gropius himself possessed a lively interest in pre-fab industrialized housing systems, setting up the General Panel Corporation in 1942. Between 1945 and 1946, Rahman worked on pre-fab housing projects, first in Boston and then New York. He spoke to me of how he worked on a complex joining hinge system— developed to connect pre-fabricated insulated plywood sections—for over six-months! His earlier degree in mechanical engineering came in handy on this project, as it would in his later design work in India. Rahman also interned briefly with Marcel Breuer.

When he returned home in 1946 to join the West Bengal Public Works Department (PWD) as a senior architect, he felt isolated and over-awed by the enormous responsibilities he was compelled to shoulder at the tender age of 32. As it did not recognize American degrees, the Indian Institute of Architects, then dominated by British-trained professionals, denied him membership.

Habib Rahman, MIT Studio, model.

Konrad Wachsmann with prefab house, 1945.

At The General Panel Corporation, Prefab house and construction detail, Boston and New York, 1945.

Habib Rahman in his Calcutta studio, late 1940s.

When India gained independence in 1947, the country possessed only three schools of architecture. The building profession, set up by the British, was dominated by engineers. Rahman was lucky in that he was assigned the project of designing the first memorial to Gandhi after his assassination in 1948. Gandhi Ghat (ghat meaning a stepped riverside landing) was built on the bank of the Hooghly River north of Calcutta, and was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1949. The structure was a modernist memorial built in concrete, incorporating abstract, stylized references to Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious buildings. The structure, with a large cantilevered overhang supported by a single delicate column, was a challenge for the project engineers, who were unaccustomed to such delicate work being done in reinforced concrete. Stylistically, this first project was a conceptual challenge. Rahman had to try and evolve a design which would evoke the culture and simplicity of Gandhian ideals while also being clearly modern, without resorting to a pastiche of classic cultural tropes. Gandhi Ghat immediately became a site and symbol of that striving to build a modern India whose roots were anchored in a living cultural context.

Nehru loved the memorial and asked to meet the architect. He felt Rahman had succeeded in creating a structure that evoked the broader project of creating a new, modern nation also steeped in ancient tradition. On learning his background, Nehru said he would arrange for Rahman’s transfer to the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) in Delhi, as architects were desperately needed in the capital. He eventually moved there in 1953.

Before he left for Delhi, Rahman completed nearly 80 projects in Bengal—a staggering number for a rookie architect. These included student housing and several training academies for the police services, the huge new campus of the Bengal Engineering College (1952) and, most importantly, the West Bengal Government’s New Secretariat Building—India’s first steel frame skyscraper (1949–54). The New Secretariat, the biggest Indian office complex built in this period, became a source of great pride in Bengal, which had suffered terrible violence during Britain’s partitioning of India at independence. The freedom struggle led by inspirational giants like Rabindranath Tagore (who died in 1941), Gandhi and Nehru had infused the Indian people with an energy and drive to develop a democratic, secular, modern and egalitarian society. A new constitution was being written, which sought to define the aspirations of a young nation still striving to enshrine the values of the freedom struggle, and there was enormous hope in the populace that India would lead other colonized nations around the world out of colonial repression.

Gandhi Ghat construction photos, 1948, Calcutta. Photo Habib Rahman.

Jawaharlal Nehru at the inauguration of Gandhi Ghat, January 1949, Calcutta. Photo Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman, The New Secretariat Calcutta under construction and portrait on site, 1951–52, and finished in 1954.

Habib Rahman with the model of The New Secretariat, Calcutta.

At the time, the Indian government was the largest builder in India, and had embarked on a large scale program to construct the institutions for justice, governance, education, research and culture. It was Rahman in Calcutta and Achyut Kanvinde (also a protégé of Gropius, who graduated from Harvard a couple years after Rahman) in Delhi and Ahmedabad who in the late 1940s had begun the modernist architecture tradition in India on a large public scale, several years before Corbusier came to India to begin designing the planned city of Chandigarh.

Rahman’s institutional buildings in Bengal clearly show the influence of the Bauhaus. In his buildings, clean lines and offset block volumes provide rhythm and scale; the detailing of window fenestration, sun louvers and his play with proportions were unusual for Calcutta, which had been built by British engineers and architects in a Neoclassical style. Modernism really stood for the break with colonial rule.

Habib Rahman, Police housing, Calcutta, 1949–50. Photos: Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman, renderings of Canteen, Tollygunge Police Wireless, 1949–50; The Bengal Engineering College, 1951-52; proposed armed police barrack, Calcutta, 1949-50; and proposed new Hindu School Building, Calcutta, 1949-50.

The Move to Delhi, 1953

After becoming prime minister in 1947, Nehru embarked on a massive building spree in Delhi in order to construct the infrastructure necessary for governing the nation, housing new government employees who were flocking to the capital, and providing for the huge influx of refugees from Punjab who had fled their homes at partition. Previously, the British Raj had built two grand office blocks, north and south, and sprawling bungalows for senior government officials. The Indian government had to build housing colonies, markets and cultural centers almost on a wartime footing, with very low budgets and tight deadlines. This is where Rahman’s Bauhaus-inspired training became a key factor in the housing and institutional buildings he began designing.

After a few months living in war barracks on Curzon Road, Rahman moved to an apartment building in Sujan Singh Park, designed by Walter George in 1945—then the tallest apartment complex in Delhi. The practical design of his flat influenced the apartment buildings he would design years later. One of the first projects he was asked to undertake was organizing the International Exhibition on Low Cost Housing, held in Delhi in 1954. The exhibition brought together architects and engineers from across India, who built actual sample structures and published details of plans, materials and costs. Nehru had realized that housing was going to be crucial in the new nation and it was up to the government to take the initiative. As mentioned previously, Delhi had been swamped by hundreds of thousands of partition refugees from Punjab: it was crucial to house them quickly.

Catalog of the International Exhibition on Low Cost Housing, Delhi, 1954.

The International Exhibition on Low Cost Housing, Delhi, 1954. Habib Rahman, entrance gate and his design for a two room house. This became the module for the housing below at Ramakrishnapuram in Delhi, and also built in the thousands across India. Photos: Habib Rahman.

His first major buildings were all in the ITO (Income Tax Office) area in New Delhi: the University Grants Commission Building, the Auditor General Building, the Accountant General Building—all built between 1954 and 1955, with window “chajjas” (louvers) adapted to India’s climactic conditions of strong sun and heavy monsoon rain. Their design contrasted sharply with the buildings then being designed by Bombay-trained architects senior to Rahman in the CPWD—the National Museum, Shastri Bhavan and the Supreme Court (a structure deeply disliked by Nehru)— stylistically weak pastiches of the “Delhi Order” Edwin Lutyens and his fellow English architects had developed for New Delhi’s imperial buildings as a twentieth century finale to the Palladian tradition. Rahman’s Post and Telegraph Building (Dak Tar Bhavan) was built in 1955, the same year he was awarded the Padma Shree (the fourth-highest civilian award in the Republic of India), the first architect to be so recognized: the Indian Institute of Architects finally granted him membership after this.

Habib Rahman, University Grants Commission, left, Comptroller and Auditor General building, Delhi, 1954–55; Comptroller and Auditor General building, Delhi, 1954–55; and Director General, Posts and Telegraph Office, Delhi, 1958. Photos: Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman, Tomb of Maulana Azad, Delhi 1959–60. Photo: Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman explains the details of the plans of Rabindra Bhavan and the Latet Kala Adademi buildings to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, 7 May 1961, New Delhi, India. Photo © Ram Rahman/Sukanya Rahman.

He also designed simple two-story, two room flats— practical living quarters with lots of light and cross ventilation—for government employees in R.K. Puram, a residential colony in New Delhi. These were built in the thousands in 1959, becoming known as “Rahman Type” flats. Several generations of government workers resided in them before they were demolished recently—a controversial move to build high rise flats and sell public land to private corporate entities. In the mid-1950s, the Delhi CPWD design office resembled a factory—charged with designing infrastructure buildings across India—the Auditor General Buildings in Madras, the CBR building in Ranchi, the Auditor General Building in Bombay. All were designed by Rahman.

Before passing away in 1958, Maulana Azad, India’s first education minister, had conceived of and set up three academies for art, performing arts and literature. Rahman was asked to design his tomb in front of Shahjahan’s Jama Masjid, built in the seventeenth century. Finished in 1959–1960, the tomb’s design was a modern thin-shelled concrete cross-vault structure derived from the arch of the mosque, set in a charbagh, a quadrilateral garden layout of Persian origin favored by the Mughals (based on the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Qur'an). It was designed to fit harmoniously within the great Mughal city structures from the seventeenth century. Nehru also loved this memorial.

The publisher Patwant Singh started Design magazine in 1957 after the idea was suggested by Rahman, being that Singh was already publishing a magazine for the building and construction industry. The magazine became an important journal for critiquing and publicizing what had become a lively modern architecture and art scene in India. Rahman helped recruit Gropius and Breuer to serve on the editorial board: both actively contributed to the journal in the 1960s.

Meanwhile Rahman was designing the Rabindra Bhavan—an arts complex housing the three academies of literature, dance and fine arts founded by Maulana Azad before his death, which was slated to be finished by 1961, on the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore’s centenary. Rahman’s initial design resembled his 1950s Bauhaus-style structures. Nehru hated it, telling Rahman in no uncertain terms it had nothing to do with the spirit of Tagore. Since he had designed the Gandhi and Azad memorials in a modern Indian spirit, Nehru said, he could do the same with Rabindra Bhavan. Rahman answered that those were single structures rather than a large building complex, and that he had never designed an institutional structure using that language:

“Nehru gave me several opportunities to interact with him and the cabinet on various projects. In fact, Nehru helped me design Rabindra Bhavan by rejecting my first proposal, which featured extensive louvres. I was very disheartened. Then Barada Ukil, the Secretary of the Lalit Kala Akademy, encouraged me to try hard again. Nehru was very pleased with the result.”1

Habib Rahman, Rabindra Bhavan, Delhi 1959–61. Gallery block left and office block right. Photos: Habib Rahman.

The resulting design, with its abstracted arches (jalis) and use of Delhi quartzite inspired by buildings of the Tughlaq dynasty (1320–1413), turned out, thanks to Nehru, to be a turning point in Rahman’s design vocabulary. Its layout—two buildings separated by a central garden, joined by an arched walkway—also influenced his close friend Joseph Stein in planning the India International Centre. The lessons from Rabindra Bhavan shaped much of Rahman’s subsequent modernist building work across Delhi, helping him evolve his “Delhi Modern” formal language. The 1960s were a busy time—the External Affairs and Curzon Road Hostels, the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters (razed late in June 2019 to make way for a new development), the Indraprastha Bhavan and the DDA building (designed many years before—Rahman complained that the Delhi Development Authority engineers ruined his original façade design).

All of these projects employed a locally inspired detail vocabulary deriving from his Rabindra Bhavan experience—a modernist language inflected by Indian references. The first tall apartment buildings in R.K. Puram went up in 1965. Here Rahman used his experience of Walter George’s Sujan Singh flats to design flats open on three sides, with double height balconies where families could sleep during the warm Indian summer months. In all his buildings, his Bauhaus-derived training was put to use: central lift shafts; shafts for water and power risers; common water tanks. These practical design ideas picked up by Rahman during his modernist training appear today like simple ideas, but many had never been utilized before in Delhi.

Delhi in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s was the hub of a vibrant design and cultural scene, and architects were very much a part of it. The National School of Drama was set up, the IIT (Indian Institute of Techonolgy)—designed by JK Chowdhury—was constructed and Bahdur Shah Zafar Marg, with its newspaper offices, became Delhi’s “Fleet Street.” Mandi House circle became the hub for theater and culture. Design magazine carried on being an important, lively voice for articulating and publicizing design issues. The Cottage Industries Emporium was set up, Fabindia—started by the American business executive John Bissell—began exporting handloom textiles and home furnishings, Dilip Choudhary introduced visionary typography and graphic design, Riten Mozumdar began designing fabrics, Mini Boga and Ravi Sikri furniture …

These were the years Delhi Modern was formed, hugely inspired by the energy and vision of Nehru, who had encouraged an Indian style of modernism across the arts. It was also the period of a renaissance in dance and music, in which Rahman’s wife, dancer Indrani Rahman was an important figure, bringing South Indian dance forms to Delhi and helping in the discovery and revival of Odissi and Kuchipudi dance styles. The Rabindra Bhavan’s galleries hosted early exhibitions of the artists MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Satish Gujral, Swaminathan, Krishen Khanna and initiated an international triennial.

Habib Rahman, World Health Organisation Headquarters, Delhi, 163-64. Photo: Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman, Indraprastha Bhavan, Delhi, 1965. Photo: Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman, Curzon Road Hostels, Delhi, 1969.Photo: Habib Rahman; Delhi Development Authority Building, Delhi, 1969-72. Photo: Madan Mahatta; Multi-Storyed Governement Flats, Delhi, 1965. Photo: Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman, Patel Bhavan, Delhi, 1973. Photos: Habib Rahman.

Habib Rahman, Tomb of President Zakir Husain, Delhi, 1971. Photo: Ram Rahman.

Habib Rahman, Tomb of President Fakhrudin Ali Ahmed, Delhi, 1975. Photo: Ram Rahman.

Rahman always bemoaned the fact that the first generation of post-independence planners to which he belonged—many trained in the United States and Britain—lacked sufficient practical experience in their professions. Delhi ended up being a large cantonment-like city, without a mixed commercial and living urban structure. He also wrote about how engineers continued to hold senior positions to architects in government service, hampering good design as the two professions were in constant conflict. As an associate architect he designed the Sheila Cinema (whose demolition is imminent), the Hindustan Times House and the American Centre.

Unlike some architects who entered private practice, Rahman remained in government service throughout his entire career. He believed he could have the greatest social and cultural impact as a government architect, and would be able to design on a scale that otherwise would be difficult. After suffering a debilitating spinal injury in 1970, he became chief architect, retiring in 1974. That year he was appointed Secretary of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC), with architect Achyut Kanvinde and theater director Ebrahim Alkazi as members and the politician Bhagwan Sahay as chairman. Indira Gandhi had formed the commission to control design and development in Delhi, which many professionals felt was out of control and in imminent danger of destroying the character of the city.

That same year Rahman was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in the Republic of India; as with the Padma Shree, he was the first architect to receive this honor. Though the DUAC was established with the best of intentions, it soon became apparent that it was no match for the powerful political and bureaucratic structures that controlled building activity in the capital. It was almost immediately undermined by the building demolitions authorized by Jagmohan (Malhorta, commonly known by a mononym) and Sanjay Gandhi during “the Emergency” (a 21-month period from 1975 to 1977). Rahman was abruptly removed from the DUAC in 1977 on account of his opposition to a proposal to place a statue of Gandhi under King George’s canopy at India Gate, and for resisting Imam Bukhari’s (the Imam of the central Delhi mosque) determination to construct public urinals blocking the southern entrance to the Jama Masjid mosque, built in the seventeenth century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. In his later years he designed two more tombs for the Presidents Zakir Husain (1972) and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (1976) both referencing Islamic sources.

With the tragic demolition of Raj Rewal’s iconic Hall of Nations and the Nehru Pavilion, Joseph Stein’s great exhibition hall in the Pragati Maidan exhibition complex, the demolition of Rahman’s classic housing and his WHO headquarters, Delhi has lost some key buildings, only recently recognized globally as important examples of the regional modernist architecture that developed and thrived in New Delhi. Even while major museums like the Kiran Nadar Museum in Delhi, Centre Pompidou in Paris and MoMA in New York have hosted or are planning exhibitions showcasing the important history of modernism in India, the country is in the process of destroying this architectural heritage, replacing modernist buildings with glass-fronted skyscrapers of shoddy pedigree, designed by unknown architects or firms, many of foreign origin.

From the mid-1950s through the 1980s, Delhi became the site of a huge body of fine modernist buildings built by three generations of architects, evincing a distinctly local flavor. Unfortunately, India has not developed an understanding of the value and cultural context of the architecture of the mid-to-late twentieth century and the country has no heritage laws for modernist buildings. We are losing them at a fast pace.

All images: Habib Rahman archives.

  • 1 Habib Rahman: unpublished interview with Professor Malay Chatterjee, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi 1989.
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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

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. → 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

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