Walter Gropius, Bauhaus Faculty Housing, Dessau, 1925–26
Essay by Daria Dubois
As Gilbert Lupfer and Paul Sigel noted in their 2004 book, Gropius. 1883–1969. The Promoter of New Form, “Thus the Houses for the Bauhaus Masters served as a practical experiment with Gropius’s building block principle (Baukasten im Großen)..The building block principle was meant to allow, depending on the number and the needs of the inhabitants, for the assembly of different ‘machines for living.’” Gropius explained, “All six of these houses are the same but different in the impression they make. Simplification through multiplication means quicker, cheaper building.”
BAUHAUS FACULTY HOUSING
The concept of Bauhaus was born after the first world war, the concept of artists and craftsmen uniting in the creation of a new architecture of the future, the concept of simplicity, rationalism, and beauty. The Bauhaus Faculty Housing in Dessau, in a sense, was an extension of the Bauhaus school itself and an object of experimentation and research. The houses were a representation of a new approach by Walter Gropius in solving a housing shortage after the war. His main idea was the use of prefabricated elements of the structure available due to innovative progress in architecture, that would expedite the development process at the same time lowering its cost. Bauhaus Faculty Houses having all characteristics of the International Style, along with buildings by such architects as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Richard Neutra, and others, were showcased at the International Exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1932. Even though presented at the exhibition buildings had many common features, they followed different rules and unique design concepts.
The Bauhaus Faculty Houses are a complex of the four houses that serve as a living place for the masters of the Bauhaus school. They represent the Bauhaus principles of beauty and simplicity with a purpose. The absence of decorative elements makes buildings clear in their appearance and using white exterior walls gives a feeling of a blank canvas as an inspiration for a new beginning. However, the interior of the houses being an experimentation field of many crafts and sciences including the science of color. The houses were designed to be surrounded by and connected with nature by extending the space into the outside balconies, terraces, and rooftops, accessible from the majority of the rooms of the houses. Shapes of the houses show a variety of basic cubes placement thus triggering the imagination of a myriad of their possible arrangements. Gropius explained, “All six of these houses are the same but different in the impression they make.” The buildings were designed with an understanding of the relationship between their units and the whole organizing rooms in order to their importance and function but keeping its simple look and balanced composition.
Being a great example of modern architecture with functionality and simplicity in mind, the Faculty Houses were presented at the International Exhibition. The use of modern materials such as glass, steel, and concrete, and the implementation of innovative techniques are a few of the main principles of International Style that the houses reflect, to begin with. The use of the reinforced concrete method allowed them to increase the volume of open spaces as well as to achieve the flexibility of the plan and asymmetrical geometry. The simplicity of the design obtained by eliminating ornamentation and even basic furniture needs by implementing built-in elements such as shelf units and closets. Such a minimalistic approach in the design creates clarity of function of the space prioritizing studio rooms, shops, and offices. The thoughtful organization of the space in the Bauhaus Faculty Houses also supports the principle of International Style that structure and its arrangement should be determined by its function. Their modern approach in design and minimalism not only exposes its function as a housing for faculty but also serves a more important mission of providing a concept of a new, more accessible by its construction process and costs housing.
Another modern architectural example exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art International Exhibition was Villa Savoye designed by architect Le Corbusier in 1929. Both houses have common characteristics of the International Style but still have their unique differences. Both examples follow a simple approach in their design eliminating decorative elements showcasing its beauty in the materials and its form. They were built using reinforced concrete as the most innovative technique of that time. The playful placement of its elements in both examples demonstrates the flexibility of the plan but determined by their distinct function. Villa Savoye was designed around the daily lives of people but also giving attention to the environment, ostensibly elevating the piece of nature occupied by the building to the roof garden. However, the Faculty Housing was mainly used as a place of productivity and living at the same time being an existing example of affordable post-war housing concepts. One of the important aspects for both architects was a connection to nature that inspired them to make use of roofs, terraces, and balconies. The concept of the roof garden was even included in the 5 points of the new architecture determined by Le Corbusier together with a free plan. However, The other three points can be named as the main differences between the two structures. They are horizontal windows, pilotis, and a free elevation. The Bauhaus Faculty Housing certainly lacks pilotis and does not restrict windows of vertical shapes. Even though they demonstrate some freedom of elevation by the extrusion of the upper spaces creating a vision of randomly placed cubes, its characteristic of elevation is not as notable as in Villa Savoye. Being of the same style and similar concepts the two buildings have their own character, one being almost an artistic example of modern architecture and the other, even though still showing its simplicity and modern design, solving an issue of the living space arranged for the craftsman and artists with the idea of constructional convenience.
The Bauhaus Faculty Housing by Walter Gropius is a beautiful example of an International Style architecture by its simplicity and modern approach not only exposes its function as a master’s housing but also serves the more important mission of providing a concept of a new more accessible by its construction process and costs housing for the post World War 1 world.
The second floor of the semi-attached Bauhaus Faculty House
Exterior view of the Bauhaus Faculty House