Bauhaus' Children


This year, the Bauhaus School is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Founded in the Weimar Republic of Germany in May 1919, the Bauhaus School relocated to Dessau-Roßlau in the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany in 1925, and then to Berlin in 1932. Its mission was to make the world a better place through design while using industrial manufacturing to craft a new and better world for the people — design for a new era.

The school was led by three directors starting with Walter Gropius, followed by Hannes Meyer, and then Mies van der Rohe until 1933 when it closed under political pressure from the Nazi regime. The Bauhaus School was more than just another art school. It focused on a multi-disciplinary approach to design that included crafts and fine arts to create a Gesamt Kunstwerk (total work of art). Bauhaus, meaning building house, really functioned as a Building School. This far reaching teaching concept included architecture, interior design, graphic design, fine arts, furniture, lighting, and many more disciplines.

The Bauhaus School set the tone for a new type of immersive art conversation, forever changing design discussions.

For all who have studied, researched, practiced, or theorized architecture, the lingering question has inevitably been: To Bauhaus or not to Bauhaus?

Today, we recognize that the 1933 closure may actually have led to school’s sustained influence and surprising longevity.

Fleeing Nazi Germany, the school’s teachers, students, and alumni relocated throughout the world to start new thrilling and successful lives (see my blog Summer Bauhaus). As early as the 1950s, Bauhaus-educated architects had grown into their prime with thriving practices, preaching the gospel of modern architecture. Phrasing the question differently (and highlighted by my recent ascension to grandfather status): Where are Bauhaus’ children and grandchildren? The answer is clear: Everywhere. A recent New York Times article explored this very point and highlighted Bauhaus-inspired projects in far-flung places, which include: Australia, Argentina, Iraq, Israel, India, Nigeria, United States, and many more - all designed by Bauhaus architects, their disciples, and followers.

My personal experience with such a Bauhaus child was in 2004 while on business in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Our firm was leading the interior design for a large residential compound in collaboration with a local design architect.

For the first project meeting, the client decided on the setting and sent their driver to escort me. The car pulled up to the iron gates of a white walled compound where security guards ushered us through unquestioned. The driveway swept through a palm tree shaded courtyard to the front door framed by cantilevered concrete overhangs. A high arched colonnade surrounded the entire court yard, not unlike an urban town square. More security guards opened the car door and pointed in the direction which I deduced to be the way to go. All alone, with my driver striding behind me, I walked through an impressive modernistic hall, really a grand and imposing space in strict modernist vocabulary.

The building was an impressive Bauhaus branded structure, the kind I had never experienced

Towards the end of the hall, I spied a set of wooden doors that miraculously opened as I approach, as in Ali Baba’s open sesame. Another posted guard pointed silently down the corridor, and onward I went through multiple sets of ornate wooden doors that opened as if remotely controlled. At each turn, another guide, a new set of doors, and I blindly obeyed. Finally, I arrived in a remote and lavishly decorated conference room, totally intimidated, manipulated, and stripped bare of all defenses. The happily radiating client, however, was perched at the far end of the boardroom table, pleased with having orchestrated my unique arrival. Without a doubt, this client interaction was one of the most intimidating experiences in my professional endeavors. 

That night, I discussed the impressive modernist building with our project’s associate architect. ‘Yes, great building designed by Walter Gropius’. ‘How would Walter Gropius end up here?’ was my quandary, and I did not find the answer till this week’s New York Times article about Bauhaus’ 100th anniversary and my subsequent research.

Today, I know the building I had visited was the Abu Dhabi Public Library and Culture Center designed by TAC - The Architectural Collaborative, a firm founded by Walter Gropius in 1945. During the post-war years, the firm developed a worldwide practice and won the 1974 international design competition design for the Sheik-sponsored project. The TAC team was led by the Perry Neubauer and Iraqi architect Hisham Ashkouri. Remarkably it was Ashkouri’s first project for TAC, during his gap year between postgraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and ­Harvard-MIT. The building incorporates Islamic-styled motifs and draws on similarities to the adjacent Qasr Al Hosn fort that dates back to Abu Dhabi’s origins and remains a symbol of Emirati identity.

The public library was recently renovated and returned to its original splendor, a hallmark of modern architecture. 

Michel Franck

Michel Franck

Thanks for taking time to read my blog. If you have any comments please feel free to email me. Michel F.