Building on Brand
Metropolis Magazine|November/December 2019
The Bauhaus turned 100 this year, and a crop of museum buildings sprang up for the celebration.
Samuel Medina
In 2019, two museums bearing the name Bauhaus appeared on the German culture circuit. Angling to capitalize on the design school’s centennial, the Bauhaus Museum Weimar was first out of the gate, opening in early April; a few clicks behind, the Bauhaus Museum Dessau followed suit in early September. A third project, the much-delayed extension to Walter Gropius’s 1979 BauhausArchiv/Museum für Gestaltung in Berlin, did not manage to keep pace and isn’t expected to open for a couple more years yet.

At the moment in Berlin, kapitän Gropius’s keel is shipwrecked in a sea of muddy ditches, its programming relocated to a temporary annex. The building, which broke ground in 1976, the same year the kapitän’s Dessau campus was restored by the German Democratic Republic, opened in 1979 and was never much loved, although footfalls dramatically increased after the Wall came down. It is visibly the result of compromise: Gropius’s original plans, drawn up in 1964 for a sloped site in the small city of Darmstadt near Frankfurt, were waylaid by local politicians; only in the following decade, after Gropius’s death, did the project find a site in then–West Berlin. The dislocation did violence to the original scheme, however, requiring extensive modifications by Gropius’s acolyte Alex Cvijanovic (not least among them translating the building to flatland).

Whatever verve there was in that first project was methodically snuffed out in the pallid final version. It is modular without the conviction for its logic, and subtractive “without a flaming desire for new potentialities,” to borrow a line from the critic Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, who seized every chance to antagonize Gropius in his elder-statesman years. The surfaces— which, contrary to the school’s reputation, were a source of much craftsmanly anxiety for architects at the Bauhaus—are dull. The trademark shed roofs, and the jaunty winding ramp added by Cvijanovic, strive for loftier heights but don’t reach them. It was, and remains, not very Bauhaus.

The case of the Bauhaus-Archiv is instructive because it highlights the problem of building “on brand,” especially a legacy brand like BAUHAUS. The magic simply cannot be recaptured, as surely as tragedy passes into farce, farce into memetic nihilism. While plenty of “modern” buildings are going up in every city in the world, they have more in common with IKEA and the lobotomizing virality of Alucobond than with the 20th century’s most famous design school.

The genius of the Bauhaus, such as it was, lay in the combustible political situation that forced it into being. From the magma of world war emerged a new spirituality, to which Gropius gave voice in his 1919 manifesto while founding the school in Weimar. “Crystallization” is the key term, as in his memorable exhortation: “Art must finally find its crystalline expression in a great total work of art. And this great total work of art, this cathedral of the future, will then shine with its abundance of light into the smallest objects of everyday life.”

It is no coincidence, then, that the most reproduced image of the Bauhaus’s initial Weimar period was Lyonel Feininger’s woodcut depicting a prismatic “cathedral of socialism.” This socialism was of the William Morris sort, earthy and fraternal, bowing to sensuous feeling and species essence before instrumental reason. Art, that is to say crafts, would be a prophylactic against the mechanized terror of war prosecuted by the bourgeoisie at home and abroad.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM METROPOLIS MAGAZINEView All

Building for Tomorrow, Today

Radical change in the building industry is desperately needed. And it cannot happen without the building trades.

6 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
November/December 2019

Building on Brand

The Bauhaus turned 100 this year, and a crop of museum buildings sprang up for the celebration.

8 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
November/December 2019

Interspecies Ethic

In probing the relationship between humans and nature, two major exhibitions question the very foundations of design practice.

6 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
November/December 2019

Signs of Life

Designers, curators, and entrepreneurs are scrambling to make sense of motherhood in a culture that’s often hostile to it.

7 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
November/December 2019

The Circular Office

Major manufacturers are exploring every avenue to close the loop on workplace furniture.

1 min read
Metropolis Magazine
November/December 2019

No New Buildings

The energy already embodied in the built environment is a precious unnatural resource. It’s time to start treating it like one.

7 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
November/December 2019

Strength from Within

Maggie’s Centres, the service-focused cancer support network, eschews clinical design to arm patients in their fight for life.

5 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
October 2019

Calming Effects

Trends in hospitality design are matching up with what environmental psychologists see as a need for comfort in anxious times.

5 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
October 2019

Enter The Culinarium

AvroKO imagines the future of residential amenities—where convenience, comfort, and sustainability meet.

5 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
October 2019

Mi Casa, Su Casa

Casa Perfect creates a memorable shopping experience in lavish private homes.

1 min read
Metropolis Magazine
October 2019
RELATED STORIES

Shannon T. Lewis

A Performance of Many Lifetimes

10+ mins read
JUXTAPOZ
Spring 2021

BOWIE, CURATED

FIVE YEARS AFTER THE ICON’S PASSING, A FAN REVIEWS THE POSTHUMOUS RELEASES

10 mins read
Stereophile
January 2021

Christian Drosten – A Virologist Whose Government Trusts Him

In Germany, Christian Drosten has the ear of Chancellor Angela Merkel—and of millions of his countrymen via his wildly popular podcast

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
October 05, 2020

WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD CIVILIZATION

SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY HAPPENED over the last few decades. For the first time in human history, a single global civilization emerged.

6 mins read
Reason magazine
November 2020

ADENT OF CHAOS

We spoke with Marilyn Manson about his prescient new album, the loss of his close friend Norm Love Letters, and collaborating with Shooter Jennings.

6 mins read
Inked
The Music Issue

COWORKING COMMUNITIES CHART A NEW PATH DURING COVID-19

We checked in with Pauline Roussel, CEO of Berlin-based Coworkers to find out what’s next in collaborative (but socially distanced) workspaces.

9 mins read
PC Magazine
June 2020

JESSICA RIMONDI MOMENTS

Images of everyday life

3 mins read
Art Market
Issue #47 May 2020

Translating History

A Conversation with Isabel Fargo Cole

10+ mins read
World Literature Today
Spring 2020

NO CITY HATES ITS LANDLORDS QUITE LIKE BERLIN

ACTIVISTS SAY THE NEW FIVE-YEAR RENT FREEZE IS MERELY A GOOD START. WHO’S UP FOR EXPROPRIATING SOME PRIVATE PROPERTY? BY CAROLINE WINTER AND ANDREW BLACKMAN

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
February 10, 2020

Works Of Art

In a sprawling gallery in the heart of Berlin, Max Mara staged a classic-with-a-twist resort 2020 show, inspired by Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie. Artist Kiri-Una Brito meumann travelled to Germany to find the nexus point where fashion meets art

4 mins read
ELLE Australia
January/February 2020