The Bauhaus Comes (Back) to Weimar

The new Bauhaus Museum Weimar—which opened earlier this month—reveals the school’s forgotten and never-seen-before early history.
bauhaus museum weimar

Bauhaus Museum Weimar Photo by Andrew Alberts, © heike hanada laboratory of art and architecture

2019 marks the Bauhaus founding centennial—Metropolis will be publishing articles on the school’s history and legacy throughout the year.

“How do we want to live together?” questioned Walter Gropius when he founded the Bauhaus in 1919, fresh from the first world war that had left Germany in political and economic chaos. The question is as pertinent today as it was back then, particularly in Weimar, where Gropius founded the Bauhaus and where the far right party, Alternative für Deutschland, is on the rise.

The Bauhaus’ relationship with its birthplace is somewhat complicated. In 1923, conservative-minded authorities expelled the institution—they deemed it communist and forced it to relocate in Dessau. (The Bauhaus would move again to Berlin where it was fully shut down by the Nazis in 1933.) Since then, Weimar has been more focused on its other histories: of Goethe, Liszt, and Bach, with the Bauhaus playing second fiddle to this more celebrated classical and romanticist past.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anke Blümm, a curator at the new Bauhaus museum says about the city’s celebration of the design school’s centennial year. It’s perhaps fitting that the permanent exhibition at the museum has been titled The Bauhaus Comes from Weimar.

From the outside, the new building stands out as a big gray box with scarce windows—when approaching the entrance, in fact, none of the windows are visible, rendering the structure monolithic. The design is the work of architect Heiki Hanada, who won the project in an anonymous competition in 2011. It is her first built project. “I’m not so much an architect,” says Hanada, who adds that she focuses on being an artist and teaching architecture at the Technical University of Dortmund.

bauhaus museum weimar

The museum’s first floor; each level in the museum is at minimum double-height. Photo by Andrew Alberts, © heike hanada laboratory of art and architecture

For Hanada, the project was more about tackling urban problems: the museum’s site was previously occupied by a gas station that partially cut off Weimarhallenpark from the Neues Museum Weimar and the Gauforum Weimar. (The latter was previously the Nazi’s administrative offices for slave labor programs; it now hosts municipal offices.) Using desire and sight lines, the museum reconnects the area. “Public buildings are often sculptural but ignore the urban strategy,” said Hanada. “To bind everything together we needed something monumental—before, you couldn’t even see the park.”

Inside, the building takes a different tack. Seemingly shut off from the outside, its exhibition spaces are laced with mezzanines and cross-level connections that reinforce the notion of an encased creative network. Hanada says her inspiration for this approach came from Gordon Matta-Clark, specifically the late American artist’s architectural slices, cuts, and incisions.

Finishes, such concrete, are rough. “It was important to make [the museum] feel like an industrial building that was open to change,” noted Hanada. “We didn’t want [the Bauhaus] movement to become a static thing in a museum.”

The first level is free to the public and due to feature a video projection of the Bauhaus’ history onto a 3D map. Below ground, a café and performance venue offer sumptuous views across Weimarhallenpark and its pond. From the first floor, visitors are encouraged up a straight set of stairs by the clacking sound of a split-flap display board. It greets audiences with the message: “How we will live together” in German and English.

bauhaus museum weimar

From the museum’s collection: Alma Siedhoff-Buscher’s Small Ship-Building Game, 1923 Design reconstructed by Naef Spiele AG

On the second level, audiences will find broad range of impressive work that Bauhaus masters and students produced during their time at the school. Intriguingly, barely any of it is synonymous with the minimalist Bauhaus style known today. Here, the museum hones its focus on the school’s early life, when Gropius was determined to unite the creative disciplines, from fine art to sculpture, craftwork, architecture, and engineering. “Hopefully people won’t just think of tubular chairs when they think of the Bauhaus,” remarked Blümm.

Notable works include paintings by American-German painter Lionel Feininger (his Head in Architecture being particularly impressive); former Bauhaus master Johannes Itten’s House of the White Man; a proposed interior workroom for László Moholy-Nagy by student Peter Reler; a delightfully cute toy boat made from geometric shapes by student Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, and an equally endearing chess set with pieces shaped to indicate their movement by Josef Hartwig, another student.  According to Blümm, almost half of the objects on display have never been exhibited before.

Another set of stairs leads patrons onto a third level showcasing even less Bauhaus-y stuff, such as the Triadic Ballet, the work of Oskar Schlemmer, director of the school’s experimental theatrical department.

On the final fourth floor, the familiar Bauhaus we all know and love can be found. Tubular chairs from Breuer feature in a blockbuster parade of seating designs by masters ranging from Rietveld to Mies van der Rohe. An array of ceramic and metalwork also features inside a Miesian frame, the work of German exhibition designers Holzer Kobler.

The journey through the museum culminates with a himmelsleiter (“Stairway to Heaven”)—an enormous (yet narrow) straight stair that spans three levels. Windows at the top frame a memorial to the Buchenwald concentration camp, the gates of which were designed by Bauhaus graduate Franz Ehrlich. In a daunting experience, patrons leave the light and tread downward into the dark, heading out through a door and into the gift shop.

You may also enjoy “The Lesser-Known Bauhaus: Craft and Expressionism in Weimar.”

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Categories: Architecture, Arts + Culture