The Bauhaus Masters’ Houses

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It was just a short walk from the Bauhaus school building to reach the Master’s Houses, which had been designed by Gropius. There were originally 3 pairs of semi-detached houses for the senior Masters and a detached house for Gropius himself all set in the pine woods which were then on the edge of the town. An idyllic setting. The detached house was destroyed during the war but is being rebuilt. The semidetached houses are essentially the same with the same floor plan, albeit mirrored and rotated by 90°. They were built from prefabricated elements – “cubes”. Their use facilitating construction.

It was possible to access 5 of the Master’s houses which have been renovated. The first we looked at were those initially occupied by Klee and Kadinsky. It was hard to believe that we were walking through the same rooms where they lived and worked. They were quite spacious and had large balconies and massive workrooms/studios with large north facing windows to let in the light but also so passers by could see them at work.

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It wasn’t possible to see all the rooms as some weren’t accessible and it would have been nice if they had been furnished. When originally built, all the houses were equipped with modern furniture, and fitted cupboards were integrated between the kitchen service area and the dining room and between the bedroom and the studio.

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Gropius and Moholy-Nagy fitted out their houses exclusively with furniture by their Bauhaus colleague,  Marcel Breuer, but the other masters brought their own furniture with them.

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The staircases had long windows extending almost the height of the building which let in plenty of light

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and provided views over the other houses and woods.

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There are spacious balconies which could, in effect, become outdoor rooms during pleasant weather.

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We gained a good impression of how the Masters lived. It must have been a pretty ideal living and working environment, but with a lack of insulation and single glazed windows with metal frames, the houses must have been either pretty cold in the winter or cost a fortune to heat.

The Bauhaus Dessau

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On the second full day of our holiday in Berlin we travelled over to Dessau. It was here that the Bauhaus was based between 1925, when the political situation meant they had to leave Weimar, and 1932 when again, they had to move when the Nazis took control of Dessau. With the move to Dessau a new building was constructed, designed by the School’s Director, Walter Gropius. Looking at it today it is hard to appreciate just how revolutionary it was at the time it was built – with it’s flat roof, the massive expanse of windows – the first ever glass curtain wall – the overall asymmetric design, the separation of the parts of the building according to their functions. Other buildings were constructed in the town – including housing for Gropius and the senior Masters and an estate of workers’ houses on the outside of the town.

We were tired and were up a little later than planned but we still managed to get some breakfast and catch our train from Alexanderplatz. Our ticket, a special day return valid after 9 o’clock which we’d bought over the Internet when planning our holiday,  cost 29 Euros and up to 5 people could have travelled on it. Quite a bargain. The journey took just 15 minutes less than two hours, so we arrived in Dessau just before midday.

It was  a short walk to the Bauhaus building from the station. I was worried that having so looked forward to this trip I might feel let down, Not a bit of it. The building was fantastic. Everything I expected and more.

We approached the building via Bauhaus Strasse and this was the view that greeted us

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The large square block with balconies is the accommodation block and the bridge that connects the two main wings – one for the workshops and the other containing classrooms. The bridge contains offices, including the Director’s. The accommodation block, which was used by junior Masters and students, is connected to the Workshop wing by a canteen, theatre and lobby.

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We had a look around outside the building and then went inside where we purchased a day ticket that covered the Bauhaus building, plus a tour in German and the Master’s houses. I also bought a photo pass which allowed me to take photographs inside the school and Masters’ houses. We actually visited the Masters’ houses, which are only a short walk away from the school , first. But they deserve their own post. As does the Torten Estate of workers’ houses designed by Gropius which we visited after the tour of the school building.

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The guided tour of the building is only run in German but we decided to join it as it takes you into parts of the building that were otherwise inaccessible including  the theatre, canteen and Gropius’ office. Normally the tour would also visit the accommodation block but, unfortunately, that was closed for renovation.

It would have been difficult to follow much of what the guide was saying, but luckily for us there was another English couple on the tour, Chris and Caroline. Caroline had studied German literature and had lived in Berlin for a year while at University. She was translating for Chris and very quickly allowed us to listen too.

The building was marvellous. As well as a beautiful design and structure there were so many clever design features. An amazing attention to detail. We learned about the construction methods, materials, were allowed to play with some of the features – I turned the wheel to open some of the windows. There was even a logic behind the colour scheme.  The fixtures and fittings were designed by Bauhaus Masters and Students and there were some very innovative ideas. The interior decoration of the entire building was done by the wall painting workshop, the lighting fixtures by the metal workshop, and the lettering by the print shop.

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Bauhaus designed furniture was installed, including the chairs in the lecture theatre.

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This is the canteen.

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Large doors could be opened so that the canteen and theatre combined to form one large space.

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This is Gropius’ office.

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As many of the ideas introduced in this building have become mainstream it’s hard to imagine just how revolutionary and strange it looked at the time it was built. But it is still a very beautiful structure which still looks incredibly modern.