All are products of a school of design that an architect named Walter Gropius founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919. Today, the Bauhaus is regarded as the most important, influential art school of the 20th century.
Artists and designers joined Gropius in teaching a multidisciplinary curriculum that emphasized craftsmanship and industrial production. Courses in painting, architecture, textiles, typography, printing, photography, theater design, film, photography, furniture and weaving prepared students to become competent craftsmen who not only knew how to create harmonious design with creativity and technical skills, but also could bring about societal changes by improving the quality of life.
The Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Germany in 1925, where Gropius and his partners focused on making marketable products that were ready for mass production. They also created some memorable buildings in this industrial city.
With its interlocking cubic forms, reinforced concrete frame, dramatic glass curtain walls and floating balconies, the Bauhaus’s main building — the Prellerhaus — became the icon of Classical Modernism. Dark window frames and brightly colored ceilings provide contrast to the building’s light, neutral tones.
In 1932, the Bauhaus left Dessau for Berlin, where it closed the next year. The Prellerhaus in Dessau suffered heavy bomb damage toward the end of World War II. It was repaired, then restored in 1976 after it was designated a protected monument in 1974. Today, you can tour several rooms in the building, including a student bedroom with a balcony that provides a picturesque view of Dessau…
and the former carpentry workshop, now a shop that sells Bauhaus-inspired gifts.
One of the most famous features of the Prellerhaus is its staircase. Roy Lichtenstein modeled his Bauhaus Stairway of 1988 on a painting of the same name by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer, which was, in turn, based on T. Lux Feininger’s photo of Bauhaus weaving students on the steps of the staircase.
It’s also known for its factory-style windows with clever opening and closing mechanics, a feature of industrial design.
Minutes away from the Prellerhaus are the Meisterhaüser (Master’s Houses). Gropius designed these two-family homes in 1926 for himself and his fellow Bauhaus masters: Lyonel Feininger; Georg Muche; Oskar Schlemmer; Wassily Kandinsky; Paul Klee; and Lázló Moholy-Nagy.
Gropius used simple construction elements to create simple, functional homes that conveyed both the personalities of the artists and the ideal of modern housing at the time. Each half of the house shares the same floor plan, mirrored and rotated 90 degrees. On the third floor, the western section features two additional rooms.
Vertical rows of windows on the sides of the buildings provide lighting for the stairways…
Terraces and balconies with rails made from tubular steel gas pipes from factories are on the sides of the buildings that face away from the street.
All of the houses had picture rails, so that their inhabitants could change and sell the artwork that they created. Fitted cupboards were placed between the kitchen service area and the dining room, as well as between the bedroom and the studio.
The Meisterhaüser also contain examples of the Wassily Chair, the classic mass-produced chair which Marcel Breuer designed while he was the head of the Bauhaus’s cabinet-making workshop. Inspired by the strength of his bicycle’s frame and handlebar, Breuer was the first to use tubular steel in creating furniture. Double-twisted cotton fabric or leather straps are pulled taut on the reverse side with the use of springs to make the back and seat of the chair. The Meisterhaüser are also furnished with examples of the club chair and stacking chair designed by Breuer.
The Feininger/Moholy-Nagy house is also the home of the Kurt-Weill-Centre, a museum, library and future archive documenting the life and work of Kurt Weill, the German composer best known for his Threepenny Opera who was born in Dessau. A Kurt Weill Fest will take place in Dessau from February 27 through March 15, 2015.
To read more about the Bauhaus, see Bauhaus, 1911-1933: Weimar-Dessau-Berlin, by Michael Siebenbrodt; Bauhaus: Art as Life, by Catherine Ince and Lydia Yee; and Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop, by Sigrid Weltge-Wortmann.