When the mayor of Dessau, Fritz Hesse, asked the Bauhaus to take residence in his industrial city, part of his promise was not only land for the school but also a site for faculty housing. The city provided Burgkühnauer Allee, quite close to the school itself, in a wooded and quiet area. In this tiny forest, Gropius designed a large free-standing home for himself and three double houses, paired and attached, for the Masters. The group of homes was built in a year, using mass produced materials, such as concrete blocks. Gropius was experimenting with the idea of prefabricated construction–not yet possible–with the post-war housing shortage in mind.
The concept of the “large scale building set” can be best viewed in the Masters’ homes, which were equal in size, but each structure was a variation on the basic cube, giving the cluster of modern architecture variation and rhythm, ruled by simplicity. The Masters’ Houses, being ancillary to the main building, did not have the iconic status of the school, but these houses, in their own way, were unique experiments in living. Collaborating with Junkers, Gropius was re-thinking what the modern home should be like and how modern people should inhabit it. He mused that “the organism of a house evolves from the course of events that have predated it. in a house, it is the functions of living, sleeping, bathing, cooking, eating that inevitably give the whole design of the house its form… the design is not there for its own sake, it arises alone from the nature of the building, from the function it should fulfill.” In the end, there were seven homes in all, but the home of the director had a few added features. As the home of the Director, the Gropius building was large, had a garage and rooms for servants’ quarters, all surrounded by a tall white wall. In the kitchen, there was, compliment of Junkerswerkes, a hot water pressure spray. Such a spray would be a standard feature in any home today, but in 1926, such an item would have been a novelty. The Bauhaus-designed furniture in this home included a sofa that opened and converted to a bed.
Next door to Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, his right-hand man, lived with his wife, the Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy. Lyonel Feininger and his wife and two children occupied the other half of the joined homes. The next duo was occupied by Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer and their families. Completing the triumvirate of Masters’ Houses, long-time friends and close collaborators, Vassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee abutted one another. The Gropius designed buildings, based upon cubes, were simple, flat-roofed, white faced and marked only by the large black framed windows, touched with markings of bright primary colors. The equality of each duplex was guaranteed by simply rotating the design for the first segment and then building the second half at a ninety-degree angle.
In northern Europe, large expanses of glass, which, at that time, could not be double-paned, would be quite cold. In the winter, these beautiful homes were uncomfortable and the open rooms needed to be warmed by some form of space heaters. Feininger used a coal stove, while Klee and Kandinsky demanded a refund for their heating bills from the city of Dessau. In the summer, the temperatures swung in the other direction and the sun streamed in through the glazed walls, baking the unfortunate inhabitants. These open spaces were the studios where the artists worked, with all the other rooms arranged around the central ateliers. There were even rooftop terraces where the artist could sunbathe in warm weather. The interiors of each home were different. Only Gropius and Moholy-Nagy used Bauhaus designed exclusively, and other Masters brought their own furniture with them. As lovely and as advanced in avant-garde modernist design, the Masters’ Houses were hard to maintain and, in their own way, were fragile, requiring constant upkeep. Although the homes were demanding of their residents, the artists, in turn, attempted to impose their will upon these experiments in modern living. Klee and Kandinsky used their white-walled homes as blank canvases for the color experiments, painting their interior spaces in almost two hundred colors, an abandonment of the austerity preferred by Gropius that came to light only upon restoration. All of the homes used built-in closets, wardrobes, and cabinets, eliminating the need for all but the most basic furniture. Nevertheless, the Kandinsky home mixed the famous “Vassily chairs” with their own old-fashioned Russian furnishings. For all their exterior simplicity, the luxury of these houses was quite at odds with the Marxist sympathies of the inhabitants. Nevertheless, the original faculty and those who followed them, enjoyed living in these novel experiments in domestic living, but the coming of the Nazis and then the Second World War scattered the Masters, who would never return.
For the majority of their lives, the iconic homes for the Masters and the Bauhaus building itself existed in hostile territory. Less than ten years after the distinctive Masters’ houses were completed in 1926, the Nazis closed the Dessau Bauhaus in 1932. Under the leader ship of the new director, Mies van der Rohe, the faculty and students had been driven from the Bauhaus in Dessau and retreated to their last stand in Berlin. The Bauhaus as not the only victim of the Nazis. Junkers, headed by Dr. Hugo Junkers (1859-1935), was an aircraft and engineering works, specializing in the manufacture of steel and airplanes, thus immediately came under the control of the Nazis, who considered the staff to be full of communists and Jews. Junkers himself was arrested was exiled. He died in 1935, never knowing that his aircraft, bearing his name, would bomb Guernica two years later.
When Hitler was elected, it was not the great victory he asserted but a razor thin margin. For a decade, the Nazi party had concentrated on winning control on a nationalist and anti-Semitic agenda but had no special opinion on the arts in 1933. In fact, there were members of the Nazi party that liked modern architecture and collected modern art, and it would be years before a full-blown anti-modern philosophy would emerge. It just so happened that the Bauhaus had been in the public eye for so long and had become the center of architectural and design controversy.
Swept into office along with Hitler, the local Nazis in Dessau closed the Bauhaus in 1932. These Nazis disapproved of modernism in the arts and favored a heavy-handed faux Neoclassicism in architecture, thus the glass fronted Bauhaus building and the white cubes of the seven pioneering buildings for the Masters did not please the sensibilities of the Dessau followers of Hitler. The now hostile city of Dessau, hewing the Nazi line, instructed the new owner, Junkerswerke, to eradicate the “alien” architectural style from the structures, stating that “the outer form of these houses should now be changed so that the alien building forms are removed from the town’s appearance.”
There is little indication that the leaders of the industry were interested in altering the homes of the absent Bauhaus Masters. After all, Junkers himself had been banished by the Nazis and the corporation had better things to concern themselves with. However, it was the occupants of the Masters’ Houses themselves, who organically altered the houses to suit their more middle class needs and bourgeois expectations. They bricked up the huge and drafty windows, threw up partition walls to enclose the open spaces, added chimneys, and, over time, the original cubes were swallowed up by modifications. But turning the masters’ unique modern white cubes over to unsympathetic tenants was just the beginning of the travails suffered by the concrete structures.
The city of Dessau, now the owner of the famous Bauhaus building and the cluster of faculty housing, all designed by Gropius, put a sloped roof on the school and then rented the homes until 1939 when the Second World War began. Meanwhile, the Bauhaus building was turned into a girls’ school, where young women could study Kinder, Kirche und Küche, and then men moved in and the facility was transformed into a training center for Nazi officials. The school also provided offices and work space for Junkers personnel and their drafting operations. Even Albert Speer had a construction office on the premises. And then came the bombings.
As the headquarters for an important aircraft manufacturer, Junkers, the town was naturally targeted and almost was almost totally wiped out. During the Second World War, Dessau lost three-fifths of its buildings to bombing and the masterwork of Gropius himself, the Bauhaus building, was badly damaged on March 7, 1945, right at the end of the War. The Gropius home was completely destroyed down to its foundation and the Moholy-Nagy section of the duplex next door was severely damaged and torn down. In its ruined state, the site and what was left of the building was used as a camp, first for prisoners of war and then for refugees.
After the War, ownership of eastern Germany and the town of Dessau was transferred to the Soviets, another regime that disliked anything European and avant-garde. But the communist regime showed more respect for the idea of the Bauhaus than the Nazis, who had their own artistic agenda. Immediately after the War, the Bauhaus archives were transferred to Berlin and a new building was commissioned to house the materials. The architect was none other than Walter Gropius.
For years, no one was concerned about the lost work of a distinguished architect, and what was left of the complex was rented out and allowed to deteriorate. During 1946 to 1948, there were attempts to restore the still famous Bauhaus building. However, unlike West Germany, East Germany did not have the resources to rebuild. The Feininger home became a doctor’s office. it was not until 1961 that another restoration took place, followed by another phase in 1965. In 1974, the building became an official cultural monument, inspiring a yet another restoration in 1976.
Finally, after the Fall of the Wall, the architectural importance of the Masters’ Houses was recognized and restoration began in the early 1990s. the Bauhaus underwent its final and definitive restoration, a ten-year project, completed in 2002. As indicated by the cautious restorations of the Masters’ Houses, recovering the iconic exteriors while retaining interior modifications, the role of history and the meaning of the lost “original” becomes an exchange. The Bauhaus building and the homes of the Masters, as we see them now, are not the original buildings; they are replicas.
Philosophical questions arise when considering how to respect the entire history of a building: does one restore/rebuild a replica or does one respect a past, no matter how checkered, and allow historical alterations to remain? The questions are really ones of authenticity versus honoring the original intent of the architect, which are actually, in this case, at odds with one another. To solve these genuinely unsolvable problems, the final restorations of the destroyed home for Gropius and the Moholy-Nagy section of the duplex were reconciled as “ghost houses” in 2014. These “ghosts” of the destroyed homes were reinterpreted by artist Bruno Fioretti Marquez, who re-envisioned the cubes as shells or memories of their former selves. The result is a novel solution, a non-restoration restoration, resulting in a new building that is both material and immaterial, a memory and a reality, an homage and reconstruction, and, above all, a healing of architectural wounds.