woensdag, augustus 19, 2015

Meisterhäuser, Dessau #3

This rather blurry and imprecise photograph, taken by Ise Gropius in 1926, became one of the most iconic images of the House Gropius after the building’s destruction in 1945, creating our collective memory of it. (foto: Ise Gropius)

And today... the ghost of House Gropius, replacing House Emmer, demolished in 2008, following discussions about what to preserve, to reconstruct or to destroy... (foto: Christoph Rokitta)

"On 7 March 1945, most of Dessau’s inner city was destroyed by an air raid. Gropius’ villa and the neighbouring home of the Moholy-Nagys were severely damaged, and while House Moholy-Nagy (actually half a house) was torn down completely, the basement of the Gropius House survived. After the War, there was little interest in Dessau, by then a city in Eastern Germany, to reestablish the Bauhaus. And in the 1950s, when a couple wanted to build their new home on Gropius’ foundations, planning officials allowed it, and even insisted on the house having a pitched roof – as if to provoke the original architect, who in the meantime had become a US citizen. The new House Emmer was the result, named after the couple who built it, blending well with the older houses on the other side of the street, but contrasting starkly with the remaining Masters’ Houses, which fell into disrepair during the following decades. Their renovation and reuse as exhibition spaces started only after 1992."

Gropius’ villa, 1926-1933.


1957-2010(?) (bron: FONTECEDRO)

Set on the foundations of House Gropius, House Emmer was built in the 1950s. With its pitched roof it made a perfect anti-Bauhaus-statement, 2006. (foto: Silvia Höll)

"In the course of the reappraisal of the Bauhaus’ heritage in Dessau, intense discussions on the lost one-and-a-half Masters’ Houses suddenly exploded. Should they be reconstructed as if nothing had happened? Or should the House Emmer be torn down, the one actual surviving witness to all the layers of German history that had impacted on the site? This discussion linked directly to those going on in cities all over Germany, some of which continue, on the reconstruction of houses, squares and entire inner cities as copies of images of how they were before the Second World War: the Frauenkirche in Dresden, the Stadtschlösser or City Palaces in Berlin and Potsdam, or the medieval housing quarter in the centre of Frankfurt being cases in point.

But hardly ever has a building of classic modernism been the target of such a reconstruction – on the contrary, in many German cities it is the modern buildings that are being torn down to make place for more “historic” ones. Yet in Dessau, the case was even more complicated. If you want to restore something from the past, which period exactly do you pick? Which past do you want to revive? To reconstruct the missing houses would mean giving back the ensemble its missing parts, restoring it to its former glory as a perfect showcase of internationally renowned early modernism. Yet it would also mean destroying the traces of German history that followed this brief period, the traces that Nazi Germany and the GDR left on the site, the first with it’s opposition to, the second with its utter disinterest in, the intentions behind the modernist architecture defined by the Bauhaus.

An initial architecture competition was held and ended without satisfying result, fuelling the discussions even more. The question arose if perhaps there was a third way between keeping the contradictory elements of the site as witness to a contradictory past, or reconstructing Gropius’ original as if nothing had happened.

In a new competition, it were Berlin-based Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects who came up with a convincing, yet heavily theoretical, scheme that answered this question. Their almost philosophical concept referred to the work of artists and writers like Thomas Demand, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Jorge Luis Borges, with their ideas cuing off themes of human memory and imagination: “Our memory lives off blurriness and imprecision”, said architect José Gutierrez Marquez at the opening in Dessau.

Their winning scheme, now completed but not yet fitted out, is an experiment questioning what a reconstruction is or could be. Coming from this idea of the blurriness of memory, and the imprecision of old black and white photographs, they’ve created an architecture that evokes questions rather than delivers specific answers as to what House Gropius or Moholy-Nagy actually looked like.
Most details of the buildings were omitted – such as the metal handrails to the balconies – turning the buildings into grey sculptures, almost lacking any scale. This idea of constructive subtraction continues inside, where several walls and ceilings of the original were partially removed, create surprising internal configurations: the original interior lay outs cut wide open, with odd windows hanging in the air indicating where the original rooms and walls once were."

The new House Gropius, designed by Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects, is built on the basement of the original, the only part to survive the bombings in WW2. (foto's: Christoph Rokitta)

The new House Moholy-Nagy follows exactly the cubic composition of the original, yet it omits many details, creating a scale-less, sculpture-like exterior, a treatment which continues inside, where specific walls and ceilings of the historic interior were edited out of the new building. (foto's: Christoph Rokitta)

"By managing to turn their ideas of blurriness and imprecision into well-detailed three-dimensional buildings, that need to be per se sharp and precise, the architects have managed with this design to avoid creating anything like an idyllic recreation of the Bauhaus’ perfect modernist world. This is no Disneyfied Gropius, at the same time it is no memorial trying to conserve or rehash the spasms of the 20th century. The Bauhaus’ architecture was a provocation in its time – and the new Gropius House is again thought provoking, being a reinterpretation rather than a reconstruction.

It is, most of all, a highly controversial piece of architecture, that hopefully will keep the controversies of early modernism, German history, and the Bauhaus itself, alive. Even after the opening ceremony for the buildings last week, a small controversy erupted over the reconstructed wall around Gropius’ garden, with local Dessau residents complaining: “We don’t need a wall”.

And nothing could maintain the heritage of the Bauhaus better than an ongoing controversy." (tekst: Florian Heilmeyer, bron: uncube)

House Moholy-Nagy / Feiniger, 2015. (eigen foto. hk)

> Bauhaus Dessau
> Bauhaus Online
> Meisterhäuser

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