Fixing up the Bauhaus

DPA , DESSAU, GERMANY

Tue, Aug 09, 2005 - Page 16

Renovation of one of the most famous buildings of the 20th century, the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius, is to be completed next year in Dessau, the provincial German city that is a place of pilgrimage for design enthusiasts from round the world.

Around 80,000 people come every year to tour the Bauhaus even in its semi-restored state. Erected in 1926, the design-college building is a symbol of unadorned 20th century style and is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

The renovations have taken almost 10 years so far. The "glass curtain" -- the all-glass outside wall that is common in any modern city today but was revolutionary 80 years ago -- has been restored.

At the boxy Meisterhaeuser, the nearby homes for the great artists and designers who taught here, the stucco walls have been repainted pure white, offsetting the narrow ribbon windows.

Tourism officials in Dessau, 110km southwest of Berlin, say that in addition to the 80,000 people who pay to tour the campus and Meisterhaeuser, large numbers come to Dessau to see the exteriors for free.

The Bauhaus movement aimed to unite art and the latest technology with a new focus on functionality. Features of Bauhaus-style architecture, also known as the international style, include glass curtain walls, cubic blocks and unsupported corners.

The Bauhaus building had them all. Above the ground floor, Gropius sheathed the studio and workshop wing in an extensive glass curtain wall so that it appeared to hover like a transparent box.

For next year's 80th anniversary, a permanent exhibition on the history of the building and the movement will be created.

Today, Bauhaus design or echoes of it are found around the globe in factory and office architecture, in the layout of newspaper pages or in the tubular-steel furniture and fittings in many homes.

Tradesmen are still hard at work on the interiors used by professors such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonell Feininger, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer in the years before the school was forced to move to Berlin in 1932.

The steel-and-concrete skeleton of the building has been repaired and the workshops have been gutted. The heating, plumbing and wiring and part of the roof have been replaced.

Work begins late this year on the North Wing, which houses the Bauhaus Foundation and parts of Anhalt technical college.

Monika Markgraf, the architect, says she is doing a mixture of conservation of what exists and restoration of what had vanished.

She discovered some windows from the original facade which had been ripped out in 1976: they were being used in a garden as a hothouse. Markgraf had the frames repaired, and re-inserted the windows in their old place.

She said the Bauhaus would not be restored to exactly the way it was in 1926: later modifications, such as the present windows in the assembly hall, are being kept where they are in good condition.

"People should be able to see traces of the building's intervening history," she explained.

It certainly has been an eventful history.

The Nazis, who took over Germany in 1933, loathed the Bauhaus movement. World War II bombing damaged the name-giving building.

When the East German communists took over, they rejected the Bauhaus style initially, but by the 1970s were sufficiently aware of its worldwide importance to reconstruct the original site.

As many as nine coats of paint in different colors have come off some walls in the course of restoration.

"It's a sort of archeology," Markgraf said.