Visiting the Dessau Bauhaus building was like going on a pilgrimage.
The Bauhaus is omnipresent even in today’s world. When it was forced to shut down by the Nazis and many of the architects emigrated from Germany, the movement found a new home in America and the influence of the philosophy reached New York and Harvard and the rest of the world.
The building itself is remarkable in its functional organization. It is a building I have written a 15-page paper about in Professor Esther da Costa Meyer’s class and made a 20-minute presentation on in Professor Spyros Papapetros’ graduate seminar at Princeton. So instead of describing it I will note here some impressions.
Because I had missed the first train out of Berlin, I had only two hours in Dessau, before my next connection to Stuttgart. The trains in Germany are very punctual. I took a cab to the Bauhaus (That’s all I had to say, obviously: “Bauhaus” – and we were off!).
As the cab pulled up, I noticed there was renovation going on in some parts of the exterior. They were replacing the worn flooring tiles with new ones of excellent quality. The Germans are great at recognizing the worth of their Modern Architecture, and maintaining and preserving it.
To the pilgrim that I was, the building seemed to glow in the warm sun, like a shining beacon ushering in a new dawn for architecture. I walked around the Bauhaus, stored my bags and jacket in a Bauhaus locker, had a sandwich in the Bauhaus café, used a Bauhaus bathroom, and looked at the exhibition inside the building.
The building and spaces were very impressive but it seemed like none of the pictures I would take would be as good as the ones in the library at Princeton. So much of the architecture we know about is only experienced through mediated images. Going to the Bauhaus, then, revealed some very interesting aspects that I had not known before, but was also a little disenchanting at the same time.
I could see very well the much-acclaimed literal transparency of the building, and the Panopticon-like arrangement which allowed the shrewd Gropius to oversee, from his office in the center, all that went on. But I also got a chance to read in the building Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzy’s idea of phenomenal transparency -- something that hasn't been written about this building but that I have wondered about. Because of the geometrical arrangement of spaces, “...there is a continuous dialectic between fact and implication. The reality of deep space is constantly opposed to the inference of shallow space; and by means of the resultant tension, reading after reading is enforced.” This can be seen in the following image where the reflection of the building in the window, the objects and people inside the building, and the awareness of the planes behind allow for a reading of the building on several different receding and advancing planes.