Bauhausbücher covers, № I-XIV (1925-1930)

Below are the covers to the books in the Bauhausbücher series, № 1-14.

  1. Walter Gropius, Internationale Architektur. Bauhausbücher 1, München 1925
  2. Paul Klee, Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch. Bd. 2, München 1925
  3. Adolf Meyer, Ein Versuchshaus des Bauhauses in Weimar. Bd. 3, München, 1925
  4. Oskar Schlemmer, Die Bühne im Bauhaus. Bd. 4, München 1925
  5. Piet Mondrian, Neue Gestaltung. Neoplastizismus. Bd. 5, Eschwege 1925
  6. Theo van Doesburg, Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst. Bd. 6, München 1925
  7. Walter Gropius, Neue Arbeiten der Bauhauswerkstaetten. Bd. 7, München 1925
  8. Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Malerei, Fotografie, Film. Bd. 8, München 1925
  9. Wassily Kandinsky, Punkt und Linie zur Fläche: Beitrag zur Analyse der malerischen Elemente. Bd. 9, München, 1926
  10. Jan Peter Oud, Holländische Architektur, Bd. 10, München 1926
  11. Kasimir Malewitsch, Die gegenstandslose Welt, Bd. 11, München 1927
  12. Walter Gropius, Bauhausbauten Dessau. Bd. 12, München 1928
  13. Albert Gleizes, Kubismus. Bd. 13, München 1928
  14. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Von Material zu Architektur. Bd. 14, 1929


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On Claude Schnaidt

The writings of the French-German Marxist and architectural historian Claude Schnaidt (1931-2007) are hardly known at all in the English-speaking world. His only major essay to appear in translation was reproduced in the previous post, along with photos and scans illustrating the subjects covered. Intellectually, he can be compared to his colleague and collaborator Anatole Kopp, whose work I reflected upon in a recent blog entry.

Paul Chemetov, one of Schnaidt’s students, recently authored an article for the bilingual journal Le visiteur in which he briefly sketched the relationship between the two men and their intertwining career paths. Chemetov writes:

To those who knew him or met him, Claude Schnaidt was a curious figure. Curious because of his voice, coloured by so many accents — he was a native of Geneva, but German-speaking, with occasional echoes of old-style Parisian “lip.” And curious in his appearance — ascetic, but loving life. A soldier-monk? In reality, a passionate teacher. As the successor to Max Bill, he took on the role of director at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm until its closure in 1967-68, and the Institut de l’Environnement in Paris (located, incredibly, at the corner of Rue d’Ulm and Rue Jean Calvin…), founded by André Malraux after the events of 1968, and clad in Schnaidt’s day in a façade by Prouvé, before Philippe Starck’s marble top-coat signified the end of that particular pedagogical, political, and intellectual interlude. Born in 1931, Claude Schnaidt died on the 22nd of March, 2007. “A young man in the mainstream of modernity,” in Gubler’s words. He was a close associate of that other eternal young man, Anatole Kopp, whose book Quand le moderne n’était pas un style mais une cause (“When modernism was not a style but a cause”) is a precise resumé of both of their careers.

Whereas Kopp dedicated his life to the excavation of early Soviet avant-garde architecture, Schnaidt’s focus was narrower. Most of the work he’s known for concerned a single figure from the annals of modernism: the Marxist and modernist Hannes Meyer. Nevertheless, from what I can tell (and Chemetov’s remarks seem to confirm this) their projects were otherwise remarkably similar. As Chemetov suggests, their primary interest was to recover the sociohistoric mission of modern architecture, which had by their time degenerated to what they most despised in 19th-century architecture: “style.” Since modern architecture had formally triumphed, flourishing in the postwar years, the broader program of social transformation it once aspired to had been lost. Like Kopp, Schnaidt believed that by revealing modernism’s radical, quasi-socialist origins, this project might be renewed.

Claude Schnaidt, Herbert Lindinger, und Herbert Kapitzki leiten die Versammlung der HfG am 2/23/1968

Claude Schnaidt, Herbert Lindinger, und Herbert Kapitzki leiten die Versammlung der HfG am 2/23/1968

His frustration with the impasse modern architecture reached in the mid-1960s comes through quite clearly in a 1967 article, “Architecture and Political Commitment”:

Greater truth, directness, and depth cannot be given to human relations by the invention of novel forms. The aberrations of modern city life have deeper social causes than the shape of the buildings. The erection of monuments — and only history can decide what is a monument and what is not — will add nothing to human happiness. Self-glorification has never made men happy. Technology cannot be domesticated by putting up lepidopterous theaters and sinusoidal airport buildings. Far from settling the hash of the engineers, contemporary Baroque emphasizes their triumph. What is the use of impugning the formal schematics of the rationalist if one leaves unassailed the utopian ideas behind them? What is the use of decrying the squalor of urban conglomerations and the degradation of the modern habitat without at the same time denouncing the bourgeois commercialism which gives rise to them? What is the use of accusing rationalism, when, in point of fact, the rationalism accused is mechanistic, limited, and obsolete. If modern architecture is at a dead-end, it is not through any abuse of rationalism but through ignorance of genuine scientific thought, not through any abuse of social sense, but rather through a lack of concrete social content.

Of course, this was a common theme seized upon by many leftists in the 1960s. The technical and economic progress of society had not brought with it the emancipatory results many expected would accompany them. Modernism, the ideological extrapolation of this societal expectation, had finally been accepted by the public at large. Yet humanity was no freer for it. Kopp and Schnaidt thus sought to mobilize the memory of modern architecture’s most revolutionary phase against empty stylizations that would reduce problems of construction to mere formulae. Continue reading

Hannes Meyer, Marxist and modernist (1889-1954)

by Claude Schnaidt

Image: Cover to Claude Schnaidt’s
biographical essay Hannes Meyer (1964)

Hannes Meyer died ten years ago. The publication of his work is both too early and too late. Too late because there is reason to believe that the course of modern architectural history has been changed, although it is hard to say how much, by ignorance of this work. Certain misconceptions concerning the movements and events with which he was associated might have been avoided if his work had been accessible at an earlier date. These debatable interpretations of the recent past are partly responsible for the present confusion in the minds of a whole generation of architects. Today architecture is venturing along dangerous paths from which it might have held back if the real intentions of preceding generations had been better understood. People talk, for example, of the misdeeds of functionalism and prepare to write it off without really knowing what it was. Too late, again, because the lapse of time has made Hannes Meyer a legendary figure. His is the legend of an accursed architect which must now be divested of its fictitious elements to uncover the real man concealed beneath. But this book on Hannes Meyer is also too early. The passions stirred up by the man and his work are still a long way from being quelled. There are still too many people with a stake in misrepresenting the truth. Yet, in order to establish the historical truth, we still lack many of the elements that time alone can supply.

Why, it will be asked, has the work of Hannes Meyer been misunderstood for so long? There are a number of reasons. First of all, Meyer himself was too engrossed in his daily tasks to be troubled with the preparation of a book on his works. It is also likely that such an intention was alien to his cast of mind; he was too much imbued with the idea of collective work to want to parade his own originality. And if in the last years of his life he did think of turning his enforced leisure to account by preparing a book, ill health prevented him from putting this plan into effect. Moreover, the very character of his work is ill fitted for publication. A substantial portion of it is made up of organizational measures or of research, analyses and reports prepared by a team and stored away in many instances in archives in Germany, the USSR or Mexico. But if Meyer is little or imperfectly known, this is due more particularly to the conspiracy of silence organized by all those who felt threatened by his revolutionary opinions and zest. There is also the indifference due to a failure to understand ideas transcending the conventional. If Meyer had spoken a little more often about art and a little less about politics, if he had merely indulged in reassuring generalities instead of impugning an economic system, if he had built luxury villas instead of co-operative housing estates, he would probably have been entitled to more honors than he has received. Meyer did not share the overweening ambition of his contemporaries. He did not believe that society could be changed merely by changing its architecture and its town-planning. He opposed this idealist dream and made a deliberate attempt to adapt his work to the living reality of the world. That is why there is something disconcerting about Meyer’s work at first sight: it is based on very strict principles but assumes a great variety of forms of expression.

Hannes Meyer, Dokumente zur Frühzeit: Architektur- und Gestaltungsversuche, 1919 - 1927.

Hannes Meyer, Dokumente zur Frühzeit:
Architektur und Gestaltungsversuche, 1919-27

Whether belated or, in certain respects, premature, it may be hoped that the publication of Hannes Meyer’s work will shed light on some matters of topical interest, more particularly the debate on the status and role of the architect in an industrial civilization, the controversy raging around functionalism, the reassessment of the heritage of the Bauhaus, and the crisis in the teaching of architecture. On all these outstanding questions Meyer, either implicitly or explicitly, took up a position which was original and singularly clear-sighted. Generally speaking, however, it is the general situation of architecture which underlines the topicality of Meyer’s work. Modern architects are no longer able to cope with the demands which they have helped to create. The aims and methods of architecture are due for a radical reappraisal and for this a return to the sources seems increasingly necessary. Continue reading

Paul Nelson, Robert Pontabry et Anatole Kopp à l'inauguration de l'exposition des techniques américaines, Grand Palais, 14 juin 1946a

Foreign architects in the Soviet Union during the first two five-year plans

by Anatole Kopp

Image: Paul Nelson, Robert Pontabry et Anatole Kopp
à l’inauguration de l’exposition des techniques
américaines, Grand Palais, 14 juin 1946

Reproduced below, sans footnotes, is the French-Russian architectural historian Anatole Kopp’s late article on “Foreign architects in the Soviet Union during the first two five-year plans,” from 1988. As things stand, it’s probably the most thorough account of international specialists’ activities in the USSR. In a post that’ll soon follow, I’ll go over Kopp’s career and outlook, his strengths and shortcomings, his collaborations and disagreements with peers such as Henri Lefebvre. His earlier work was stronger, and more influential, but this article is valuable if for no other reason than its comprehensiveness. That said, it does leave out mention of a few noteworthy figures, such as Hinnerk Scheper and Johan Niegeman. I’ve included some images of them, even though he neglects to mention them.

Soviet architecture of the 1920s — avant-garde architecture — was largely unresearched in the West until the mid-1960s. Since then, in Europe, in the United States, and also progressively in the Soviet Union, various studies have been devoted to this subject. What has remained largely unexamined, however, is the activity of a large number of foreign technicians who went to work in the USSR beginning in 1928. Their participation in various construction projects and in the development of Soviet architecture is the subject of this essay. Continue reading

Theater at the Bauhaus (1925)

Oskar Schlemmer

Image: Walter Gropius, design for the
“total theater” at the Bauhaus (1926)


From a lecture-demonstration at the Bauhaus by Oskar Schlem­mer to the Circle of Friends of the Bauhaus (March 16, 1927).

Before speaking about theater proper at the Bauhaus, we should first take a brief look at the way in which it came about, consider the justification for its existence, and observe its path and its goals. In short, we should review its primary endeavor, which is to approach all our material from a basic and elementary standpoint. It is because of this endeavor that the stage here has became an organic link in the total chain of Bauhaus activity.

It is natural that the aims of the Bauhaus — to seek the union of the artistic-ideal with the craftsmanlike-practical by thoroughly investigating the creative elements, and to understand in all its ramifications the essence of der Bau, creative construction — have valid application to the field of the theater. For, like the concept of Bau itself, the stage is an orchestral complex which comes about only through the cooperation of many different forces. It is the union of the most heterogeneous assortment of creative elements. Not the least of its functions is to serve the metaphysical needs of man by constructing a world of illusion and by creating the transcen­dental on the basis of the rational.

Cover to a more recent edition of Oskar Schlemmer's writings on the theater

Cover to a more recent edition of Oskar
Schlemmer’s writings on the theater

From the first day of its existence, the Bauhaus sensed the impulse for creative theater; for from that first day the play instinct [der Spieltrieb] was present. The play instinct, which Schiller in his wonderful and endur­ ing Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen [Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, (1795)] calls the source of man’s real creative values, is the un-self-conscious and naIve pleasure in shaping and pro­ ducing, without asking questions about use or uselessness, sense or non­ sense, good or bad. This pleasure through creation was especially strong at the beginning (not to say the infancy) of the Bauhaus
…….in Weimar
and was expressed in our exuberant parties, in improvisations, and in the imaginative masks and costumes which we made.

We might say that during the course of its development, this state of naïveté, which is the womb of the play instinct, is generally followed by a period of reflection, doubt, and criticism, something that in turn can easily bring about the destruction of the original state, unless a second and, as it were, skeptical kind of naIvete tempers this critical phase. Today we have become much more aware of ourselves. A sense for standards and con­stants has arisen out of the unconscious and the chaotic. This, together with concepts such as norm, type, and synthesis, points the way to creative form [Gestaltung].


It was due only to intense skepticism, for example, that in 1922 Lothar Schreyer’s plan to form a Bauhaus theater failed; at the time there was practically no climate for strong philosophical points of view (Weltan­schauungstendenzen), none at least which could be found in the sacral garb of Expressionism. On the other hand, there was a distinct feeling for satire and parody. It was probably a legacy of the Dadaists to ridicule automatically everything that smacked of solemnity or ethical precepts. And so the grotesque flourished again. It found its nourishment in travesty and in mocking the antiquated forms of the contemporary theater. Though its tendency was fundamentally negative, its evident recognition of the origin, conditions, and laws of theatrical play was a positive feature.

The dance, however, stayed alive throughout this period. During the course of our growth it changed from the crude country dancing of our “youth hostelers” [Rüpeltanz der Wandervögel] to the full-dress fox trot. The same thing happened in music: our concertina metamorphosed into our jazz band (A. Weininger). Group dancing found its image reflected on the stage in the dance of the individual. And from this developed our formalized use of color [das Farbig-Formale], and the Mechanical Ballet (K. Schmidt, Bogler, Teltscher). Experimentation with colored light and shadows became the “Reflectory Light Play” (Schwertfeger and L. Hirschfeld­ Mack). A marionette theater was begun.

While we had no stage of our own in Weimar and had to give our productions on a sort of dubious suburban podium there, since the move
…….to Dessau
we have been in the enviable position of having a “house-stage” of our own in the new Bauhaus building. Although it was originally meant to be a platform for lectures as well as a stage for performances on a limited scale, it is nevertheless well equipped for a serious approach to stage problems.


For us these problems and their solution lie in fundamentals, in elementary matters, in discovering literally the primary meaning of Stage. We are concerned with what makes things typical, with type, with number and measure, with basic law. • • • I scarcely need to say that these concerns have been active, if not necessarily dominant, during all periods of great art; but they could be active only when preconditioned by a state of hypersensitive alertness and tension, that is, when functioning as the regulators of a real feeling of involvement with the world and life. Of many memorable statements which have been made about number, measure, and law in art, I cite only one sentence from Philipp Otto Runge: “It is precisely in the case of those works of art which most truly arise from the imagination and the mystique of our soul, unhampered by externals and unburdened by history, that the strictest regularity is necessary.” Continue reading

Mies’ Memorial to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (1926)

Honestly, I was at first put off by the raw severity of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Memorial to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, leaders of the Spartakusbund and martyrs of the failed November 1918 Revolution in Germany. The monumental structure — first erected in 1926, before being torn down by the Nazis less than a decade later — is almost proto-brutalist in its cantilevered slabs and brazen use of unrefined materials, made up of jagged bricks held together by unsanded grout organized around a steel-and-concrete frame. It just seemed too willfully barbaric to commemorate anything of value, so stark was its ugliness.

Mies' site-plan and elevation for the monument (1926)

Site-plan and elevation for the monument (1926)

But as it turns out, this was precisely Mies’ intention. In a conversation with the prominent communist and cultural commentator Eduard Fuchs, Mies was reported to have said the following:

As most of these people [Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, other fallen heroes of the revolution] were shot in front of a brick wall, a brick wall would be what I would build as a monument.

Though he’d later downplay its radical Bolshevik origins by recasting it in terms of a sorrowful republicanism, Mies would always emphasize that the building was meant to convey a certain brutal honesty. Even in his deeply apolitical American exile, this remained the case. As recalled at several decades’ remove, the monument did not aspire to beauty but to truth:

[I built it] in a square shape. I meant clarity and truth to join forces against the fog that had descended and was killing all hope — the hopes, as we rightly perceived at the time, of a durable German republic.

"Ich war, Ich bin, Ich werde sein"

“Ich war, Ich bin, Ich werde sein”

To his credit, Mies took seriously Luxemburg’s famous dilemma of “socialism or barbarism” (adapted from some lines by Engels written toward the end of his life). Luxemburg’s pronouncement of this opposition was not meant to be regarded as some sort of perennial choice haunting humanity throughout its existence, but rather was historically specific to her own moment, as Second International Marxism entered into profound crisis. Since socialism did not come to pass, as the world revolution stopped short, it is necessary that everything that transpired afterward be regarded as barbarism. For this reason, I’ve come to appreciate the self-conscious barbarism of Mies’ monument. There is something fitting about the unrelenting gnarliness of the brickwork in embodying Mies’ trademark perfect volumes, proportions, and harmonious distribution. Mies went to great lengths to put this symbolism across: the bricks, stacked some twenty feet high, had been assembled from the bullet-riddled remains of buildings damaged or destroyed during the Spartacist uprising.


Of course, it is well known that that Mies, the third Bauhaus director and one of the great pioneers of the modern movement in architecture, was never all that political to begin with. True to Tafuri’s by-now canonical interpretation of “Miesian silence,” the architect typically kept his mouth shut when it came to such affairs. Unlike Hannes Meyer, whose position as the rector of the Bauhaus he’d eventually usurp in 1930, he saw no inherent connection between politics and architecture. Continue reading

From Bauhaus to Beinhaus

In answer to some questions

IMAGE: The Charnel-House blog banner,
lifted from
Gustav Klutsis’ 1922 piece
“Electrification of the whole country”


In 1981, Tom Wolfe published a funny (but hopelessly reactionary) text on modernist architecture entitled From Bauhaus to our house.

In 2008, Ross Wolfe published an unfunny (but hopefully revolutionary) blog on modernist architecture subtitled “From Bauhaus to Beinhaus.”

Let us examine their respective etymologies:

Bauhaus |ˈbouˌhous|
……a school of design established by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, best known for its designs of objects based on functionalism and simplicity.
……ORIGIN German, ‘house of architecture,’ from Bau ‘building’ + Haus ‘house.’

Beinhaus |ˈbaɪ̯nˌhaʊ̯s|
……ossuary, charnel-house, catacombs.
……ORIGIN German, ‘house of bones,’ from Bein ‘bone’ + Haus ‘house.’

The rest should be self-evident.

Industrialism and the genesis of modern architecture

Modernist Architecture — Positive Bases

The spatiotemporal properties of architecture that were developed by experiments in abstract art reached their highest expression in the work of Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy.  Stepping back from our analysis of this development, however, we may witness a crucial conjuncture between the realm of abstract art and the other major positive basis for the existence of modernist architecture — industrialism (and more specifically, the machine). This conjuncture occurred on two levels. At one level, leading avant-garde artists and architects began to draw inspiration from the monumental improvements in both factory production and machine technologies, seeing in these an ideal of economy and efficiency.  On another level, however, the research into the abstract time of capitalism undertaken by the Futurists through their representation of kinetic dynamism and motion was advanced in a more systematic and precise form by the advocates of Taylorism, whose time-and-motion studies of labor established the foundation for scientific management in industry. Taylorism, as a science of the mechanics of movement and a means for the optimization of productivity, exerted huge influence over the modernists in architecture.  Moreover, the broader cult of the machine and of the engineer in particular provided the avant-garde with a positive image for the spirit of their age. The traditionalists, who remained lost studying the annals of architectural history and reproducing its forms, were thus blind to the most obvious feature of the modern epoch — industrialization. Continue reading

Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Internationale Neue Baukunst (1928)

The Original Cover to Hilberseimer's Book

The following is the only text portion of Ludwig Hilberseimer’s 1928 book Internationale Neue Baukunst.  The rest of the book is simply illustrations of new architecture from around Europe, America, and the Soviet Union.  I don’t know German, so if there’s anyone out there who might be able to translate it for me, I’d be deeply appreciative.  Until then, I will simply publish it in untranslated form.

Die Voraussetzungen und Grundlagen der neuen Baukunst sind verschiedenster Art.  Die jeweiligen Benutzungsansprüche bestimmen den Zweckcharakter des Bauwerks.  Material und Konstruktion sind die materiellen Mittel seines Aufbaues.  Daneben üben Herstellungstechnik und Betriebsführung, wirtschaftliche und soziologische Momente einen erheblichen Einfluß aus.  Über allem aber steht herrschend der schöpferische Wille des Architekten.  Er bestimmt das Maß des Anteils der einzelnen Elemente.  Bildet aus dem Nebeneinander die gestaltete Einheit des Bauwerks.

Die Art des Gestaltungsvorgangs bestimmt den Charakter der neuen Baukunst.  Sie ist nicht auf äußerliche Dekorativität gestellt, sondern Ausdruck der geistigen Durchdringung aller Elemente.  Das ästhetische Element ist daher nicht mehr übergeordnet, Selbstzeck, wie bei der den Bauorganismus ignorierenden Fassadenarchitektur, sondern ist gleich allen andern Elementen eingeordnet in das Ganze.  Erhält erst im Zusammenhang mit diesem Ganzen seinen Wert, seine Bedeutung.

Überordnung eines Elements hat immer Störungen zur Folge.  Daher erstrebt die neue Baukunst Gleichgewicht aller Elemente, Harmonie.  Diese ist aber keine äußerliche, schematische, sondern eine für jede Aufgabe neue.  Ihr liegt kein Stilschema zugrunde, sondern sie ist der jeweilige Ausdruck der gegenseitigen Durchdringung aller Elemente unter Herrschaft eines gestaltenden Willens.  Der neuen Baukunst liegen daher keine Stilprobleme, sondern Bauprobleme zugrunde.

So wird auch die überraschende Übereinstimmung der äußeren Erscheinungsform dieser internationalen neuen Baukunst verständlich.  Sie ist keine modische Formenangelegenheit, wie vielfach angenommen wird, sondern elementarer Ausdruck einer neuen Baugesinnung.  Zwar vielfach differenziert durch örtliche und nationale Sonderheiten und durch die Person des Gestalters, im ganzen aber das Produkt gleicher Voraussetzungen.  Daher die Einheitlichkeit ihrer Erscheinungsform.  Ihre geistige Verbundenheit über alle Grenzen hinweg.

Ludwig Hilberseimer

Lev Rudnev’s “City of the Future” (1925), before his turn to Stalinist neo-Classicism

Modernist architecture archive

IMAGE: Lev Rudnev’s City of the future (1925),
before his turn to Stalinist neoclassicism


An update on the Modernist Architecture Archive/Database I discussed a couple posts ago.  I’ve begun work on it, and have uploaded almost half of the documents I intend to include.  Only a few of the Russian ones are up yet, but I’m hoping to post them over the next couple days.  There are many more on the way.

Anyway, anyone interested in taking a look at this archive (arranged as a continuous text) can access it here.

However, this might not be the most convenient way to browse through it all.  For a more manageable overall view of each of the individual articles (detailing the author, title, and year of publication), click here.