The beginnings of Modernism in Germany have roots in the Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) of the end of the 19th Century. In 1907, the foundation of the Werkbund gave architects Hermann Muthesius, Henry van der Velde, Peter Behrens and Walter Gropius a common forum. Fagus Factory in Alfeld, built in 1911-16 by Gropius, showed a new direction for architecture.
Central to the development, teaching and dissemination of modern architecture was the School of Bauhaus founded in Weimar, in 1919 under the leadership of Walter Gropius. The Bauhaus manifesto proclaimed, that “the ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building”.
In 1925, the Bauhaus left the building in Weimar, designed in 1904-11 by Henry van der Velde and moved to Dessau. The new building designed by Walter Gropius with Adolf Meyer, was streamlined, functional and assertively modern inside and out. Here, the former students were elevated to teaching positions: Herbert Beyer, Marcel Breuer, Hinnerk Scheper, Joost Schmidt and Gunta Solzl. The Chair of Architecture Department, Hannes Meyer became Director of the school in 1928. Ludwig Hilberseimer taught town planning. Under Hannes Meyer leadership, the school was accused of becoming a nest of Bolsheviks. Meyer was forced out of the school and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe assumed the directorship in 1930. The Nazis closed the school in Dessau in 1932. Mies reopened the Bauhaus in Berlin, but in a year, in 1933, it was closed down for good. When Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, Modernism was declared degenerate and all modernists were banned from public activity.
Berlin, the capital of Germany, provided a stimulating intellectual atmosphere for Gropius and fellow Werkbund members Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Erich Mendelsohn, Hugo Haring, Hans Poelzig, Bruno and Max Taut.
During its 14 years of existence, the Bauhaus succeeded in unifying the arts and revolutionizing the world of industrial design and mass production. Never before and never since has there been such emphasis on the coexistence of artist and craftsman, designer and technician. The influential instructors Gropius brought to the school included: Johannes Itten, Lyonel Feininger, Gerhard Marks, Oskar Schlemmer, Georg Muche, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers.
The Bauhaus masters who escaped the persecution of Nazis also emigrated to the US. Gropius, Breuer, Mies, Hilberseimer, Moholy-Nagy, Bayer and Albers settled in America where they profoundly influenced the building arts and architectural teaching. Their arrival was prefaced by the 1932 International Style Exhibition at MOMA organized by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson. For the American architects, this served as a catalyst to adopt the language of Modern Architecture.
The Committee of Design Berlin Conference is designed to examine and learn this advancement and contribution to world architecture. We’ll visit buildings and study the legacy of early German Modernism and a continuity of new work built in the capital since the reunification of Germany. City districts have changed appearance and composition, many buildings have been restored, rebuilt or erected – a great change has taken place. While Berlin architecture is the focus, the conferees will also travel to Dessau and Potsdam.
Peter Lizon, FAIA –Conference Co-chair