Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Alice Rawsthorn & the Bauhaus

My favorite design critic has scored again in her amusing putdown of the mindless hassle over who owns  the word "Bauhaus". But I wish she would address a most neglected theme, the abandonment of Gropius idealism for what I call BauHustling--more museums for middle class tourists than more cheap housing for poor people.

As a homeless kid in Depression Detroit (1930-45), I was astonished to discover in graduate school that Gropius invented an art school that would "bring good design to the working classes." When Weimar became the Cultural Capital of Europe in 1999, I decided to check out whatever had happened to his blue collar idealism. Alas that is the sad theme of my forthcoming book, "Gropius Betrayed: How the Bauhustlers Took Over!"

In the thirteen years I have been exploring this subject, I have found only one German essay that has explored this sad theme, Dankwart Guratzsch's "Was wir geerbt haben," Die Welt, January 8, 2013.

He mocks the Bauhaus, opening his essay by contending that modern German architecture "ended" in 1918--the year before the Bauhaus was founded! What I have sneered at as Modernoid architecture, which abused the new materials of "The Crystal Palace Syndrome" of glass, iron, and cement by wasting energy that pre-Modernoid traditions saved with solid old materials and  gables instead of flat roofs.

Guratzsch is a Dresden Ph.D. in his 70's who also has won awards for journalism saving great old buildings. I'm further encouraged that common sense is finally rejecting post-Nazi hagiography by the German Architecture Museum's just opening its annual show with a symposium entitled "THINK GLOBAL; BUILD SOCIAL! Architectures for a Better World." Cameron Sinclair's Architecture for Humanity intellectual coop is finally catching on!

The Bauhaus elite have been so busy suppressing their guilt over the Nazi Episode they have totally corrupted the real history of that institution. The sole exception has been Omar Akbar, the Afghani engineer who was cashiered as director of the Dessau Bauhaus.

Ironically, at the same time the German idealists were trying to humanize architecture, two German immigrant autodidact architects, Albert Kahn in Detroit and Timothy Pfleuger in San Francisco actually did transform their local architecture. They are hardly known in Germany. And the Cranbrook Academy, with Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero, plus the Eames duo, did what the Gropers only dreamed of doing.

The greatest architect to come out of the Bauhaus, the Chicagoan Bertrand Goldberg, became my mentor at an accidental meeting in 1970 with the publisher Charles Benton. He was Mies last Azubi, following him to Berlin when the Bauhaus closed--telling me how Mies tried to convince Alfred Rosenberg that he was no longer the leftie whose Denkmal for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg (1926) was his first notoriety. Goldberg told me sadly how Mies became a Nice Nazi until Gropius got him one commission in Yellowstone in 1938.

 The key to this evasively corrupt historiography was Philip C. Johnson who became Gropius' student in 1938(at the same time writing nasty letters about Gropius's obsession with worker housing.) In 1926 Johnson had phoned the future MOMA director in Berlin that he must come to Dessau to see the greatest modern building. (He should have listened to the Bauhaus professors and students who sweated in the summer and froze in the winter because of its excessive "Crystal Palace" glass.)

Johnson had other troubles with his gayness, dropping in and out of Harvard several times. Thanks to his Germany nanny, he was fluent as he zoomed into gay Berlin, returning to America a not so nice Nazi, politically involved with Father Charles Coughlin, the Radio Priest from Royal Oak, Michigan who called FDR's politics the "Jew Deal".

The official Bauhaus history is so far from the tacky truth, I often wondered if Germany really was the great pioneer in modern scholarship it was touted to be. Guratzsch's sane essay is certainly a mind-changing statement! God knows today's Germans have no idea of what really went on in the Bauhaus, and later.

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