Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Corruption of Bauhaus Ideology

I came to Weimar in 1999 when it was declared The Cultural Capital of Europe to research the history of its most famous institution. As a homeless kid in Depression Detroit (1930-45), I was eager to explore what I had learned in graduate school about Walter Gropius’s attempt to bring Good Design to “the working classes”. Both he and Mies van der Rohe came out of the horrors of World War as “lefties”. That ideology would haunt both of them as the rightist ideals of Naziism gradually took over in 1933. Gropius’s Denkmal was for the Victims of the March Putsch (1923). Indeed the rightists were gradually expanding in the Weimar assembly. (The first minister of education to be a Nazi sounded the warning. But Gropius didn’t like fights. Indeed his first wife Alma Mahler chided him for being too nervous to participate in the Denkmal dedication in the Weimar cemetery.
Similarly, Mies (theoretically the third and final directors’ first famous work was a Denkmal for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg (1926) in the Berlin Cemetery.) In 1930 as Mies started to take over what was left of the Bauhaus, Alfred Rosenberg wanted to know why he had so honored the founders of the German Communist Party. (Mies tried to smile affably and dropped all the Communist students. But it was too late. He became a Nice Nazi until 1937 when Gropius got him a summer home in Yellowstone.)

I had a serendipitous encounter in 1970 with Bertrand Goldberg (1913-97) who was Mies’ Azubi until the school finally closed. He became my architectural mentor every time I visited Chicago. Indeed he was easily the greatest architect to attend the school, still in Dr. Annette Seeman’s standard history (2010) only his name is listed with thirteen other American Bauhaus students.. Period. 

In our last meeting, August 1987, the day after Timothy Dwight blew up the government center in Oklahoma, we were in a very gloomy mood. Bert sadly criticized the way the current Bauhaus had betrayed the working class ideals of Gropius which the Chicago architect implacably followed to his dying day. (There has never been a Goldberg exhibition in Germany, partly from total ignorance of his work and partly from the distorted hagiographical version the current Bauhaus promoters use to hide their shame at the real Nazi and DDR truths about his aborted ideal.) When I discovered these contradictions in the true history, I was removed from press contacts. 

The only exception has been Omar Akbar, the Afghani engineer who ran the Dessau part of what the Bauhaus brass have just re-named the Bauhaus Triennale (June 2013). Their plans include new teenage (12 and up) seminars to combat “Bauhaus Hate”! (I think they’re talking about me! Their latest, greatest lie: I only report objectively their betrayal of Gropius idealism!) I wish they would remind themselves of that bad old Nazi habit of Beruf Verbot. For sixty years I have written contentious journalism all over the world. Only today’s German Bauhustlers have stooped to conquer me so stupidly!

My first surprise was to discover how minor an architect Gropius was. He cried to his mother in letters, ”I can’t draw. I can’t draw!” Why for heaven’s sake did he aspire to be an architect?. A recent exhibition in Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau gave me a satisfying answer. His great uncle Martin Gropius was generally regarded, excluding Schinkel , as the greatest pre-modern Berlin architect. So he asked Adolf Meyer to be his secret partner. No wonder the first architecture course didn’t come until 1927. And then he gave that absolutely central post to Hannes Meyer, the Swiss Communist! Yet the Dessau city politics were fast running faster and faster to the right.

And indeed they canned the Swiss Commie in 1930. Mies would stumble for three years to no avail, and then became a Nice Nazi until 1937, bugging Albert Speer for commissions that never came, so poisoned was his Denkmal past when he left for America.
But the biggest error in official Bauhaus history was that it ended in 1933. It really ended in 1928 when Gropius gave up and moved to build Siemenstadt in Berlin. His life was more and more miserable. A Dessau journalist was trying to create a career for himself by harassing Gropius for “double dipping”—a Bauhaus salary plus extra pay for consulting in the creation of the Junker suburb, Törten. And his pretentious star faculty was fighting against pay cuts, not to mention their contempt for his medieval Master concept when they argued for good old Patriarchal Professor! (They lost on the money and won on the status!) There was even scuttlebutt that Herbert Bayer was making moves on his second wife Ilse. So he talked Marianne Brandt to join him for interior designs and off they fled to Berlin. Meyer soon went to Moscow with many Commie dropouts and their work there is architecturally admirable. And many newly motivated students went to Palestine where they created a lush White City in Tel Aviv.

The saddest Chapter is the one created by the erratic gay fellow Philip C. Johnson (1900-2005). He dropped out of Harvard several times before he got his B.A.—not in architecture, but antiquities! His architecture period began in 1926 when he cruised Europe looking for new modern buildings to gain a post at the planned MOMA/New York. When he visited Dessau in 1926, he was so impressed he phoned the projected MOMA director Alfred Barr, Jr. that he had to come and see the greatest modern building—that Gropius claimed to design but where Ernst Neufert probably did all the heavy lifting.

Except he should have asked the professors and students how lousy the Modernoid structure really was: They fried in the summer and froze in the winter. It made great black and white photos with their new Leicas. That facility spread the falsities of Modernoidism throughout the civilized world. Call it International Style and ignore function as you relish its form (aka ART). Peter Blake (the English pseudonym he used after fleeing Nazi Germany), the greatest American architectural critic of the last century, argued in his obit of PCJ that he had totally corrupted the world conversation about modern architecture. He glibly referred to himself when anyone disagreed with him as the “whore of architecture.” His greatest sin was writing nasty letters about his Harvard dean Gropius (1938) mocking him for his obsession about working housing. So MOMA and the AIA sunk into the pit of Starchitecture from which we have barely begun to emerge.

Yet it was no joke being gay and a parvenu in Cleveland in the 1920’s. His German nanny made him fluent. So he partied in gay Berlin on his architectural searches. He returned to America in 1928 a Not So Nice Nazi politicizing for Huey Long before that Louisiana governor was assassinated. Then he started touting the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin who sneered over the air at FDR’s “Jew Deal”! Mies was his first favorite. PCJ made the first modern house in Houston in 1950 for the de Menil family, the greatest art collectors of the era. He also insisted they use Miesey furniture deployed the way the master would have ! They told him to get lost and never talked to him again! Their children thought the frequent visitor was PCJ. It was only carpenters repairing the leaky roof!

Later they quarreled and Mies sneered that PCJ’s vaunted Glass House in Connecticut (1970) looked like” a hot dog stand at Night”. Never mind. It’s a Visitor’s Center now, celebrating his architectural genius, at $150 a shot. Meanwhile his excessively glassed weekend house (1950) outside Chicago Mies had made for his one-time girl friend Dr. Farnsworth was uninhabitable. It’s now a Visitor Center celebrating his genius. Hmm.

But PCJ’s grossest aberration were those hateful letters he wrote in 1938 about his Harvard Dean Gropius, sneering about his obsession about worker housing. But his days of regard are almost over. Fresher voices like Cameron Sinclair’s Architecture for Humanity and Millard Fuller’s cooperative Habitat for Humanity are the thoughtful idealists of the future. PCJ was just a Modernoid aberration. In 2013 the globally important German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt am Main sounded its significant motto for architecture in the 21st Century: THINK GLOBALLY; BUILD SOCIAL. Johnson’s hyperestheticism is simply the last century’s bad news.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Getting to Ostseebad Prerow!

I wanted bad to interview Dr. Anita Bach, the first woman to teach Architecture at the Bauhaus Uni. She caught my eye because the then Rector was fixing to tear down her gloriously designed MENSA—so that he could talk Hellmut Seemann into planting the long planned Bauhaus Two Museum where her MENSA used to be. (That that registered architectural historian wanted to commit so stinking a cultural felony will make him history for generations, foul as his intentions were!) 

But I come not to braise Gird, but rather to praise Anita! Getting there was the first hassle. I stayed overnight in a Rostock Jugendherberge. The bus that leads to where Dr. Bach lives in OSTSEEBAD Prerow took more than two hours circling the empty summer homes that I thought I’d go nuts finding her house. She said “Get off at the Edeka store”, easy enough. In which direction none of the locals knew! I must have stopped ten cars (most of them lost!) to find Anita. Not a single address number was consecutive.

Then I finally found their manse gradually built up from a square little mouse house, because their three kids didn’t want to abandon their summer memories! Her husband was also a Bauhaus professor, but he’s crippled now. Has to use a one person elevator to change their three floors. Anita was the sweetest wife to her crippled man. 

She had to translate his murmured German to my English ear. I’m 86 and getting more senile by the day. But she kept showing me books she had written in Weimar. I’ll be damned if she was my age. I was born in February 1927, she in August. She explained with pride how she evolved as an architect as she taught.

And she is a knockout cook, giving me the triad of late breakfast, early lunch and a gargantuan supper, fit for the Duke I ain’t. She described how the men ignored the emerging women as they hogged the best positions. I slept perfectly on the third floor, up at dawn to snoop their outdoors. It was raining a tiny typhoon so she drove me to the train back to Rostock. 

I had to tell the cabbie to hustle back to the hostel where I had expected to overnight. The Rostock Hauptbahnhof is the screwiest one I’ve ever got lost in. Dragging the many books she's given me that I’ve already passed on to Dr. Simon-Ritz, the Bauhaus Uni librarian.

I had only a minute to spare, catching the Berlin train. Full of swinging young men who dug my humor! Wait until I tell you what she taught me about the history of modern German architecture. What a home-run hitter I’d say she was if I were back in America.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Amiri Baraka

Dear Jonathan Fischer: I want to praise you for the deserved eloquence of your obit of Leroi Jones. It reminded me of our first encounter outside Philadelphia at Beaver college. I had just dumped the greatest job in my life as the first director of the State Department funded American Studies Institute at the University of Hawaii's East/West Center. Its purpose was to attract Asian students to study technology and American to study Asian culture. Towards the end of my first year (1961-2) I learned to my horror that my assistant, Seymour Lutsky, had been in the CIA since his Iowa Ph.D.(1952).

I accepted English chair/tenured full professor at Beaver College (now Arcadia U) because I had left our new Louis Kahn home in the Greenbelt Knoll experiment in racial integration in Philly. I had just spent three years organizing the Annenberg School of Communication at Penn, installing my first mentor, Gilbert Seldes as Dean.My run-ins with the fascist billionaire donor, Walter Annenberg, publisher of TV Guide was my first awareness of the high price of integrity Universities pay to solicit cash, two millions in this case. (I taught media history there until the temptation of Hawaii.) I accepted a tenured full professor English chair at Beaver College (now Arcadia U). Its standards were aspiring but not very high. We began by admitting men.

My first public move was to invite Amiri to speak to the entire student body. It was iffy he'd come--until I got a late night call fro L.A. that he was on the last red-eye. He spent a lot of time explaining his new Village Voice activism. A Jewish student who was the school's best actress chided him in mid-address. (Why did he have a Jewish girl friend?) Evasive reply!

After lunch we retired to the basement theatre. Where the same "mouthy" Jewess was the lead! Amiri's activist pal standing next to me whispered "let's get the fuckouta here!"  "No, no, no," Baraka replied softly. "She's doing it exactly right!"

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Who Sunk the Bauhaus?

The FAZ essay today by Prof. Franziska (Delft) and Hartmut Böhme (Humboldt/Berlin) caught more than my eye. It gripped my heart. For the past 15 years I’ve been reading and ruminating over the Flop the Bauhaus has been over all of its many episodes. The simple answer is that the current Sinecuriat that “ru(i)ns” the Big "B” betrayed him long ago by declining to be WG’s “Bauhauslers” by being the crudest kind of Bauhustlers”. Cameron Sinclair (London/San Francisco) long ago gave rebirth to the Gropius idealism by founding the global society, Architecture for Humanity. I gave his bible, “Design as If You a Damn!”, to the Anna Amalia Library shortly after I arrive in Weimar in 1999, where the Ossi battered city had been nominated the Cultural Capital of Europe to heal its Marxist wounds. Where nobody but me reads it! But me, when despair to convince the Germans about why their dream turned into a nightmare makes me despondent.

Who he, FAZ readers must well ask. Well, now an 86 year old retired of American Civilization and a global alternative journalist. But at three, my father abandoned his family of three (me, a 10 year old brother, and a middle school teaching mother. Dad and his secretary absconded to Las Vegas where he became successful enough as a real estate agent to leave me $150,000 guilt money (his Bigamate friend Ruth kicked in another $100,000) when he died, financing my global enterprises, outside Academe! But in Depression Detroit (1930-45, when I volunteered to become a naval radar specialist. My brother Mike and I were parked 100 miles to the North at the German Dominican nuns Holy Rosary Academy so my mother teach 9th grade in Hamtramck, the Polish “suburb” read of Detroit. It was hell being homeless, so when I read in graduate school about Grope’s new kind of art school that catered to blue collars, I vowed to check it out.

My qualifications? A curt CV is required. After leaving the U.S. Navy in 1946 as Electronics Teachnician 2nd class, I enrolled in my hometown U. of Detroit where I graduated in three years as a philosophy major, having won the annual Midwestern Jesuit Province annual essay contest with a rant entitled “Needed: More ‘Red Blooded’ American Catholics”, by which I mean like American Communists the only whites to push for black liberation. And my date and I integrated the Senior Prom at Eastwood Gardens by double-dated with a black couple, of which there were precious few!

I became a Marshall McLuhan fan at U a D, as we mumbled it, the radical Canadian Roman Catholic who hobnobbed with the ilks of Dorothy Day. Every week I read his “radical”essays about the new global media in “Commonweal”, the lay Catholic weekly, and “America,” the Jesuit weekly. He assembled these disparate “takes” into his first book,”The Folklore of Industrial Man” (1951). In went off to Western Reserve University in Cleveland, mainly because my priest uncle, the Rev.Aloysius Mark Fitzpatrick, was the editor of the “Catholic Universe Bulletin”, the Cleveland diocese weekly. (I learned more from two of the brightest Jews I have ever emulated (they were the first Jews in my excessively Catholicized life, Ray Ginger and Harvey Goldberg. 

They made me Prez of the new Jefferson Forum. (I think because a practicing Catholic, I was a perfect dodge for their leftist obsessions!) But when the dissertation committee rejected my request for Marshal McLuhan (“Who he?”), I revolted to Michigan State, where the English department was making the football team as ashamed of its mediocre gamey. (In state tuition also was cheaper!) I had married the most beautiful blonde in Detroit (hell, Michigan!) at 23 so like good Catholics we started seeding children, Michael (1952), Catherine (1954) and Timothy (1956). It took money, so I became the early morning janitor of the East Lansing State Bank, across the street from the college. When I heard gossip at the bank that a 10th grade English teacher had just been canned, I asked the English chair if taking that job would disqualify me for a Ph.D. (“Hell, no!” he screamed, remembering his own depression era squeeze.)

It was the best autonomous move I ever made . State had just got an ETV channel and was hungry for programming. I proposed a weekly teenage leisure palaver.It was great fun… and highly educational. In fact it led to a year-long Ford grant in New York City, harassing the media to become more humanistic. When “Scholastic Teacher” got wind of me, they made me radio-TV editor, a weekly entrée to a million U.S classrooms. We couldn’t afford Manhattan so we lived Flushing, with the World Fairs, recent and future, filling our eyes and minds.

One Thursday, reading the daily New Times, I caught a story about a media education conference in D.C. I invited myself! Opening the Aud door I spied Ralph Bunche (he had just been a “Time” cover) talking excitedly to another unindentified guy. I introduced myself. The unknown asked, “Well, how’s it going, Mr. Hazard?” “Lousy,” I curtly replied. “I’ve been trying to get an interview with NBC’s innovative President Sylvester “Pat” Weaver for a month now, but his secretary guards him like a bull dog.” Whereupon, the Unknown One identified himself as the publisher of “Time”. “ I’m also on the board of the Ford Foundation, and I like your jabber. How would you like an office in Time to help,”handing me his card! I nearly pissed my pants.

Monday bright and early, I had my own office on the 34th Floor of the Time-Life Building, overlooking Sixth Avenue, NBC-TV less than a block away. I’ll call Weaver’s office. She was so cold, smoke was coming out of the wires. “Mr. Hazard,” she began solemnly,”it’s the beginning of the fall season and Mr. Weaver is very busy.” I countered, “Well, it’s the beginning of my Ford. So if your boss ever gets 15 minutes, please have him call, Judson 5-4545,the magical “Time”number. Ten minutes later, there was a P.A. announcement. “Is there a Patrick D. Hazard here today. If so, call Pat Weaver at NBC.”

15 minutes? He grilled me about the schools, what kind of TV do they like. For four hours! Interrupted by his phoning every department head with curt order. If Pat Hazard, a Ford TV Fellow this year, help him all you can. Nancy Goldberg, press officer was especially helpful. And Ed Stanley, in charge of Public Projects was as gracious as he was effective.
I’ll never forget the intellectually most exciting day of my education. The son of the founder of “Der Spiegel” and I were allowed to watch an issue of “Life” put together! The editor-in-chief, a photo editor, numerous writers, making everything fit together. It was a media miracle. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014