Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!
Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!

Gropius in Mordor

25 of February '20

On April 12, 2019, Google's search engine graphics recalled the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus School. One clothing company, in cooperation with Robert Konieczny, honored the anniversary with a "unique series of suits" and new T-shirtdesigns with the manufacturer's name written in a typeface designed by Herbert Bayer. Hundreds of articles were written, dozens of conferences of local and international interest were held. Architects as well as historians and theorists of architecture and art, among others, considered the reception of Bauhaus ideas in the interwar period. Less frequently referred to contemporary Poland, and if they did, then there were statements that despite the passage of years we are still under the toxic influence of Walter Gropius and his imitators. If indeed our view of architecture and design is governed by ideas from a century ago, this is not evidence of their permanence or timelessness, but a profound misunderstanding of the essence of the Bauhaus.

What was the Bauhaus?

What do we have before our eyes when we see the word "Bauhaus"? Simple lettering, a plane composition based on the principles of the golden division, a limited color scheme using primary colors combined with white and black. And in architecture? A flat roof, a glass curtain wall, black window woodwork contrasting with the white of the walls. But can we reduce the ideas of the Bauhaus only to an aesthetic revolution? After all, before Gropius, the Dutch De Stijl or the Soviet Constructivists made a radical revolution in this matter. In order to fully understand the idea of the Bauhaus, it is necessary to go deeper, to start at the beginning - with an anecdote describing one of the founding myths.

Fiona MacCarthy in her book titled. "Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus" described the story of how the director of the Bauhaus sold Napoleon Bonaparte's silver tableware, which was owned by successive generations of the Gropius family. With the proceeds, he acquired a plot of land in Weimar. Vegetables were grown there, which then found their way to the tables in the Bauhaus cantina. This exchange was not just a simple commercial transaction. It was more than that - a sacrifice made of tradition on the altar of modernity. A sacrifice of relics of the old world to the world to come. She was an abandonment of the "I" in favor of the "we."

Bauhaus was not a style, another trend in art and architecture. It was a revolution.

The purpose of the Bauhaus was not to popularize any style or dogma. It was only about reviving design itself ," Gropius wrote years later.

time for radical change

Modernism is the moment ," Simon Syrkus declared in the mid-1920s.

In a similar vein was Gropius, who believed that one of the most important problems of modern architecture was its inability to adapt to the increasing mechanization of production.

Architects are in danger - they must adapt ," he wrote , stressing the importance of prefabrication. The organization must therefore be directed first and foremost toward standardization and mass production not of whole houses, but of their components, which will be used to assemble different types of housing.

In his own way, Gropius was ahead of the era. He spoke of the new role of the designer, who ceased to be an independent creator and became a cog of a huge machine, part of a multi-industry team. Rem Koolhaas wrote about the same thing in his 2001 essay "Bigness": large-scale realizations are the fullest emanation of architecture, because they require working among people with diverse specialties.

The architect as one of many participants in the investment process? A building as a product of a Fordist assembly line? In the 1920s, the world was certainly not ready for such radical changes. Are we able to accept them today?

Architecture of "glass boxes" at the intersection of Domaniewska and Woloska streets in Warsaw - Platinum Business Park
proj.: JEMS Architekci

photo: Błażej Ciarkowski

The odium that has clung to prefabricated construction dates back to the postwar era. The dull, repetitive blocks that Gropius wrote about were evidence of architects' faulty thinking. Instead of erecting diverse buildings using repetitive elements, whole buildings began to be duplicated.

Wojciech Kotecki of BBGK Architekci, the author of the residential building at 4 Sprzeczna Street in Warsaw, believes that prefabrication should be disenchanted.

It is necessary to radically change the way we think about construction not as a handicraft (...) but as an industrialized activity ," he says .

Architecture for the times?

The challenge to which the Polish housing industry has been unable to find an answer has been taken up by commercial architecture. Marcin Sadowski of JEMS Architekci created the first office buildings on Domaniewska Street in Warsaw, in what is known as Mordor.

It is not easy to design a simple, rational building, which, using common, typical technical solutions, does not become another bland building, he stresses .

This is proven, for example, by Poznan's Pixel, whose structure uses the commonly used modular grid of 8.10x8.10 meters, while creating a non-trivial architecture, far from glass corporate boxes.

The first JEMSprojects in Warsaw's Mordor are, according to Sadowski, a picture of early capitalism, the way things were built back then.

An architectural document of the times of transformation - some of the first office buildings in Warsaw's "Mordor" by JEMS Architekci.

photo: Błażej Ciarkowski

Reyner Banham pointed out, citing Walter Gropius, that the purpose of the Bauhaus was to invent and shape forms that symbolized the world of the time. Following this narrative, the glistening in the sunlight, lightly curved forms of Warsaw's Orion, Sirius and Neptune office buildings are symbolic of mid-1990s Poland.

the world seen through a glass wall

One of the leading figures of the Bauhaus school, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, believed that transparency and openness were a metaphor for modern society and its ideals. Modernism was meant to be a moral counterweight to earlier eras. Honesty contrasted with falsehood. Glass houses - historicizing stucco of plaster. Sigfried Giedion, on the other hand, saw "honesty of thought and feeling" in the glazed corners of the Fagus factory building.

Few modernist symbols of modernity proved as enduring as the glass curtain wall. It constituted the taut skin of the building, through which its "skeleton " - a structural system entwined with "veins" of plumbing wires - shone through. Like a machine whose form is subordinated to technology, it revealed the truth of a new era. The era of the machine.

Focus-Filtrowa office building, design: APAKA Kurylowicz and Associates

photo: Błażej Ciarkowski

"Non-existent" walls have permanently entered the language of modern architecture. They became the uniform in which the skeletons of the skyscrapers of large corporations were dressed. Shiny, transparent sheets of double facades became elements of the architectural dress code. Focus-Filtrowa, LOT's office building and dozens of other buildings used a solution popularized by the Bauhaus headquarters in Dessau - the glass curtain wall. But while Gropius strove for openness and transparency, his later heirs turned to showy wrapping, in which they enclosed office spaces.

contemporary panopticon

Suspended from reinforced concrete ceiling shelves, employees of multinational corporations, separated from the outside world by an invisible wall, look out over the city. The city, as long as the weather conditions don't turn the glass curtain wall into a huge mirror, looks at the employees sitting on systemic ergonomic chairs. The modernist dream of transparency, repetition, factory mass production has come true.

But don't transparent partitions have a different meaning today than the one Gropius and Nagy had in mind? From "I have nothing to hide," it is close to the constant surveillance of glass houses, which, like in Yevgeny Zamiatin's dystopian novel, have become a panopticon. The Bauhaus glass curtain wall does not give a moment's respite, does not provide shelter, and forces us to constantly confront the reality around us. But isn't this what modernity looks like? Hasn't the spirit of the era just materialized in the glass blocks of Widok Towers or Q22?
Modern office buildings are perfectly flexible architecture. Free plan. Modular, prefabricated facade devoid of structural function. We can easily change the functional program of the interior, swap individual elements of the facade.

"flexible architecture" - P4 complex in Warsaw's Służewiec district by JEMS Architekci

photo: Błażej Ciarkowski

In the design of the P4 complex in Służewiec Przemysłowy, JEMS Architects wanted to move away from the neutral free plan. They juxtaposed massive reinforced concrete columns and stringers, which provide both structure and ornament, with smooth sheets of glass. The distinct spatial structure, however, did not limit the flexibility of the buildings - when the investor, at the construction stage, decided to change the function of one building from an office building to a hotel, this was done within the framework of existing solutions.

There is no finitude in architecture - only constant change ," wrote Gropius.

Warsaw's Mordor very quickly assimilated this thought of the Bauhaus founder.


The vote has already been cast