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The Itinerant Red Bauhaus, or the Third Emigration

PhD Thesis in Architectural History and Theory, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, under the supervision of Professors Reinhold Martin, Barry Bergdoll, and Jean-Louis Cohen, Columbia University, New York, NY, 2016
Daniel Talesnik
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Daniel Talesnik, The Itinerant Red Bauhaus, or the Third Emigration, PhD Thesis in Architectural History and Theory, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, under the supervision of Professors Reinhold Martin, Barry Bergdoll, and Jean-Louis Cohen, Columbia University, New York, NY, 2016.

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1This dissertation by Daniel Talesnik, The Itinerant Red Bauhaus, or the Third Emigration, addresses a movement of architects from Europe to the Soviet Union during the inter-war period. These architects, who include Hannes Meyer (1889–1954) and Ernst May (1886–1970) and their respective brigades, mostly relocated before World War II, and many returned to Europe after the war. This larger frame helps to situate the specific group of architecture students from the German Bauhaus who followed Meyer to the Soviet Union after he was expelled from the directorship of the Bauhaus: the Red Bauhaus Brigade. Driven by collectivist ideology, Meyer and his short-lived brigade staged an itinerant extension of the interrupted “second” Bauhaus. Part of the research focuses on Meyer’s pedagogical project in order to unfold the education received by the students and understand the evolution of their architectural ideas after they moved to the Soviet Union. The dissertation concludes in the postwar period in the countries where the Brigade members Tibor Weiner, Konrad Püschel, Philipp Tolziner, and René Mensch were independently active as designers, city planners, teachers, polemicists, and political activists. Their distinct professional approaches can be read against their Bauhaus origins and Soviet experience, but are not reducible to them. Shifting the focus from Meyer to his students allows the foregrounding of the point of view of these secondary characters, activating a new reading of the period studied and an in-depth evaluation of an overlooked Bauhaus legacy.

2This dissertation starts when the Bauhaus—a German art, crafts, and design school—added architecture to its curriculum. The Bauhaus had been established in Weimar in 1919, and, after moving the school to Dessau, the founder and director Walter Gropius hired the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer to direct a new architecture program. At the moment of his hiring, Meyer’s credentials comprised miscellaneous projects for the Swiss cooperative society Co-op (including the design of a housing estate in Basel), a couple of Constructivism-infused proposals (like the 1926 entry for the Petersschule competition in Basel and the 1927 entry for the Palace of the League of Nations competition in Geneva, both done in association with Hans Wittwer) and a series of noteworthy texts (like the 1926 “The New World”). In April 1927, Meyer started teaching at the Bauhaus, and the following year he succeeded Gropius as director of the school. In August 1930, two years into his tenure, Meyer was expelled from the school under accusations of supporting the Bauhaus’s Communist Student’s Union. The reformist ideas implemented by Meyer and his tolerance for political diversity during his directorship had been worrying part of the Bauhaus faculty and the Dessau authorities for a while, meaning that both internal institutional pressure and the general political atmosphere in Germany at the time—where nationalism was already gaining strength—played a part in Meyer’s expulsion. After his dismissal he arranged to be hired in the Soviet Union, taking with him a group of Bauhaus architecture graduates—the so-called Red Bauhaus Brigade.

3The first part of the title of this dissertation, The Itinerant Red Bauhaus, partly refers to the Red Bauhaus Brigade, a politically driven and short-lived group of seven students who worked with Meyer in the Soviet Union. However, the word “Brigade” was not included in the title in acknowledgment of the fact that there was a larger Red Bauhaus that went on the road, and also because the dissertation is not only limited to the period these Bauhaus students lived in the Soviet Union. The word “itinerant” in the title qualifies the Red Bauhaus, suggesting both that the education of the Brigade members continued after they left the Bauhaus and that the members moved on and had other architectural jobs and roles in their lives after the Brigade was dissolved.

4The seven Red Bauhaus Brigade members were Tibor Weiner (1906–1965), Konrad Püschel (1907–1997), Philipp Tolziner (1906–1996), René Mensch (1908–1980), Béla Scheffler (1902–1942), Antonin Urban (?–1942), and Klaus Meumann (1907–?), all of whom had studied architecture under Meyer at the Bauhaus. The careers of Weiner, Püschel, Tolziner, and Mensch—which extended well beyond the period they spent together in the Soviet Union and followed divergent paths—are studied in detail. From this group, Weiner went to the Bauhaus for postgraduate studies. Following his sojourn in the Soviet Union, he had perhaps the most itinerant trajectory: after working in France and Chile, he returned to his native Hungary in 1948 where he subsequently worked as an urban planner and teacher. After the Soviet Union, Püschel returned to Germany, fought in the war, and later dedicated his life to a professorship in Weimar—save for an intense work assignment in North Korea in the 1950s that became the most important role of his career. Tolziner never left the Soviet Union. He survived the Gulag and became a specialist in the restoration of historic buildings in the Urals, only to return to Moscow after he was rehabilitated to work once again on the design of collective housing types. Mensch worked as an architect in Iran, Chile, and his native Switzerland, but while the rest of this group were engaged in political or survival logics, Mensch was following work opportunities rather than an ideological agenda. Of the remaining Brigade members, Scheffler and Urban died in the Soviet Gulag, and there is no trace of Meumann after the 1930s which probably means he had the same tragic fate.

5This dissertation recognizes a larger emigration scenario, different from others of the period. The second part of the title, The Third Emigration, implies this history to be in sequence with two other emigration paradigms. In this sense, “Third Emigration” points not towards a chronological sequence (the first being the Le Corbusier school around the world, and the second being the Bauhaus that goes to the United States with Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe et al.), but rather towards a third paradigm of emigration. This dissertation understands the emigration of Meyer and the Bauhaus students who left for the Soviet Union as exemplary of a larger itinerant culture of mostly left-wing architects who willingly left Europe before the Second World War. The itinerant dimension of their lives responded directly to the European scenario of the 1930s.

6Chapter 1, “The Third Emigration,” investigates an emigration paradigm originating mostly in Germany in the late 1920s/early 1930s propelled mainly by left-wing activism and with distinct features that separate it from other migratory patterns of architects during the same period. The context of this dissertation changes as the chapters advance. In the first chapter of the present study, the context has to do with the moment when largely national developments of modern architecture become itinerant. While two of these models of the spread of modern architecture are well known, a third one—studied in this dissertation—changes the focus from Europe to the Soviet Union during the 1930s.

7Chapter 2, “Das neue Weltbild: Hannes Meyer’s Bauhaus and the education of the Red Bauhaus Brigade (1927–1930),” discusses Meyer in detail and his architectural program in the Bauhaus, with a particular interest in the classes taken by the soon-to-be members of the Red Bauhaus Brigade. In the second chapter the context relates to the German Bauhaus, and how the political dimension of the period intesected with the pedagogical projects of the school. Important episodes of the development of modern architecture and the emergence of a “Modern Movement” like the first Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM) are included in the frame of this period. Moreover, the economic and political context of Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s is relevant for understanding why Meyer and the Red Bauhaus Brigade left.

8Chapter 3, “Hannes Meyer and The Red Bauhaus Brigade in the Soviet Union (1930–1937),” follows Meyer and the group of students that traveled with him to the Soviet Union in search of the ideas they brought with them, how they were modified, and their practical application. The third chapter relates to the period during which many European architects were working in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and developing typified and standardized architecture (Typisierung and Standarisierung), while at the same time certain early developments of modern architecture were being rebranded in the 1932 Modern Architecture, International Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Also in 1932, when the Soviet Union was reaching the end of its first Five-Year Plan, parallel to the efforts to industrialize the country (efforts for which Meyer, the Red Bauhaus Brigade, and a series of foreign architects were brought to the country), Soviet architecture had begun taking a different direction, and would end by adopting what is commonly known as Socialist Realism and by rejecting the collaboration of foreign architects on account of a nationalist discourse of the Marxist variety.

9Chapters 4 and 5, “Tibor Weiner in the Bauhaus, France, Chile and Hungary (1929–1965)” and “Konrad Püschel in the Bauhaus, East Germany and North Korea (1926–1997), Philipp Tolziner in the Bauhaus and the Soviet Union (1927–1996), and Rene Mensch in the Bauhaus, Soviet Union, Switzerland, Chile and Iran (1927–1980)” explore the “multi-continental” activities of four Brigade members into the postwar period, and through them four alternative Bauhaus legacies. As the 1930s advanced, nationalisms of the fascist variety consolidated their power in many European countries, and the decade would end with the Second World War, which would last until the middle of the 1940s. This is part of the context of the fourth and fifth chapters of this dissertation: as a reaction to the European scenario, we find Hannes Meyer in Mexico and Tibor Weiner in Chile, while some of the other architects studied in this dissertation who stayed in Europe or the Soviet Union were drafted or imprisoned. The Second World War and the Cold War that followed are also the context for part of the last two chapters. The postwar scenario affected the political contexts of Mexico and Chile and eventually created a situation in which Meyer and Weiner opted to return to Europe. Püschel’s work in East Germany and North Korea, Tolziner’s work in the Soviet Union, and Mensch’s work in Iran were also by and large determined by Cold War variables.

10Histories of the Bauhaus tend to overlook Meyer’s tenure, which should not come as a surprise considering his directorship was tucked between the administrations of Gropius and Mies van der Rohe—two of the most written-about architects of the twentieth century. Meyer’s directorship and its outcomes remain understudied. This dissertation understands Meyer’s Bauhaus pedagogy as the beginning of an educational approach to architecture with long-term historical ramifications. Moreover, Talesnik proposes a sequential analysis that includes the work of the Red Bauhaus Brigade in the Soviet Union as an educational sequel to Meyer’s Bauhaus tenure, and he continues to explore the careers of some Bauhaus students in the postwar period. The focus on these students, who until now have been read as secondary characters, allows the author to trace the outcomes of an understudied architectural culture that broke away from the central trends of modernism.

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Daniel Talesnik, « The Itinerant Red Bauhaus, or the Third Emigration », ABE Journal [En ligne], 11 | 2017, mis en ligne le 28 septembre 2017, consulté le 22 octobre 2017. URL :

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Daniel Talesnik

Research associate, Technische Universität München, Germany

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La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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