More Variations on a Theme in Dessau?: Germany’s Third Post-War Competition for a Bauhaus Museum

by Stanley Collyer

6025 aussenraumperspektive
First prize by Young & Ayata with Misako Murata (image courtesy Bauhaus Museum)

        Germany is not about to let the world arts community forget about the unique role played by the Bauhaus movement in the evolution of modern art and architecture. There is already a Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, moved there from Darmstadt in 1971, and the building it now resides in was completed in 1979. It is hardly recognizable from Walter Gropius original 1964 intended design, except for the shed roofs. Since the Berlin Archive can only accommodate 35% of the institution’s holdings, a competition was staged there in 2005 to expand the capacity of the site. The invited architects for that competition were Diener & Diener (Basel), Nageli Architekten (Berlin), SANAA (Tokyo), Sauerbruch & Hutton (Berlin) UN Studio (Amsterdam), and Volker Staab (Berlin). SANAA was chosen as the winner, but the City withdrew its support from that project in the wake of the world economic crisis in 2009. In 2012 a Bauhaus Museum competition took place in Weimar, where the Bauhaus was originally founded under Gropius in 1919. That competition was won by the Berlin architect, Heike Hanada, with Benedict Tonon. The new building, which will replace the existing Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, is to be completed by 2018. After the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau, where the Bauhaus resided until the 1930s when the Nazis came to power and where the main building by Walter Gropius has achieved iconic status, a recent international competition for its own Bauhaus Museum took place. Although one may assume a lot of overlay between these three museums as to exhibits, the plan for the new museum in Dessau could be deemed somewhat of a logical move, as the present school is still located there, setting the tone for the ‘international style’ we now are so familiar with.   The Competition Contrary to what one might have anticipated, the Dessau competition did not choose a site for the new museum near the present school, but instead envisioned a downtown location for it in a park-like setting. This was an open, international competition, and the organizers were not disappointed with the size of the interest. What was surprising, was that the top four premiated entries were all from abroad, with the two first place winners from Barcelona and New York. Not surprisingly, with the exception of the one first place winner from the U.S., all of the others were variations on easily recognizable themes out of the Bauhaus annals. Since the Bauhaus was not only about architecture, but also art, one might understand the top, contrasting choices in architectural expression as representations of both disciplines—one having very functional, straightforward lines, the other more whimsical in the manner of an organic biological creation. Jurying a competition with this challenging subject matter could hardly have been easy.

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