Yesterday I was reading about the Bauhaus Dessau at the Watson Library at the Met and I turned around to go to the scanner and boom. In front of me was newly painted bright blue wall. The library I knew had been undergoing some renovation but wow that’s a colored wall. Then I noticed more of them around, strategically place. These accent walls worked really well, providing a pop of color, architectural interest to an otherwise boring space and making me think that they might be on to me. My dissertation is on just these kind of painted walls. So I hope the Met is either participating in a new trend to include color more in architecture. I hope that the white walls are beginning to go away. The other option is that they are copying me. Whatever the reason I’m happy that when I go to the Watson I will have nice color to enjoy.
Another reason to look under the surface.
I visited another Bruno Taut housing estate today, Onkel Toms Hütte (Uncle Tom’s Cabin). No I have no idea why it has this name. It is in the far reaches of the city, in a wooded area and was built from 1926-1931. Yet again Taut demonstrates that polychromed life is good. There are great variety of colors, blues, greens, pinks and yellows there and these colors seem to work with the landscape, the towering pine trees and again the flowers. Flowers and in particular hollyhocks see to go quite well with Taut’s architecture. The greens works really, as all my pictures show but other colors like pink make the green even greener. Mostly the color here breaks up the monotony, the row after row of houses, the large bleak apartment buildings. Each house and building is distinct from those across the street. Although next door might be the same or similar, always across the street is different than your house. Often trim colors, red and yellow seem popular remind you that you are connected to your neighbors, part of a larger community. In general I found the colors are just happy. They make everyone’s life a little happier. All I could think of was the really terrible versions of mass housing for the last 50 years since and maybe because of the name I got thinking about race. The ensemble in Paris or Co-op city type places in New York, the projects and how they could have been built better, with more humanity, more green space, less isolation, segregation, less alienation and with color.
Today I visited 3 of Bruno Taut’s Berlin housing estates: Garden City Falkenberg, the Horseshoe Estate in Blitz and the Carl Leigen Estate. For those unfamiliar with Taut he was a architect who built thousands of units in and around Berlin in the 1910s and 1920s as well in the late teens he theorized and dreamed of expressionist architecture.
Falkenberg is early, before his utopian visionary architecture and well before the pragmatic mass housing. It was built right before and during WWI. I visited it first. The development is based on concept of the Garden City, a kind of harmony of nature and man. These ideas are clear when you visit this little estate. It is now a UNESCO site, as are the other 2 and has been restored and preserved as it once was. The gardens are central to the design. The buildings are meant to integrate with the gardens and the colors are key. Orange, pinks, red and tan complement the greenery that surrounds them. The hollyhocks look majestic in front of the colorful buildings. In a line of houses each individual unit has its own color. Shutters, window trim and doors are in other colors. The effect is lively, earthy and natural. Then surprisingly at the end of a row, a bright blue house. Somehow with the other earth colors it doesn’t seem out of place. The colors and some of the painted areas are decorative, there are even patterns. This is so far from the white modernism that one might assume of somebody like Taut. I would live in this magical place in a second, as long as Brian was with me.
For Taut when he starts to build in the “new building” style of modernism he does not forget about color. His horseshoe estate is one of the most famous. The central block of buildings is in the shape of a horseshoe, duh, around a small pond. Again housing and landscape are integrated. Blue is the accent color in this main block. On the exterior of the shoe inset areas around the doors and the attic space are painted bright blue. The rest of the walls are white with a few red accents around the doors. The interior of the shoe has blue painted on the walls of the individual porches of each unit. The walls are gray, with brick details and this all blends with the lush greenery. Other blocks and rows of houses outside the shoe are red, pink white and again a blue accents building or two but there is less variety in the color. It is less decorative and more restrained than at Falkenberg and again not all white.
The most mysterious was the last estate I visited, Carl Leigen in Preznlauer Berg. The large housing blocks are U shaped. The buildings are a beige cream color on the flat exterior walls with flat roofs and no decoration. The color on the exterior of the U is subtle, applied only to the inside of doors and windows and in the three primary colors. Always red around the windows of the staircase and some doors. Then yellow and blue around other windows, always little windows yellow and larger ones can be blue or yellow. The combination creates a geometry on the facade of the building. But what is mysterious is why some sides had more blue windows and some more yellow. Inside the U other large expanses of wall are painted single colors. The first set of U blocks are green, the second blue and third red. The reason for the different street facade arrangements must be for some reason. Is it only to give variety to the blocks, break up the monotony? The interior colors are clearly useful. One lives in the blue one, not the red. The colors provide an orientation or organization. There is a lot going on in this estate, I have not yet figured it out. But overall today I saw a lot of polychrome architecture by the color master Bruno Taut. Now the question what does he have to do with the Bauhaus?
Despite visiting Haus Auerbach a little less than 2 weeks ago I never was really there. The house, what I am studying at least, is gone, forever. The house as it looked 79 years ago when it was built in 1924 I will never experience. What I did visit was lovely. A restoration and reconstruction of the house and its wonderful wall paintings but not the Haus Auerbach. Today I saw another part of the puzzle, Alfred Arndt’s plans for the wall painting scheme at the Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin. The plans are beautiful ink and tempera drawings, mounted in frames, which is annoying. There are floor plans but the floors are the ceilings. In other parts the walls fold door into elevations. But the whole concept of the space is difficult to image. Later the wall painting workshop uses an approach where instead of looking down on the space you look up. The base of the doorways are on the outside. It is confusing to explain but also confusing to read and understand that you are looking up at the ceilings, which are in fact extremely important. Arndt in the drawings sometimes provides a little perspective of the room, just so we are all on the same page. Despite the distortion of orientation the colors are vibrant and clear. The complexity of the combinations are easier to understand when seeing the whole 1st floor at once and not by walking through the rooms.
But these drawings are different than the reconstruction, not totally but in key ways. For example in the Dining Room, the wall to the kitchen in the restoration is sherbet orange, not in the plan it is gray. There are other deviations in arrangement and placements of color and also of the colors themselves. But why are their differences? Is the reconstruction wrong? Did Arndt not execute exactly his plan when he painted the walls? I personally think the reconstruction is very accurate. Then why did Arndt change it. The real spaces are enormously different than the plan. In the space I am sure he adapted. He tweaked it. The light coming in the windows and the height of the ceilings might have caused a change. It is important to know that the plan doesn’t always get used as is. But this is frustrating for me, how am I suppose to know what is real and what is imagined. Is the plan what I should write about or the reconstruction? Both I guess. These are the problems of working on no longer extant art. If only there were photographs, oh wait their were, but that’s another story.
I have come to the wonderful little city of Utrecht in search of colorful wall painting at Gerrit Rietveld’s Schröder House. The building is iconic, a demonstration of De Stijl architecture. It is contemporary of the Bauhaus, of Le Corbusier but what I found there is truly different. It is a total architecture, a gesamtkunstwerk in German. It is a harmony of Art and Life. The relationship and cooperation between Rietveld and Truus Schröder was amazing. They really worked together to create a house that defied conventions. They had to trick the city of Utrecht into giving them permission to build this unusual house with no permanent interior walls in the main living space. The walls move and every student of 20th century art and architecture knows this, but the true effect is transformative. The space seems small at first, the colors are all over, they seem random, cluttered, busy. There is large red square on the floor, built in furniture is black, gray, yellow blue. Only primary colors are used along with grays, white and black. But then the guide moves the walls, makes rooms, children bedrooms, a closed stairwell and this space then feels bigger somehow, although it is more closed in, it just seems more useable. It might be the connection with the outside, but I am biased, I think it is the color. What seems random and cluttered makes more sense, not completely but more when the walls are closed. But also there is the connection with the outside which is impossible to understand from books and pictures. Windows in the dining area open at the corner, creating a total interior exterior space.
The space and the walls transform for life. Life transforms for the architecture. They became one for Schröder who lived in the house for over 70 years. I have found that this is not wall painting, this is colored/polychrome life. Furniture, floors, trim and yes the few walls have colors, bright primary colors. These have some functional aspects, black and bright blue for heavy use areas like edges of doors. But then color is also just aesthetic it seems to me. Why yellow on this cabinet, well because. Elements of the moving walls, tracks and wooden shutters are also colors, perhaps highlighting the functionality of the building but they do not seem to be deployed with obvious noticeable reason. The building is beautiful and it was terrible for me that they did not allow interior photos. It worked, I bought a book. It is my suggestion, my recommendation make the pilgrimage to Utecht.
I have now visited 3 Le Corbusier houses in 4 days. His double house at the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, Maison la Roche in Paris and this morning the Villa Savoye in Poissy. The Villa Savoye is by far the most famous. It is recognized as a demonstration of Le Corbusier’s doctrine of modern architecture and is known its pillars raising the building off the ground and its promenade like ramps that guide your movements through the building. It is also famous for being white. But it is obvious when you visit it that it is not all white. In fact it was probably more colorful than the present restoration. The other two houses I visited are from around the same years and they are pretty colorful. The double house in Stuttgart has red brown doors, yellow, blue, brown, gray walls to just name a few. Maison La Roche’s picture gallery includes a large red brown ramp, and blue and gray walls. What is clear is that Le Corbusier’s buildings are not just white. But if you went by the postcards on sale at the Villa Savoye you would think every surface in the building and all his buildings would be white. The Villa Savoye even today has color, a bright blue hallway and a pink end wall in the living room for example but none of the postcards show this. I want to see the color. Why is everyone so afraid of modern architecture’s colors? Why is the white cube so revered?