Karin Wilhelm studied history of art, sociology and philosophy in Heidelberg, Munich, Berlin, and Marburg (Lahn). From 1991 to 2001, she was professor of history of art at TU Graz and subsequently professor of the history and theory of architecture and the city at TU Braunschweig. From 1994 to 1999, she was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation; since 1999, she has been a member of the editorial board of the journal Der Architekt. From 2001 to 2010, she was a member of the board of trustees of the International Building Exhibition Urban Renewal Saxony-Anhalt 2010. In 2011, she was made a member of the Braunschweigische Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft. Her research focuses on urbanism as a cultural theory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the history of mentalities in West Germany based on its architecture and urban planning after 1945, and the history and theory of modernism (Bauhaus). Selected publications: Walter Gropius: Industriearchitekt, Wiesbaden (1983); Architekten heute: Portrait Frei Otto (1985); Formationen der Stadt: Camillo Sitte weitergelesen (co-edited with D. Jessen-Klingenberg, 2006); Gesetz und Freiheit: Der Architekt Friedrich Wilhelm Kraemer 1907–1990, (co-edited with Olaf Gisbertz, Detlef Jessen-Klingenberg, and Anne Schmedding, 2007); “Territorialität und International Style,” in Architecture in the Age of Empire (2011)
From Hand to Type: Gropius and the Bauhaus Weimar 1919–1924
The establishment of the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar in 1919 happened during the crisis-ridden years that blighted the politics and economy of Germany’s industrial and work-oriented society. In this revolutionary setting, the teaching concept as originally drafted by Walter Gropius, accompanied by the existing training structures (workshops), sought to identify the basic principles that characterized labor in general and an artistic craft training in particular. Here in Weimar, he propagated a concept for a short time that based artistic training and architecture on the dominance of handicraft and the empirical processes of making (poesis).
Gropius, who is seen today as having presided over “cold functionalism,” had presented a concept to AEG under Emil and Walther Rathenau for the “establishment of a general building society” back in 1909/10—i.e., at the time he was working for the Fagus factory—clearly positioning himself as a pioneer of “Fordism” in the construction industry. When ten years later, as director of the Bauhaus in Weimar, he apparently set aside the project of creating a training focused on the demands of rationalization, this “volte-face” was described as a one-off precipitated by the current situation, a lapse that Gropius would set straight again in around 1923. Written reports confirm that the Dessau Bauhaus program would later correct this Weimar “slip,” which was put down to the expressionist spirit, by pursuing modern industrial productivity standards.
This is exactly what the Weimar Bauhaus concept included: it gave careful thought and consideration to the knowledge and skills inherent to craftsmanship. The fact that Gropius had an eye to the prewar period—his contacts with Rathenau, the Werkbund, etc.—and formulated, so to speak, a political cultural critique in praxis, which was to be deployed in new high-quality mass production, is ripe for reassessment.