The Twentieth Century Society

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Building of the month

February 2003 - Bauhaus Masters’ Houses, Dessau, Germany

Walter Gropius, 1925-6
Written by Martin Eilers

Building work on the famous Bauhaus Building in Dessau started in 1925 and was completed in 1926, following the relocation of the Bauhaus from Weimar to Dessau. At the same time, a short distance away, one detached and 3 semi-detached houses were put up to house teaching staff from the Bauhaus (architectural design by Walter Gropius). The client, The City of Dessau, would rent the houses to the Bauhaus staff. The detached house (the Director’s House) would be home to Walter Gropius for a number of years. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Lyonel Feininger initially occupied the first semi-detached house. Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer lived in the one in the middle and Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee shared the third semi. Walter Gropius described the 3 semi-detached Masters’ houses as equal in size yet very different in effect.

With the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1932. The City of Dessau continued renting out the Masters’ Houses until 1939 when the City of Dessau sold the Masters’ Houses to the ‘Junkers-Werke’ pending that the buildings should be modified as to eradicate this ‘alien’ architectural style from the city. The modifications that were made included the addition of external chimneys and a substantial reduction of glazed areas, particularly those of the galleries and the staircases to ‘normal sized’ windows. As intended, the changes left the buildings almost unrecognisable.

Towards the end of the War, Dessau was the target of heavy allied bombing raids. The Director’s House was destroyed and the adjacent Masters’ House badly damaged. After the war the houses were again used as rented accommodation. Over the next 50 years or so the buildings were lived in but their condition gradually deteriorated. The architectural importance of the Masters’ Houses was largely unknown. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, following German Unification, that extensive restoration work started on the houses. Bricked up windows were opened up again and external chimneys removed. The buildings were meticulously restored to their intended purpose and former splendour including restoration of the original paintwork colours, both internally and externally, which comes as a surprise if you are only familiar with the buildings through the original black and white photographs.

The restoration of all 5 houses was finally completed in 2002. They are now open to the public and are frequently used for exhibitions. In 1996, the Bauhaus (including the Masters’ Houses) was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. During my visit to Dessau in September 2002, I was told that there are plans to rebuild the first semi-detached house and the Director’s House. The original foundation and the garage of the Director’s House are still there. A modern house with a pitched roof was built upon its foundation. The plan is to demolish it and to erect a new building just like the original. There are many other Bauhaus buildings still in existence and use today in Dessau. For example, The Arbeitsamt (Walter Gropius 1928/1929), which now accommodates the Vehicle Registration Offices and the much altered Törten Housing Estate (Walter Gropius 1926-1928).

Further details

To see photographs of the buildings before restoration visit

For more information on visiting the Bauhaus and Masters’ Houses visit

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