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The contrast could hardly be more dramatic: Whereas the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar evinces a provocatively monumental order, Addenda Architects from Barcelona grasp their Bauhaus Museum in Dessau as being a discourse on various aspects of Modernism.
Talking to FSB, José Zabala explains the effect his own experience of Spain’s economic crisis had on the blueprint, the role Lina Bo Bardi played in same, and what East German slab-construction buildings have to do with his practice’s museum building. The Museum is being officially opened on 8 September 2019.
You are a young practice without a lot of building experience, and yet you won the international competition with over 800 entries in 2015. How did that come about?
Jose Zabala: We were not very experienced in building, but we were very used to entering competitions and we had already won prices. My partners and I finished our degree around 2005, just before the global economic crisis hit Spain.
In 2007/08 the market collapsed and many projects were stopped. That led to our not being able to build very much.
How did you approach the competition?
We produced a very straightforward kind of design. We gave consideration to the priorities of the remit whilst also bearing the site in mind. The site is located between the park and the city centre and the building marks the border between these two entities. Another plank in our approach concerned keeping formal resources to a minimum. So we designed a box for the permanent collection and elevated it from the street in order to create visual connections between the two parts of the city and get the institution’s function across to the public space.
Were there any substantial changes during the building process after you had won the competition?
One of the crucial aspects of our design is that it is a very resilient scheme in respect of the form the concrete plans might take. Thus we were able to change materials or move things a bit from one place to another without this impairing the main thrust of the design. The museum will be a flexible building that has the capacity to absorb many kinds of activity. Most changes are a result of economic conditions. The bridge, for instance, was initially intended to be a steel structure. We had to find a cheaper solution, but in design terms it is more or less the same.
You also had to change the façade. The solution implemented looks rather different from what you presented in the competition.
The glass façade was one of the most expensive elements, hence its final composition and materiality are a reflection of economic restrictions. Our intention during the competition entry was to use flint glass, but this might have compromised the feasibility of the entire project at a budgeting level and we therefore decided within the first two months of the planning process to create a more conventional façade by using float glass.
Ist there a link to Modernist architecture?
Some people ask us about modern heritage and the links between our design and Mies van der Rohe. I like the idea of viewing the new museum as a contemporary reinterpretation of modern principles through the prism of current economic conditions. The precarious situation we experienced as young architects in Spain has made us aware of the need to develop strategies that make our buildings as cost-effective as possible. I think the client liked the project because they understood that it could be accomplished on time and to budget. In terms of design and shape, the building is almost what we wanted it to be. There was a tight budget of just 25 million euros and that has been adhered to.
You once described the project as a reminiscence on the original Bauhaus building by Walter Gropius, calling your design “low resolution at its best”. What do you mean by that?
This also has to do with economic restrictions. Our museum is not only a simple and very straightforward design but also a building that relies on economical procedures and the use of industrial products. The combination of all these factors results in “low resolution”.
When seeing your design, I was also reminded of Lina Bo Bardi’s Sao Paulo Museum of Art.
Actually, what is happening in Dessau with our building is a clash of these two modern approaches from either side of the Atlantic. On the one hand the classic avant-garde of Gropius, on the other a late modernist icon from the Global South. Obviously, Lina Bo Bardi is important for us. But Dessau has completely different climatic conditions than Brazil, therefore we had to use a glass envelope. We see the function of the glass in our design as also having affinities with Siegfried Ebeling’s Der Raum als Membran (“Space as Membrane”), which was published at Dessau in 1926. Ebeling had the idea of the façade as a kind of membrane that creates different conditions on either side whilst also facilitating processes of exchange between the two. Glass is conducive to this state – it’s a bit like having a tropical building in a German context.
There was a public debate concerning the site for the new museum. The former Bauhaus director Philipp Oswalt preferred a site next to the Bauhaus building but the responsible politicians chose the north-eastern corner of the Stadtpark. What do you think about the urban and historical context of the building?
It’s very interesting because it’s a place containing a multitude of historical layers. The Kavalierstrasse is Dessau’s former monumental axis.
But, because of the massive bombings during World War II, only very few of these buildings remain. The Stadtpark is a green void, created after the war. And there are large numbers of slab-construction buildings. Some people say there is some connection between our project and these slab-construction buildings. I think there is indeed a kind of connection in that, in both cases, economy is crucial to the architecture’s materiality and appearance. There is also the question of solidity, since the glass is more transparent at times and more opaque at others.
At night, we will see activities inside the building projecting into the public space. During the day, the building will sometimes look more like a block, in the process recalling the dense urban structure of the old city. The building reacts to these different aspects of the city and these different moments in time. And the building is, of course, supposed to attract people to the city centre. Nowadays, when leaving the train station and walking to the Bauhaus building, you completely forget about the other part of the city. The museum will hopefully help forge new links.