UNESCO World Heritage visitors centre Listed Bauhaus Trades Union College Bernau
New-age neighbour for Bauhaus building
German re-unification ushered in a process of mapping out and, where appropriate, securing the structural fabric in the east of the land. Experts set about identifying buildings worthy of being listed there. The Bauhaus world heritage sites at Dessau and Weimar were amongst those listed in 1996. It was not until 2017, however, that a further building was added to the UNESCO world heritage ensemble, which is now designated as “The Bauhaus and its sites at Weimar, Dessau and Bernau”. The college run by the then General German Trades Union (ADGB) in Bernau, which likewise enjoys world heritage status, was built in 1930 to plans by Hannes Meyer, Gropius’s successor as Bauhaus director, and his office partner Hans Wittwer.
The ADGB college and the balcony-access house at Dessau-Törten were the only structures to be built under Meyer’s direction in a collective undertaking with Bauhaus students. They also testify to how overtly far to the left Meyer stood within the Bauhaus. And it is certainly the case that he geared the Bauhaus more strongly towards designing affordable architecture and buildings for people on lower incomes. At the heart of the college building in Bernau is a light-soaked dining hall with large-format glass-block skylights, exposed-concrete structures and an adjoining conservatory that was successfully reconstructed in the course of refurbishment measures concluded in 2009.
The architects from the Steimle practice in Stuttgart won an invitation to tender for a visitors centre and have now juxtaposed the listed Bauhaus structure with a contemporary building in its immediate vicinity. The pavilion-style structure also bears typological echoes of the third Bauhaus director Mies van der Rohe and thus ties in doubly with the Bauhaus tradition. With its glazed shell and strikingly high insulation-grade concrete ceiling, the new building is a glowing example of modern-day restraint. The clean-lined principles informing its structural design are simultaneously plain to see.
Architect and Object
Photo: © Markus Guhl
“The visitors centre sets the scene for experiencing the world heritage site in fitting manner”, say the architects of their project. “The pavilion affords a first glimpse of the listed building from within a frontage of pine trees. Visits turn into a sequence of experiences – by analogy with the impacts that Hannes Meyer called “psychological effects” and which are intended to emphasize the architecture’s physically temporal dimension.”
Visitors centre with a view
Slender, utterly unobtrusive metal columns positioned against the glass façades act as a counterbalance to load-bearing cross walls of tee-shape. Inside, the building’s elongated rectangular plan divides into two sections. The cross walls have been used to turn the west-facing side into a succession of spaces, some open-plan, some closed off. The side to the east, by contrast, eschews confining walls altogether to serve as a single large exhibition area that also affords an unrestricted view of the listed Bauhaus edifice. The permanent exhibition that has now been installed there is devoted both to the ADGB national college itself and to the biography and work of the architect Hannes Meyer.
Regardless of its having turned out to be a true architectural joy, the building is clearly there to serve. Its principal functions are as a point at which visitors to the Bauhaus building are received and provided with information. The intention was thus always to create a structure that, whilst not imposing itself upon its illustrious period neighbour, nevertheless confidently confronts it as a building in a modern guise with an identity of its own. The architects have achieved this by conceiving and adopting a sober, clean-lined architectural idiom and by working with a very reduced range of materials.
“The typologies of the FSB products selected were likewise arrived at with such considerations in mind and echo the lucid formal idiom of the architecture”, the architects explain. They argue that the pronounced linearity of the FSB 1183/1074 model designed by the architect Hadi Teherani gives it an eloquently timeless feel. The handle has been fitted to windows and to external, internal and toilet doors in a Blasted Aluminium Black Anodised finish (FSB 0810). The Quint-it company has come up with a technical innovation for the window-frame profiles whereby it is now possible to fit FSB window handles without roses.
Photos: © Brigida González