HANNES MEYER
 
 
 
 
  Name Hans Emil "Hannes" Meyer
     
  Born November 18, 1889
     
  Died July 19, 1954
     
  Nationality Germany
     
  School  
     
  Official website  
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
 

Hannes Meyer was an advocate for functionalism and social
reform in modern architecture. Meyer’s “scientific” rationalism
and negation of aesthetics still inspire Marxian theorists today
(Hays, 1992). Denied greater individual fame by his preference
for collective work over personal originality (“I never design
alone,” he declared), Meyer’s continued notoriety stems from
several uncompromisingly Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity)
projects and his stormy Bauhaus directorate, when the school’s
endgame commenced.

Shortly after establishing his practice in Basel in 1919, Meyer
built for the Swiss Co-operative Union a progressive garden
housing estate, the Freidorf Seidlung at Muttenz, near Basel
(1919-21). Outwardly Palladian (as seen through provincial
Jura eyes), Freidorf’s planning nonetheless exemplified social col-
lectivism—particularly through its intense seriality, nascent
standardization, and sectionally sophisticated communal hall.

Through the early 1920s, Basel nurtured a left-wing architec-
tural group, the ABC, formed around the peripatetic Russian
artist and designer El Lissitzky. Meyer's first avant-garde en-
deavor after joining ABC, the Co-op series, consisted of exhibi-
tion/performance pieces extolling collectivist virtues. His Co-op
Vitrine (1925) contained arrays of 36 mass-produced items from
cooperative factories as a commentary on the anonymity of the
worker in the production economy; his Co-op Zimmer’ (1926)
was a spare indictment of bourgeois interiors; and his Co-op
Theater comprised life-sized marionettes and actors miming so-
cialist themes.

Meyer also practiced architecture with fellow ABC radical
Hans Witewer. Their uncompromisingly functionalist inven-
tions briefly captivated the international avant-garde. The Basel
Petersschule Competition entry (1927) was stark, skylit, indus-
trial box that stood detached within the city, furiously sprouting
cantilevered playgrounds, stairs, and transparent walkways.
Meyer loved formulae; calculations of illumination levels within
the classrooms constituted three-quarters of the presentation,
Meyer's and Wittwer's Geneva League of Nations Competi-
tions entry (1926-27) wrapped a brutal aggregation of func-

tional components within the echelons of a neutral construction
module. Fire stairs widened while descending the building to
accommodate increasing occupant load. Although both projects
bore traces of Russian Constructivist aesthetics (gratuitous masts,
glass elevators, structural hysterics), the overall impression was of
facts bereft of metaphysical illusion—of architecture as sachlich
(objective, literally “thingly”). Meyer and Wittwer's extremism
cast objectivity as ideological: Their rejection of formal rhetoric
became, paradoxically, rhetorical.

These unrealized schemes attracted the attention of Bauhaus
Director Walter Gropius. At the December 1926 opening of
the Bauhaus's Dessau facility, Gropius asked Meyer to initiate
the school’s long-delayed pedagogical intention of launching a
building department. Meyer, although hesitant over what he
interpreted as an overly sectarian and aesthetic cast of the Bau-
haus work, agreed. Immediately Meyer developed projects for
collaborative student exercises. By 1 April 1928 Gropius re-
signed, naming the charismatic yet schismatic Meyer as succes-
sor. Meyer, feeling that Gropius’s Werkbund mentality pan-
dered to the aesthetic tastes of the bourgeoisie, declared his
opposition to formalism in 1928 writing, “Building is only orga-
nization: social, technical, economic, psychological organiza-
tion.

Meyer transformed all workshops toward production. Under
his reign, income from the school’s products rose. Student pay
increased, allowing poorer students to attend. Meyer indirectly
encouraged a growing Communist student cell.

‘Architectural training inexorably gained the upper hand and
became increasingly scientific (solar angle studies, structural cal-
culations, flow diagrams). Just as he was named director, Meyer,
in collaboration with Bauhaus students, won a “worker’s school”

(the Bundesschule) competition from the General German Trade
Unions Federation (Bernau, 1928-30). In the school, which
became Meyer's major realized work, he radicalized the build-
ing’s plan, creating staggered housing volumes that organized the
Federation’s students into “brigades.” The industrial materials
(reinforced concrete, brick walling, steel windows) and the ex-
pressed circulation recalled his earlier objective proposals. An-
other collaborative opportunity with students soon followed, the
Dessau-Térten Housing Development (in Dessau, 1930). But
lacking varied communal spaces, the result here verged on banal.

The remaining Bauhaus master-teachers undermined Meyer,
using as a final pretext his encouragement of the Communist
cell’s activities during a miners’ strike. Dessau’s mayor summar-
ily dismissed Meyer on 1 August 1930. Many scholars use Mey-
er’s dismissal as a benchmark of the rising influence of Fascism
in the Weimar Republic.

With several like-minded Bauhaus students, Meyer sought a
proletarian culture in Russia. From 1930 to 1933, he was profes-
sor at Moscow's VASI, a newly reorganized architectural labora-
tory. He designed several unbuilt school projects and worked
with planning groups on massive satellite towns. Factional ten-
sions and reorganizations drove him to the newly founded Mos-
cow Academy of Architecture during 1934-35. Stalin’s imposi-
tion of Social Realism gradually ended Meyer's teaching
opportunities and hopes of progressive architectural work; by
1936, even his involvement in planning became untenable.

Dejected, Meyer sought solace in native Switzerland in 1936,
opening a Geneva practice. The Swiss Co-operative Union of-
fered him another commission, the 1938-39 Miimliswil chil-

dren’s convalescent home—his only realized, post-Bauhaus
architectural work.

After attending several town planning congresses in Mexico,
Meyer was on I June 1939 called to Mexico City by President
Cardenas to direct the newly founded Institute of Urbanism and
Planning, which was closed due to financial difficulties by 1941.
Despite a lifelong array of prestigious academic opportunities,
Meyer never spent more than three years at any institution. He
languished another eight years in Mexico, joining public agencies
for schools and clinics, serving intermittently on governmental
planning commissions, and entering competitions. His health
failing, in 1949 he returned again to Switzerland and explored
theoretical studies until his death.

RANDALL OTT

 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
 
Born 18 November 1889, in Basel, Switzerland, an architect's
son, Studied building at the Gewerbeschule, Basel 1905-09;
continued his training at the Berlin’s School of Applied Arts
1909-12; attended classes in urban planning at the
Landwirtschafts-Akademie 1909-12. Went to England 1912,
where he studied the Co-operative movement and the garden
cities of Letchworth, Bourneville, and Port Sunlight for a year.
After military service in Switzerland (1914-16), worked for
Krupps Housing Welfare; established his own practice, Basel
1919, Founded the Theater Co-op 1924 and collaborated in a
wide range of Co-op activities throughout Europe; meets Hans
Wittwer and begins architecture practice with him in Basel 1936;
met Walter Gropius 1956 and was named his successor at Bau-
haus Dessau April 1928; dismissed August 1930 for political
differences. Moved to Soviet Union, 1930; 1930-36, architec-
ture professor, VASI; 1934-35, Moscow Academy of Architec-
ture; returned to Switzerland, 1936; moved to Mexico City 1939
to direct the Institute of Urbanism and Planning, 1939-41;
returned to Lugano, Switzerland, 1949, where he died 19 July
1954.
 
 
 
 
 
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