Bauhaus Museum Weimar | Interview with architect Heike Hanada

Heike Hanada interview

The building is a conscious provocation on our part

10. January 2019 | Words: Jasmin Jouhar
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 45 seconds

Not one but two museums open in this, the Bauhaus centenary year: one at Dessau in the autumn; the other, built to a design by Berlin-based architect Heike Hanada, at Weimar in early April. Ms Hanada won the international competition in 2012 together with Benedict Tonon. FSB met the architect in her Berlin office to discuss intermediate Weimar states, flowing spaces and why the Wittgenstein handle slots in well with the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus Museum opens at Weimar this year, right on cue for the movement’s centenary. The project is receiving a lot of public attention as a result.
As with all things in life, this is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s great. I would appreciate receiving even a fraction of that attention for many another project. On the other hand, I see the danger of the Bauhaus being perceived rather superficially in general – maybe too commercially as well. Such shallowing-out runs counter to the very essence of the Bauhaus. At the same time, however, I do think this renewed attention is of great importance for the people of Weimar. The Bauhaus has not been a major issue there hitherto. But with the centenary upon us, the realisation that the Bauhaus began in Weimar is dawning in a big way. There’s more to the Bauhaus than its classical manifestation in Dessau. The movement evolved in manifold ways and is certainly more an idea than a formal style.

Do you detect a sense of pride that wasn’t previously there when you’re in Weimar?
It was very palpable at the topping-out ceremony. But there are also critical responses, simply because the building is a conscious provocation on our part. Rather than servicing the conventional image of the Bauhaus, we attempt to point up an intermediate state between classicism, art nouveau and the evolution of modernism. This intermediate state was essentially decisive for Gropius – he came to Weimar as the successor to Henry van der Velde, to a movement heavily influenced by art nouveau. Having initially recruited teachers driven by the spirit of Expressionism, he proceeded to elaborate a fresh perspective within a relatively short period – exciting times indeed.

Architektin Heike Hanada Bauhaus Museum Weimar 2019 100 Jahre Bauhaus years architecture design

Berlin-based architect Heike Hanada designed the new Bauhaus Museum in Weimar.
(Photo: Ulrike Schamoni)

How does this intermediate state manifest itself in architecture?

First of all through the exterior, through a contemporary approach to concrete as a material and to prefabrication. The façade is very tranquil, a meeting of modern-day and classicist elements. I consciously make use of pedestals and parapets, whilst portals and windows are likewise framed in concrete. Those are classicist features with their origins in antiquity. It is an approach that also influenced Mies van der Rohe when he designed his New National Gallery, into which he incorporated classicist devices that he simultaneously reworked. The building’s lack of scale accordingly gives rise to a certain monumentality and serenity.

Is it this monumental aspect that renders the museum architecturally special to the city?
Yes, that’s precisely the aim; let the museum reveal itself as such so people can perceive it for what it is. At the client’s request, we have added a continuous band bearing the words “bauhaus museum” in recessed relief to the façade.

How important is the Bauhaus as an idea and legacy to you as an architect?
During my student days, I took my bearings from lecturers still imbued with the spirit of the Bauhaus such as John Hejduk at the Cooper Union in New York. This led to my always endeavouring to view things from two angles and, as it were, to keep switching positions between architecture and art, something that’s rooted in the Bauhaus idea.

Does your latest work involve any further correlations with the Bauhaus idea?
Something that really engrosses me is the concept of flowing space. Mies van der Rohe merely adopts it in the horizontal plane whilst Adolf Loos takes it into the vertical dimension with his concept of the spatial plan. Le Corbusier does likewise with his double-storey spaces, a key issue specifically in museum construction. This is why there are double-storey air spaces connected by cascading stairs in the Weimar Bauhaus Museum. This causes the route through the building to lead diagonally upwards. Cascading stairs are essentially a classicist architectural feature, but their interaction with the air spaces plots an asymmetrically modern and hence organic course. This in combination with the staggered cross walls in the ground plan engenders a flowing space.

Why are flowing spaces and double-storey design important in museum construction?
Because most museum staff and curators no longer wish to merely work with a classicist, tightly structured space. In a flowing space they can create spatial links between collections of subject-matter in the various sectors.

What are the ideas behind the materiality of the Bauhaus Museum?
It is intended to acquire a workshop or factory-hall character. The materials are not to look refined or museum-like, since both curators and patrons then feel freer in the various spaces. It takes its cue in part from museums housed in derelict industrial structures such as London’s Tate Modern. There are white walls in the Bauhaus Museum, but they have not been plastered. We merely coated the concrete with limestone slurry. The ceilings consist of untreated concrete ribs, the frames of doors and windows are in basic, silvery-grey, powder-coated steel. The main portal, lifts and counters are faced with a material called galvalume, a form of zinc-coated steel sheeting.

FSB Tuerdruecker Griff Wittgenstein 1147 Weimar Bauhaus Museum Heike Hanada Sonderanfertigung

Heike Hanada got together with FSB to develop a modified version of the Wittgenstein lever handle FSB 1147 for the Bauhaus Museum.
(Photo: FSB)

You also developed a modified version of a handle for the Museum with FSB?
Exactly; we reveal the aluminium in its crude form. I visited the factory some years ago and was fascinated by the freshly cast, unworked blank. The modified version was left at the stage it reaches when it emerges from the vibratory tumbler – a device in which it is ground down with the aid of large numbers of ceramic cones. The uneven surface recalls handles that have been in use for a very long time. And the beautiful thing is that the surface effect will continue to change over time.

Which model did you go for?
Part of the museum brief involved working to the formats and proportions of Wittgenstein House in Vienna – I’m thinking, for instance, of the unbelievably elegant, overly-high doors. I had always liked the house’s handle a lot, which is why the FSB 1147 model, the Wittgenstein handle, was chosen. However, I had the grip on the handle lengthened by about an inch for the large, ten-foot-high museum doors so the proportions would tally. FSB were very amenable to my wishes. The staff there understood where I was coming from and escorted the proceedings with great patience. I do not feel, by the way, that every single feature has to be re-invented for each project. In any case, I wouldn’t have considered that to be justifiable given the workshop and industry feel consciously sought for the undertaking. The radical straightforwardness of the Wittgenstein handle simply slotted in best with the Bauhaus theme.