Colour: the other side of the «white» modernism

Bauhaus is thought to be synonymous
with ‘white’ modernism. However, this is a misunderstanding. In actual fact, the movement paid a great deal of attention to working with colour, at least in interiors.

Colour: the other side of the «white» modernism

Colour was to be
used to create a navigational system within the school complex; however, this concept was not realized in full. The abundant use of colour in
the abstract theatrical compositions staged at Bauhaus is proof that there was no intention to reduce architecture to the colour white alone. After the teachers’ houses (meisterhauser) in Dessau were researched and restored in the 1990s, the white facades were found to conceal interiors rich in colour. And the range of colours used for these interiors was not con ned to the primary colours (red, yellow, blue) emphasized in the Bauhaus teaching programme, but also included numerous colours and shades — even gold, with which Vasily Kandinsky painted the niche in his half of one of the houses.

In The International Style Hitchcock and Johnson magnanimously countenanced this richness of colour, but with the formula «green plants and beautiful paintings are the best way of imparting life to an interior.» The reason why Bauhaus is generally perceived as the ‘white style’ may be considered to be photography. Gropius was assiduous in promoting Bauhaus — ‘his’ Bauhaus — and the housing estate he had designed in Törten, a suburb of Dessau.

Most of these photographs were taken by the wife of the Bauhaus teacher Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Lucia. Her black-and-white photographs reproduce ideal architecture which looks not idealized, but systematic and functional. The white buildings contrasting with the dark sky embody an aesthetic purity that metaphorically rises above the dirt of daily life and proclaims a new world, new order, and new life. Exactly
the same aesthetic is embodied by the model housing estate of Weissenhof in Stuttgart, which was built in 1927. It likewise owes its popularity to black-and-white photographs from that
time — photographs in which it would have been impossible for colour to play a part.

There was likewise no place for colour in buildings designed by avant-garde architects. The view that colour was a way of decorating or prettifying a building — as the theory of Gottfried Semper had it — was not without consequences.

Bruno Taut,Horseshoe Estate, Berlin, 1925-33

Bruno Taut,Horseshoe Estate, Berlin, 1925-33 © Reinhard Görner / artur

Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1977

Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1977 © Richard Bryant/Arcaid

Aldo Rossi, Schützenstrasse Complex, Berlin, Detailsof Facades. 1994-1998Aldo Rossi, Schützenstrasse Complex, Berlin, Detailsof Facades. 1994-1998 © Aldo Rossi

Main images: Boris Kustodiev, Manifestation on Uritsky Square on the Occasion of the Opening Day of the Second International on July 19, 1920, oil on canvas, 1921. State Russian Museum, St.Petersburg / Sergei Tkachenko, Apartment Building on Mashkova Street, Moscow, 2003 © Sergei Tkachenko