Bauhaus Museum, Weimar
An architectural rendering of the new Bauhaus Museum in Weimar. Photo by Klassik Stiftung Weimar
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Klassik Stiftung Weimar
'The building is used as a framework for the content within,' says Heike Hanada. Photo by Klassik Stiftung Weimar
Klassik Stiftung Weimar
An illustration of the museum's facade at night. Photo by Klassik Stiftung Weimar

The first building Heike Hanada ever builds is going to get a lot of attention.
The German architect, whose work up to this point has been restricted to the design stage, beat out more than 530 architects from across this globe for the honor of designing the new Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, Germany.

Despite being a relative novice, the judges loved her design – a modest, slim concrete creation – and deemed it the best contender for expressing the legacy of the most important design, architecture and art school of the 20th century.

The final stage of the competition was incredibly intense, Hanada says. The judges presented the four finalists with a long list of comments and asked them to present a final, improved version of their proposals within just a few weeks.
“I was pleased that I had the opportunity to work some more on the building," Hanada says in a phone interview from Denmark. "I wasn’t completely satisfied with the facades."

Her win clinched more than just a major career breakthrough. Hanada also got to take home 30,000 euro of the 170,000 euro prize money awarded in the competition.

The Bauhaus school operated from 1919 to 1933 in three German cities. It was founded in Weimar by architect Walter Gropius. The school relocated to Dessau in 1925, where an iconic building was constructed that serves as an academy and research center to this day. In 1932, it settled in Berlin but shut down a year later with the Nazis' rise to power.

Although the Dessau period is the best known and has received the most coverage when it comes to the school's history, the pedagogical, philosophical and aesthetic principles of the Bauhaus were formed in Weimar. The Bauhaus was born from the merger of Weimar’s Academy of Fine Art and the Grand Ducal School of Arts and Crafts, which also operated in the city. It advocated canceling the traditional separations between the arts and entrusted its fate to the innovations of the modern world and the constant attempt to industrialize design.

UNESCO has recognized Bauhaus sites in Weimar (and with them the school building in Dessau) as World Heritage Sites. A collection of more than 10,000 items still exists from the years the Bauhaus was active in the city, but only a tiny part of that is on display in a small museum that opened in 1995. The new museum, which is scheduled to open its doors in 2015, will display the school's historical collections, examine the events that led to the establishment of the movement, and present its long-standing influence on the world of art, architecture and design.

Dealing with the neighbors

Weimar is a small, pretty town, and it's quiet – “maybe too quiet,” Hanada says. Most tourists who arrive there choose to visit museums dedicated to two especially famous former residents – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. Aside from this, Weimar also had a significant historical role in the 20th century – the Weimar Republic was established following World War I, and during World War II the Buchenwald concentration camp was built nearby.

Hanada thinks that the new Bauhaus museum will prompt a debate over the city's no-do-distant history. The designated site is in the park in the center of the city, next to the Gauforum – the government building established by the Nazis in 1937 that served as a place for the glorification of their power.

“The question was how to deal with the neighbors,” she explains. “You could offer a program that focused solely on the legacy of the Bauhaus. I wanted to create a building that displays a sense of self-confidence and shows the conflict between it and the Gauforum. There is a close connection between the Bauhaus and the fight against the Nazis.”

The building is a massive, straight-angled box made of thin horizontal stripes that alternate between concrete and metal. The gleam of these two materials causes them to blur, creating the optical illusion of a façade which is made of one substance. At nighttime, the building will be illuminated by LED lights that will instill the sensation of a ghost passing through the park.

The inner spaces of the museum are simple and clear, connected via two flights of stairs. The galleries are positioned in the shape of terraces, one above the other, providing maximum flexibility for the team of curators.

Her vision is an example of contemporary museum design that doesn’t deal with the formal effect of the museum on its environment, but instead exercises restraint and focuses on quality exhibition spaces. Hanada, like most of the other finalists in the competition, made a conscious decision to avoid echoing Bauhaus architecture.

“I thought that the building needed to occupy the space between traditionalism and modernism and present something new,” she says. Will her building, with its appearance and modest nature, succeed in standing out in the city? “It is used as a framework for the content within. I think that this is generally the role of museums.”

Hanada, 48, studied architecture at the Berlin University of the Arts, and traveled to the University of Tokyo to complete her doctorate in the '90s. She established a small architecture firm in Japan and then returned to Germany, teaching at the Bauhaus University in Weimar for seven years. In 2007, she unexpectedly won an international design competition to expand the Stockholm Public Library, defeating some of the biggest names in architecture in the process. But the project was sluggish, and eventually froze due to personnel changes in the mayor’s office.

Hanada currently serves as a professor at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Potsdam. She participates in two or three architecture competitions each year, sometimes in collaboration with the architect Benedict Tonon, as was the case on this project.

The decision to use Hanada’s design also dispenses some historical justice with regard to the large group of women who were an important part of the teaching staff of the Bauhaus. While the architects Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the artists Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee all won worldwide acclaim, prominent teachers such as Gunta Stolzl and Benita Otte (both weavers), Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain (a ceramicist), Ilse Fehling (sculptor and set designer) and many others received scant recognition compared to their male counterparts.

Gropius promoted a seemingly absolute equality between the sexes, and insisted there would be, in his words, “no difference between the beautiful and the strong sex.” In practice, the situation was completely different: The vast majority of female students engaged in traditional crafts like weaving and textiles, while men occupied the benches in the architecture and painting classes. An unfortunate remark regarding women is also attributed to Gropius, who believed that women thought in “two dimensions,” while men could deal with three.

Hanada insists, however, that women in the field still have a long road ahead of them.

“I think it’s nice that a woman won the competition, but it’s unintentional,” she says. “The Bauhaus had many strong women but not in the field of architecture. In this respect not much has changed. Even today there are not enough female architects in Germany. They are forced out by the men, and some of them decide not to continue. Some of my best students chose to simply marry a good architect and work with him in his office. Architecture is very hard work and there are people who simply prefer to get more sleep each night. Not me, in any case."