Hannes Meyer (1889-1954) was an architect, educator and strong supporter of the cooperative movement. He believed that good design, design that was available to everyone and not just a few, could change prevailing socio-economic conditions. Trained as a mason and construction draughtsman in his native Switzerland, he subsequently worked for various architecture offices in Berlin and Munich before setting up his own architectural office in Basel in 1919 from where he realised the communal housing estate 'Freidorf' (1919-1921). The realisation of Freidorf became one of the first spatial expressions of Meyer's interest in how studies of the use of architecture could influence design decisions: before he set out to design the housing development he conducted surveys with the future dwellers to find out how they wanted to live and from that developed appropriate building typologies. Once completed, Meyer conducted annual post-occupancy surveys aimed at analysing the actual use of apartments.
Meyer taught at the Bauhaus in Dessau from 1927, taking over directorship of the school from Walter Gropius in 1928. During his time there - he was dismissed only two years later in 1930 - he introduced a series of pedagogical inventions: he introduced vertical studios, reorganised the workshops, introduced subjects such as technology, humanities and natural sciences to a previously largely arts based programme and initiated 'live' building projects. One of these real projects was the deck access housing project in Dessau-Törten, which was an experiment in collective forms of production stemming much from his interest in flat forms of organisation.
Meyer believed in the radical, emancipatory and transformative potential of architecture; seeing architecture, or design more broadly, as a weapon in the fight for a more equal society. Following a call to practice in the Soviet Union, Meyer becomes involved, amongst other things, in the urban planning of new cities and the reconstruction of existing ones under socialist principles and later moves, via Switzerland, to Mexico before returning to Switzerland. Despite Meyer's increasing scepticism about the revolutionary potential of architecture and design, his intensely politicised approach and position remain relevant for the development of socially produced and appropriated forms of spatial production.
Hannes Meyer. Bauen und Gesellschaft. Schriften, Briefe, Projekte, ed. by Lena Meyer-Bergner (Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst Dresden, 1980).
Claude Schnaidt, “Hannes Meyer,” in Anders gesagt. Schriften 1950-2001. Claude Schnaidt, ed. Gerd Zimmermann and Norbert Korrek (Weimar: Verlag der Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, 2009).
The commitment to progressive architecture is a political
commitment because its place of birth is the barricade and not the
- Claude Schnaidt, “Hannes Meyer,” in Anders gesagt. Schriften 1950-2001. Claude Schnaidt, ed. Gerd Zimmermann and Norbert Korrek (Weimar: Verlag der Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, 2009): 318.
Architecture is not an aesthetic stimulus, but a live weapon of
- Hannes Meyer. Bauen und Gesellschaft. Schriften, Briefe, Projekte, ed. by Lena Meyer-Bergner (Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst Dresden, 1980): 99.
Why do you stress […] that the building in dessau-törten was
executed under my leadership: after all I was so proud, that for
the first time a really – speak anonymous – collective work was
conducted at the Bauhaus.
- In a letter to Karel Teige dating May/June 1930 published in Hannes Meyer. Bauen und Gesellschaft. Schriften, Briefe, Projekte, ed. by Lena Meyer-Bergner (Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst Dresden, 1980): 73.
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