“How do we change the world?”
Bauhaus in the making
Ms Grau, Mr Welch Guerra: Your university has the Bauhaus in its name. What distinguishes the school from other universities?
Max Welch Guerra: We work on shaping the world we live in. How do we humans change the material world, social relationships and culture? That places us in the tradition of the historical Bauhaus, since we apply the same approach to the present day.
Victoria Grau: I am currently spending a semester abroad in Dublin. The history of the university does not have an influence on students there. Nor is there any critical reflection on the status of the university in social life. That is a big difference to Weimar, where the aspect was originally driven forward by the historical Bauhaus.
Welch Guerra: When I founded the Urban Studies course in 2008, I had to decide: do I wish to train experts who are good at implementation? Or perhaps people who instead know why a land-use plan is required? People must also be aware that planning can be used not only to develop something beautiful, but also to destroy a great deal. We must learn from history. After the historical Bauhaus, the Nazis used our building. During the GDR period, Art was abolished and replaced by structural engineers at our school. So we constantly stumble upon history. That is why critical self-reflection is so important. It would be terrible if our students were inspired by visions of the future without considering what they are connected to.
Is the name “Bauhaus” sometimes a burden?
Welch Guerra: Gropius and other Bauhaus protagonists were very authoritarian and had extremely problematic ideas of their roles. We want nothing to do with that.
Grau: We’re proud to be taught at such an institution. However, we don’t wish to represent the Bauhaus of the past.
How do you distinguish yourselves from the historical Bauhaus?
Welch Guerra: The Bauhaus protagonists used the potential of mass production to improve the living standards of the population. Today, we can no longer afford to ignore where the resources come from and the consequences of our land consumption. Our understanding of social progress is also different today. The aim is not simply that everyone should live in a newly built home. Instead, questions of differences between members of the population are relevant today. Back then, solutions were more mass-solutions, which was legitimate at the time. That is no longer the case today: the historical Bauhaus acted as if the world could be recreated. The motto was: “Look, now it’s our turn.” By contrast, when we attempt to shape the future, we ask: what is there already? We act with historical awareness. After all, our cities largely consist of things from the past.
Let us talk about the future. How will we live, work and inhabit in the future? As urbanists, you address such questions. What is your response? What does the future look like?
Welch Guerra: To be honest, we don’t know how things will continue. Many things are unclear with respect to politics, social equality and our consumption of resources. What we considered to be a matter of course in the past, namely that people should always enjoy a better life, is suddenly being questioned. So we must work more strongly towards having an influence.
What about flying taxis, self-driving cars and robots that serve us food? Do you also work on such visions?
Grau: Of course! But we don’t lose sight of today’s problems.
How far into the future do you look?
Grau: If we look at our university’s location, Thuringia, where the political situation is so unclear, then the time-spans are quite short. If we examine environmental factors, we look further into the future, perhaps to 2050.
Welch Guerra: We are no longer seduced by spectacular technical advances, as researchers have been in the past: we planners think in the long term. Let us take Buenos Aires. How should mobility be in a city with 13 million inhabitants? Will there be ever more cars? How do we create a different kind of mobility? Perhaps suburban railways are important. And bicycle transport on a massive scale! We want to ensure that life will still be liveable in 50 years’ time. So we need a gentle approach.
Everyone is talking about cities. You too. What will happen to rural regions?
Welch Guerra: Rural regions are incredibly important for politics and economics. They affect resources, people who feel threatened and disappearing cultures. For instance all the economic success of the city of Munich would be impossible without rural regions. For a city like Munich to flourish, it requires people from the countryside who work for much less money and deliver high-quality goods.
To what extent do you take factors such as gender and diversity into account?
Welch Guerra: It is unthinkable to ignore the fact that there are different gender orientations. Or that different cultures exist, all of which have the right to be at the university. We must sensitise ourselves to that because it is relevant to everyday life. For whom am I planning a settlement? Just normal families? And what exactly is a normal family?
Grau: As a woman, I can study just like a man today. That was different at the historical Bauhaus. It was much harder for women to study. I regard the fact that this is no longer the case as a matter of course and the same applies to our models of the future.
How important is participation?
Welch Guerra: In the 1960s and 1970s, urban planners created facts by simply developing enormous estates in the middle of nowhere. Today, we need to take people on board. That equally applies to growth areas and shrinking regions, affluent people and others who are disadvantaged. I can only reach many social locations if I approach the people there and speak their language. For instance if I consider the Thuringian Forest, the Internet is not very helpful, as I discover time and again. If the aim is to change something in a village with an average age of 60, you have to sit down with the people and talk to them. That can be with a screen or with a pen and paper. But it’s impossible without
With all the bad news we hear every day, do you still believe in the future?
Welch Guerra: We live in a society that offers many intermediate spaces for reflection. We must use those spaces. Then we will certainly have a future.
Grau: We are very aware of the problems. But we are able to constantly develop new ideas and shape change in a positive way. That makes me optimistic.
Thank you for the interview!
More articles on this topic
The bauhaus100 newsletter will be circulated from time to time with news about the Bauhaus Centenary 2019.
The Bauhaus Perspective on Green Spaces
The Bauhaus shifted perspectives further afield. Modernism turned familiar perforated façades into glass envelopes – thereby providing an unobstructed view of the outside world. What role does the outdoors play in the Bauhaus? What is its understanding of the countryside and green areas we live in? And how does the Bauhaus period inspire the design of open spaces today?