New linoleum reproducing the house’s original flooring.
New linoleum reproducing the house’s original flooring. Photography by Michel Figuet/Living Inside.

Inside Walter Gropius’s 20th-century House in Jena, Germany

Although Walter Gropius continued his professional architectural practice after founding the Bauhaus—the legendary design school he ran in Weimar, Germany, between 1919 and 1928—there were only six private residences among the projects he completed before leaving the country permanently in the mid ’30’s. One of them, a villa in the nearby university town of Jena, was a 1924 commission from physics professor Felix Auerbach and his wife, suffragist Anna Silbergleit. Art and music lovers—Edvard Munch’s 1906 portrait of Auerbach, a gift from Silbergleit, hung in their new home—they embraced the modular system Gropius was developing, which treated the villa as if it was a three-dimensional composition made of interpenetrating volumes or “Baukasten im Grossen” (Big Construction Kit), as he dubbed them. Thus, a two-story volume containing the main living areas interlocks with a taller structure housing service functions, with an asymmetrical shift between them.

The German-American architect and founder of the Bauhaus, photographed at the school in 1926 by Lucia Moholy, one of the institution’s most important early documenters.
The German-American architect and founder of the Bauhaus, photographed at the school in 1926 by Lucia Moholy, one of the institution’s most important early documenters. Image courtesy of Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.

The house reflects another preoccupation of the early Bauhaus: the use of color as an essential element in architecture. One student, Alfred Arndt (1896-1976), who had just completed his journeyman’s exam in wall painting, was hired to design a color palette for the villa’s interiors. Putting theory into practice, Arndt applied color “constructively,” not restricting hues to individual wall or ceiling planes but allowing them to flow across room surfaces so they created an immersive experience of transitions and contrasts within the larger spaces. Arndt’s original scheme, 37 mostly pastel colors in all, was obscured over the years. Fortunately, the house was acquired in 1994 by Barbara Happe and Martin Fischer—an academic couple with a commitment to design as strong as the original owners’—and they set about meticulously restoring the dilapidated villa, including reinstating its original rainbow colors. This was possible since Arndt’s detailed plans survive, and the results vividly refute the common misperception that Bauhaus interiors were all gray and white. Fischer and Happe’s 2003 book documenting the project—The Auerbach House by Walter Gropius with Adolf Meyer—has been recently updated and reissued. As they say, “We could not live in white-painted rooms anymore.”

A Rikizo Fukao painting and a Le Corbusier chair in the Auerbach house, a 1924 villa by Walter Gropius (1883-1969), in Jena, Germany, restored by Barbara Happe and Martin Fischer.
A Rikizo Fukao painting and a Le Corbusier chair in the Auerbach house, a 1924 villa by Walter Gropius (1883-1969), in Jena, Germany, restored by Barbara Happe and Martin Fischer. Photography by Michel Figuet/Living Inside.
A Louis Poulsen pendant fixture hanging before a Peter Halley acrylic on canvas in the dining room.
A Louis Poulsen pendant fixture hanging before a Peter Halley acrylic on canvas in the dining room. Photography by Michel Figuet/Living Inside.
High­lighting architectural form, the color scheme by then Bauhaus student, later head of the school’s interior design department, architect Alfred Arndt.
High­lighting architectural form, the color scheme by then Bauhaus student, later head of the school’s interior design department, architect Alfred Arndt. Photography by Michel Figuet/Living Inside.
The villa’s interlocking volumes, an early example of Gropius’s “giant building blocks” approach.
The villa’s interlocking volumes, an early example of Gropius’s “giant building blocks” approach. Photography by Michel Figuet/Living Inside.
In the primary bedroom, a new carpet based on designs by Bauhaus student Gertrud Hantschk, later Arndt’s wife.
In the primary bedroom, a new carpet based on designs by Bauhaus student Gertrud Hantschk, later Arndt’s wife. Photography by Michel Figuet/Living Inside.
New linoleum reproducing the house’s original flooring.
New linoleum reproducing the house’s original flooring. Photography by Michel Figuet/Living Inside.

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