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1

Reginald R. Isaacs, Walter Gropius. Der Mensch und sein Werk, v. I, Berlin, Gebrüder Mann Verlag, 1983, pages 78-90
Joaquín Medina Warmburg: «Superficie y profundidad. Walter Gropius, sus viajes a España y la moderna aspiración de objetividad», REVISTA Arquitectos, issue 166, 2003, pages 53-60

Postal Baukunst

Postcard from Walter Gropius to his mother, 28 April 1908. Photo-Archiev BAUHAUS. Bibliothek, Archiv und Fotoservice

“Mr Osth. left last night. Before leaving he wrote to Peter B. warmly recommending me. So everything is going perfectly to plan. My frieze won him over. I’ve been working in the factory every day, and today I added the final touches. Tomorrow everything will go into the kiln for the last time, and it will come out again in a week. I work with Wendland a lot. On 5th we will leave Seville for good. I am happy to be returning to Germany. Your faithful son”. Reverse side: “How is father getting on?” Say hello to him, please”.

Letter from Walter Gropius to his mother, 24 October 1907, Walter Gropius Papers, BHA, Berlin.

Walter Gropius sent a postcard to his mother telling her about his travels in Spain and announcing the date of his return. That historic document1, now conserved at the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin together with numerous letters charting his north-south itinerary through Burgos, Medina del Campo, Madrid, Seville and Barcelona, reveals that Gropius worked for a spell at the Ramos Rejano pottery kilns in the Triana quarter of Seville, a rewarding experience given his keen interest in meeting the by then already ageing historian, scholar and  doyen of the Sevillian ceramics industry José Gestoso. Fascinated by Spanish tiles, the future ideator of the Bauhaus movement sent a steady supply of original designs to applied arts collector Karl Ernst Osthaus, whose patronage allowed him to complete his first tour of Spain and thanks to whose recommendation he was able to gain admission to Peter Behrens’ architecture seminar—a crucial step in his training.

Following a 2019 filled with Bauhaus centenary celebrations, this historical note invites us to re-consider the radical importance of travel and of early, hands-on experience in the training of architects.

Travel gives us direct, physical experience of space, sharpens our observation skills, and noticeably hones all our senses—at a time when the visual dimension, so often monopolised by digitalised imagery, has become increasingly predominant. Sharing travel experiences with other, asking questions, discussing them, interpreting them and, yes, also drawing them, unveils a line of reasoning, accelerates subjective expression, and relativises the objectiveness of how things are seen. The notes Gropius took during his travels in Spain and in later lectures provide an insight into how to base a design on the geometric materiality of the Castle of Medina del Campo, or how to create a Gothic stained-glass window in dialogue with Josep Puig i Cadafalch. They remind us that designing means observing, and displaying designs means learning to look at what we ourselves and others design through new eyes. But above all they emphasise the fact that the really important thing is to learn by doing, a approach which facilitates personal training and the creation of a collective ethos based on a group of collaborators all involved in the same task.

The early exercise, desirable right from the initial stages of apprenticeship, of simple manual construction skills and technical resources which will later become tools, and early participation in domestic group-orientated tasks like cleaning, painting, and planting are examples of early instituent practices (see the article Turning Point), because they firmly root architects in the ongoing training and practical experience that link their work directly to  their materials and provide them with the knowledge that is essential if they are to identify themselves as part of a multifaceted architectural culture.

Today it is necessary to vindicate the construction culture, or baukunst (in small letters, like how Gropius wrote it), with a view to a new, as yet undefined, scenario. And this need is even more acute following the consolidation of virtual omnipresence and the appearance of a new pandemic, with the associated dwindling of opportunities to travel and share work experiences.


Text translated by Andrew V.Taylor
Notas de página
1

Reginald R. Isaacs, Walter Gropius. Der Mensch und sein Werk, v. I, Berlin, Gebrüder Mann Verlag, 1983, pages 78-90
Joaquín Medina Warmburg: «Superficie y profundidad. Walter Gropius, sus viajes a España y la moderna aspiración de objetividad», REVISTA Arquitectos, issue 166, 2003, pages 53-60

Autor:
Co-fundadora del Estudio de Arquitectura MEDIOMUNDO Arquitectos y jurado en la VII Edición Arquia/Próxima 2018-2019, representante de la zona sur. Doctora arquitecta (ETSA Sevilla) y profesora de proyectos arquitectónicos desde 2007 en la misma escuela. Es coordinadora y profesora de Cátedra Blanca Sevilla, desde 2007.

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