Bruno Taut (1880-1938) – Master of colorful building

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Bruno Taut (1880-1938) was not only the main architect of the Hufeisensiedlung, but also a versatile lobbyist, designer and artist plus a social-minded and visionary thinker, who reflected about the social and cultural impact of design and architecture. As the chief architect of the GEHAG housing association he set worldwide standards for reform-orientated public housing and was one of the main protagonists of the of the "New Objectivity" and engaged in a number of relevant avantgarde circles. He designed four out of a total of six "Berlin Modernist Housing Estates", which were jointly added to the UNESCO-World Heritage list in 2008 and therefore has to be considered as the most important contributer to Berlin's modern architectural history.

His biography exemplarily reflects the history of ideas of the early 20th century as well as it illustrates the massive distortion and backlash for cultural life in Germany during World War I and the raising pressure under the upcoming Nazi regime in the 1930s. In his early years he had a hard time deciding if he should rather become an architect or a fine artist. After attending the architectural school "Baugewerksschule" in his hometown Königsberg (today Kaliningrad, Russia) he had first engagements with Bruno Möhring in Berlin and Theodor Fischer in Stuttgart. In 1909 he founded "Taut & Hoffmann" in Berlin, an architects office he ran together with Franz Hoffmann and his younger brother Max Taut. The trio, organized according to the division of labour, attracted particular attention with their bold, expressionistic designs for the "Monument des Eisens" (Monument of Iron) at the Leipzig Building Exhibition in 1913 and the "Pavillion der Deutschen Glasindustrie" (Pavilion of the German Glass Industry) at the famous exhibtion of the German "Werkbund" of 1914 in Cologne – a building, that was received as a built manifesto of modernism. At the same time Taut made a name for himself in terms of urban development and residential architecture with his designs for the "Falkenberg Garden City" in southeast Berlin, realized between 1913 and 1916. For Falkenberg he joined forces with the garden architect Ludwig Lesser [* grand-grandfather of the landlady – see note above] who was responsible for the design of all public greens and the house gardens. During the caesura of the World War I, Taut, who was highly committed to socialist ideals and believed in the peaceful coexistence of different cultures, developed an anti-war manifesto and created the two visionary utopian picture cycles "Alpine Architektur" (Alpine Architecture) and "Die Auflösung der Städte" (The Dissolution of Cities). From 1921-1924, Taut worked as the city planning director of Magdeburg, where he established the Garden City Colony "Kolonie Reform". In 1924 he returned to Berlin and acted as the chief architect on behalf of the recently founded housing association GEHAG [Gemeinnützige Heimstätten-, Spar-, Bau und Aktien-Gesellschaft] – a social- and reform-orientated stock cooperation that erected a number of high-profile and large-scale housing estates. [Most of them are nowadays listed monuments and show a specific – and easily recognisable – Bruno Taut style]

These ambitious residential projects not only set striking and innovative urbanistic accents, but were characterized by a special appreciation of the garden and open-air facilities and still amaze today with a multitude of individual constructive and colorful details. In the following years, in addition to the Hufeisensiedlung, several style-forming large apartment buildings, residential complexes and housing estates were built. Just considering Berlin, Taut designed well over 10,000 dwellings, almost all of which are now listed as historical monuments or are part of it. Besides the "Gartenstadt Falkenberg" and "Hufeisensiedlung" these include two other UNESCO World Heritage sites – the "Siedlung am Schillerpark" in Berlin-Wedding and the "Wohnstadt Carl-Legien" in Prenzlauer Berg, which was created in close cooperation with the head of the GEHAG design office Franz Hillinger. Another important work is the forest estate "Onkel Toms Hütte" (Uncle Tom's Cabin) in Berlin-Zehlendorf, which might probably be added to this World Heritage list entry – at least this is what the city officials applied for. Especially in his Berlin housing estates, it can be clearly seen how Taut in his designs also promoted the paradigmatic shift between the two great urban models of housing construction of the early 20th century: combining the social reform-orientated and creative ideals of the garden city movement with the economy of line-based large housing estates. The crucial and really remarkable thing is, that his designs – even those for large scaled housing estates – never end up in monotony or schematism.

Further less known is the fact that Taut also propagated a special form of interior design in his writings. He prefered and suggested the use of strong colors, the extensive renunciation of ornamentation and knickknacks as well as contemporary and functional furnishing. His influence went as far as to establish his own idiom among open-minded and fashion-conscious contemporaries at the time: like we quite naturally speak about "googling" people back then talked about "tauting" ones apartment – an aspect on which the naming of our project "Tautes Heim" (a specific German wordplay, that cannot really be translated – therefore the English translation has been simplified to "Taut´s Home"). Believing in the power of really usable design, Taut´s Home puts the architects interior preferences into work. [Additional remark: Doing so, the house also takes up a central educational goal of the "Deutscher Werkbund", an professional association where numerous German architects gathered including Max and Bruno Taut, Henry van de Velde, Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius, Hans Scharoun, Erich Mendelsohn, Mies van der Rohe – just to name a few. This association established, promoted and ran a number of model housing estates designed by its members. It was founded 1906 and has to be considered an important pioneering work for the foundation of the Bauhaus design school in 1919.]

1930 Bruno Taut was appointed professor at the "Technischen Hochschule Berlin" (today Technical University Berlin). In addition to his practical work as an architect, he has written several influential calls and articles as well as a number of theoretical publications. He was also a driving member in various intellectual associations and avant-garde circles. These include the "Novembergruppe", the "Arbeitsrat für Kunst", the "Preußische Akademie der Künste", the Berlin "Zehner-Ring" (later "Der Ring") and the (above mentioned) "Deutscher Werkbund". Taut also launched the "Aufruf zum farbigen Bauen" (Call to Colorful Building) and the circulating correspondence of the "Gläserne Kette" (Glass Chain).

Even though Taut always had a very individual style and acted largely independently of all common dogmas, he was always in close dialogue with other leading protagonists of New Building such as J.J.P. Oud and Michel de Klerk in Holland, Erst May in Frankfurt or Hans Scharoun, Adolf Behne, Walter Gropius, the Luckhardt brothers or his – certainly most important friend, comrade-in-arms and former town planning director – Martin Wagner in Berlin. Even though it is of course wrong in the narrower sense to describe Bruno Taut as a "Bauhaus architect", with the abundance of his engagements and the broad influence of his early works in particular, he can somehow still be regarded as one of the leading pioneers of design principles, as they later found application in the curriculum of the "Staatliches Bauhaus" founded in 1919. However, he himself criticized many positions of the renowned design school. This should come as no surprise, since Taut understood like no other how to unite the two antipodal attitudes that first appeared in the famous Werkbund dispute of 1914 and re-appeared when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1924. Serial design according to industry standards versus individual design quality derived from the skills of traditional handicraft is not a contradiction in Taut's work, but a synthesis. The best example can be found in his designs for the Hufeisensiedlung: out of the 679 terraced houses experts distinguish 285 subtypes. The same applies for the associated gardens, which add well over 300 subtypes.

It comes as no surprise, that the National Socialist Regime accused Taut for his political attitude and refered to him (as well as to many others) as a "Cultural Bolshevist". After a brief disillusioning stay in the Soviet Union, Taut finally went into exile in 1933. During his three years in Japan, he designed furniture and consumer goods and wrote several publications that reflected and acknowledged the country's cultural tradition from a European perspective, pointing out the inherent and surprising modernism in 'traditional' Japanese buildings. These writings were also highly acclaimed in Japan, but still did not result in concrete larger building contracts. In 1936 Bruno Taut – like Martin Wagner before him – moved to Istanbul. In Turkey Taut was able to realize some prominent and prestigious commissions. In addition to various school buildings he also designed the university in Ankara and the catafalque for Kemal Atatürk [the founder of the modern republic of Turkey]. Apart from that, Taut did not have the chance of developing a second career since he died – much too young – in 1938 as a result of an asthma attack in his house in Istanbul-Ortaköy.


Further Insights, house library and our own activities

Both landlords, Katrin Lesser and Ben Buschfeld, offer professional and intimate guided tours on request and have published various writings on the Hufeisensiedlung which can be obtained via our house library: Katrin Lesser is an expert of garden monuments from the early 20th century and did the scientific research about the public greens, spaces and gardens of the Horseshoe estate and the Gartenstadt Falkenberg which was designed by Bruno Taut and her grand-grandfather Ludwig Lesser. Ben Buschfeld wrote and designed the book "Bruno Tauts Hufeisensiedlung". This handy guide provides a good inside into the Hufeisensiedlung and also contains a compact overview of the other five UNESCO World Heritage sites in Berlin. In 2019 he developed travelling exhibition and a huge educational website about the the six "Berlin Modernist Estates".

If you are interested in hosting the exhibition please get in contact.


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