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Architecture Misfit #13: Georg Muche

Georg Muche in 1923

Georg Muche 
(8 May 1895 – 26 March 1987)

Why’s he here? Basically, for not being Walter Gropius.

1895 Born

1914 Failed the entrance examination to the Royal Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.

1915 Moved to Berlin, resumed study of painting.  

1916-1918 Taught painting at the Sturm Art School; Participated in three exhibitions

1913–1923 Produced prints which showed strong influences by Klee and Marc Chagall.

His CV seems a bit weak, and there’s one of those “hmmm” blank periods between 1913 and 1919 when Walter Gropius invited Muche to join the Bauhaus faculty in Weimar. We don’t know why. Muche was 24. Gropius, for the record, was 37. Muche was the youngest ever Master of Form at the Bauhaus but he was tall for his age. That’s him, third from the left.

georg and the gang

The next three years were filled with teaching various courses and marrying a Bauhaus student. Under the terms of their (him and the Bauhaus’s) agreement, the Bauhaus had to give an exhibition of what they were doing and Muche was in charge of the inaugural one in 1923. (I’d have thought Gropius would have wanted to be – must’ve seemed a bit risky.) Anyway, for the exhibition, Muche designed and had constructed an experimental house known as “Haus am Horn“.

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It was the first practical implementation of the new Bauhaus building style. Such principles were key influences on 20th-century architecture. Haus am Horn was designed to showcase economical housing, providing a functional design using prefabricated materials for quick and inexpensive construction. The house, which demonstrates a keen understanding of the use of space, has been called “a true artwork of the realisation of abstract monumental beauty”.

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It’s not bad. Here’s the building control drawings.

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And here’s a better look at the floor plan. Enter. Kitchen on left, maid’s room on right. Straight ahead to the clerestory-lit living room with a dining alcove on the left and a study alcove on the right. Off these are doors to the kids’ and parents’ bedrooms respectively. Despite the sleeping arrangements typical of the era, there’s much that’s good about this house.

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Although Muche never called himself a sculptor, the symmetrical plan with the raised roof over the living room does create a certain monumentality but, more importantly, it creates a very compact plan with all the right connections. A living room lit by only top light would be oppressive but the dining and study corners for specific tasks have windows providing additional illumination as well as daylighting variation and views out. The spaces are well lighted as well as illuminated. The living room itself, is just that – a room for doing things whilst waiting for television to be invented and dictate furniture arrangements.

I’m curious to know what went on in the extensive basement. Although Muche did well with this house, it’s not a social housing prototype. It may have had quick and inexpensive construction but its windows on four sides prevent adaption for higher densities.

Wikipedia says

it was the first practical implementation of the new Bauhaus building style

but it doesn’t seem like Gropius was much interested in this new building style, even if the Bauhaus was contributing to it. In 1923 Gropius designed a door handle.

BilderAfter 1945 he and The Architect’s Collarborative designed a coffee cup.

walter gropius coffee cupAs well as the whole damn teasetI can’t help but wonder if Gropius’ commitment to architecture began and ended with the 1926 Dessau campus. He certainly extracted a lot of mileage from it.

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What else did Gropius do, exactly? There’s the 1912-1914 Fagus Factory (facades only; with Adolf Meyer), the masters houses at Dessau Bauhaus (1926), the workers housing estate at Torten (1928) and the Dessau Employment Office (1929). Over in America add to that his own house and The Hagerty House (with M. Breuer). What’s remembered from this output is the Dessau Bauhaus building and his own house.

But how much is remembered of Muche’s architectural output? Just as much, to be honest. Muche’s next building (with Richard Paulick) was for a prototype steel house in 1927. It’s still in use as a visitor centre.

geeorg muche steel house

The building is a steel plate construction, consisting of a steel skeleton load bearing structure with 3 mm thick steel plates mounted onto the outer walls. The house has no basement.

Muche later designed colour variants for his metal prototype houses. This would have been anathema to Hannes Meyer who arrived at the Bauhaus in 1927 and the following year was to state

“1. sex life, 2. sleeping habits, 3. pets, 4. gardening, 5. personal hygiene, 6. weather protection, 7. hygiene in the home, 8. car maintenance, 9. cooking, 10. heating, 11. exposure to the sun, 12. services – these are the only motives when building a house. We examine the daily routine of everyone who lives in the house and this gives us the functional diagram – the functional diagram and the economic programme are the determining principles of the building project”

and in 1929 to write

architecture was an organizational task with no relationship to aesthetics, that buildings should be low cost and designed to fulfill social needs.

So it’s no surprise that, in 1927, Muche left the Bauhaus to teach at Johannes Itten’s Modern Art School of Berlin. Muche was now 32.

You can follow the rest of Muche’s career over on Wikipedia. What interests me about Muche is that he was in the right place at the right time and did good work but it wasn’t enough. He saw himself as an artist but that didn’t stop him designing well-planned houses that were quick and inexpensive to build. He had the misfortune to be good at buildings but bad at the integrated design and communications Gropius was concentrating at getting better at and which have plagued architecture ever since. And which have, sadly, come to represent architectural talent.

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Gropius with the 1922 Chicago Tribune Competition entry (with Adolf Meyer)