sketch: Konrad Wachsmann, General Panel
Design drawing for a prefabricated house that the architect Konrad Wachsmann developed in exile in the USA
© Archiv der Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Baukunst Archiv, Nr. 1.570.107


Die künstlerischen Produkte dieser Disziplin, die Architektur, waren aufgrund ihres sozialen, öffentlichen oder privaten Charakters weniger autonome Kunstwerke, die in der Isolation des Exils entstanden, sondern Werke, die wesentlich auf einer Debatte zwischen öffentlichen oder privaten Auftraggebern und Architekten basierten.

[Because of their social, public or private character, the artistic products of this discipline – the architecture itself – were less autonomous works of art that originated in the isolation of exile, but rather works based essentially on a debate between public or private clients and their architects. (ed. trans.)]

Bernd Nikolai on the belated reception of architecture in exile, 2003

The expulsion of artists from Germany and Austria by the Nazi regime affected every occupational group within architecture, from freelance architects and municipal planning directors to evaluators and university instructors. With the Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums [Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service] from April 1933, many architects lost their tenures in administrative positions. Freelance architects and urban planners who were of Jewish origin, politically unpopular, or both, were forced out of their professional organisation, the Bund Deutscher Architekten (BDA) [Association of German Architects] and not admitted into the Reichskulturkammer [Reich Chamber of Culture], which amounted to a de facto occupational ban.

Architecture in Germany and Austria was, at that point in time, an artistic site of upheavals and spirited debates. Both stylistically and socially, the concepts of a fresh start and of continued persistence were at work side by side; after the First World War, creative controversies had revitalised architecture, be it housing or public buildings. The Bauhaus in Dessau was just one point of culmination for the functional and design thinking of modernism and Neues Bauen [New Building].

How could architects, now in their respective countries of exile, continue with their work and benefit from their former networks? Can debates be fruitfully continued in exile? How did architects in exile deal with the situation when their established artistic signatures encountered new aesthetic, cultural and climatic conditions, new discourses and foreign traditions within the discipline? In Architektur und Exil (2003), the architectural historian Bernd Nicolai writes that in the confrontation with the new surroundings in the country of exile, this could lead to a sweeping transformation of one’s architectural understanding – to great success – or a tailspin into oblivion.

In Great Britain, for instance, stylistic elements of Neues Bauen were taken up and in Turkey, the Bauhaus was taught as “New Dessau” on the Bosphorus, because some well-known German architects taught at local universities there. They introduced subjects like urban design and urban studies, and they were entrusted with public construction projects. In many countries of exile where German architects taught, the educational training was organised around German models.

Some architects in exile entered into partnerships with local colleagues, which was able to make the start in a foreign country easier, but also meant that formerly independent architects accustomed to enjoying great design freedom were, for the sake of earning a living, now chiefly implementing the projects of others. Great Britain was an important country of refuge for architects. It and Sweden were the two European countries that did not merely represent a stopover on the way to the USA, South America or Palestine. Architects who had emigrated to the Soviet Union because of their communist convictions received commissions for urban development construction projects and for specialized fields like the construction of schools and day nurseries. Disappointed by political developments, however, some of the exiles moved on to other countries.

In the USA, German architects had influence on post–World War II skyscraper aesthetics and they perfected the construction of prefabricated houses. And in Palestine, every second architect who went there prior to the founding of Israel in 1949 was a German. Hence the architectural style of the young Israeli state was subsequently decisively shaped by the aesthetics of the Bauhaus. This is a special case, however, because in light of the heterogeneity of the architects’ experiences and careers, it is certainly not possible to speak of the “consummation” of Weimar Republic modernism in exile.