The International Summer School will be held in the former ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau. In 1927, the ADGB [Federation of German Trade Unions] and affiliated organizations decided to build a centralized trade union school for their members. The architectural competition for the building called for a concept that combined education, sports, cultural activities, and student housing all under one roof. Hannes Meyer (1889-1954) and his partner Hans Wittwer (1894-1952) were selected as winners of the competition. They believed that “building” was “designing for living” and thus created a unique educational and dormitory complex in Bernau’s urban forest.

The architecture reflects the teachings intrinsic to Bauhaus ideologies and is an ideal example of functional architecture. With functionality taking precedent over everything else, head architect Hannes Meyer also stripped the design of any unnecessary decoration. For example, color was only used to create a sensitive interplay between form, materials, and varied lighting scenarios. Each housing unit features a color (e.g., red) and colors are assigned to each floor (e.g., carmine, vermilion, pink). The building is composed of separate, individual structures that come together as a cohesive unit within the surrounding landscape. Its design was derived directly from functional diagrams that Meyer, Wittwer, and a significant number of Bauhaus students developed together in close cooperation, which called for the dormitory rooms to be oriented towards the landscape and the nearby lake. Everything was aimed at stimulating the sensory perceptions of the students.

Throughout its varied life, the Bauhaus Denkmal Bundeschule was altered drastically. In 1999, the new owners, the Berlin Chamber of Crafts, sent out a call for proposals for restoring the building according to Meyer’s original plans. A Berlin-based firm, Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten, won the competition and carefully reinstated the original architectural features and details of the complex. In 2008, Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten was awarded the Knoll Modernism Prize for the building’s restoration.

Built Education

In developing the concept for the summer school, we discovered other links to the past in addition to the more obvious aspects of functional design and architecture.

Although we never found an actual quote that sums up Hannes Meyer’s campus design as “built education,” we came across this concept frequently. The idea that architecture can promote learning – i.e. that straightforward design is tantamount to opening the mind – is something that can be experienced throughout the building.

Another link to the past is more ephemeral – the idea of cooperation. In 1928, Hannes Meyer was acting head of the Bauhaus in Dessau. A committed Marxist, Meyer used this position to drastically re-envision the Bauhaus curriculum. Educational instruction was organized around the notion of the collective. Accordingly, the design for the Trade Union School was not his alone – Hans Wittwer, head of the building department, also played an essential role, and a number of other teachers and students were also involved in the design and construction process. The building is a product of the so-called “vertical brigades.”


While “brigade” is not our favorite word and we don’t fully believe in Meyer’s idea of the collective (nor that most literature only credits Meyer with the building’s design, minimizes Hans Wittwer’s role, and never mentions the names of students) the concept of a “vertical” educational system, where the boundaries between novices and experts are blurred, is nevertheless an important factor we hope to achieve with the selection of our teachers.

The next link has to do with the end of the Bauhaus era in Germany. In 1932, the Nazi regime put an official end to the Bauhaus in Dessau. Meyer had been fired in 1930 and left Germany for Russia, but two Bauhaus emigrants are important here: Anni and Josef Albers. Anni Albers was the inventor and designer of the wall-covering material for the auditorium at the Trade Union School and her husband Josef Albers was head of Grundlehre [foundation course] during Meyers’ period at the Bauhaus. Both emigrated to the US and quickly brought the experimental ideas and teaching methods to a new place in Asheville, North Carolina – Black Mountain College. Founded by John A. Rice in 1933, Black Mountain College was conceived as a liberal arts school with an interdisciplinary approach to education. This was unprecedented at the time and it created an environment that spawned a revolution in the arts and sciences. Its vision of college as a community was a radical one.

While a revolution is not likely to take place during the span of our summer school, we intend to tap into this approach of our educational predecessors.

Additional reading:
For more information please visit the official website of the Bauhaus Trade Union School Landmark.