Architectural historian Beatriz Colomina explores how the Bauhaus harbored deeply transgressive ideas and pedagogies.
Despite its surface rhetoric of rationality, clarity and efficiency, and smooth surfaces, the Bauhaus was never straightforward. Bauhauslers were engaged with everything that escapes rationality: sexuality, violence, esoteric philosophies, occultism, disease, the psyche, pharmacology, extraterrestrial life, artificial intelligence, chance, the primitive, the fetish, the animal, plants, etc. The Bauhaus was, in fact, a veritable cauldron of perversions.
Modern architecture is usually understood as having a normalizing function, establishing patterns that are stable, predictable, and to some extent standardized. The idea of architecture is intimately associated with the idea of the normal—perhaps it even sees itself as the caretaker of the normal. But the normal is not normal. It is a construction. There is a hidden tradition in architecture of the transgressive, work that crosses the lines of the normal, complicating these lines, threatening the limit.1
- 1. Take Le Corbusier, for example, arguably the single most influential architect of the 20th century. He was deeply into the occult, esoteric philosophies, sexual complexities, cross-dressing, scatology; he was also obsessed with the toilet, disease, nudism, body building, the animal, and the other. For less well-known figures like Carlo Mollino, architecture and design were literally a product of perversion, so much so he is not easily placed in any traditional account of Modern architecture. Historians don’t know how to position him. So if you take these two extremes—Le Corbusier is a seemingly straight architect who is secretly twisted, and Mollino a seemingly twisted architect that is secretly at the center of Modern architecture—the question is whether so-called perversions are twists of architecture or its very engine.
Perversion comes from the Latin pervertere, “to turn away,” that is, turning away from normality. There is a relationship between the personal, often extreme, pathologies of Modern architecture and the call for a new normal.