THE RISE OF ARCHITECTURE TOURISM
Never has one school had such wide reaching influence. Two years from its centenary, the Bauhaus remains an inescapable force in design; a name that resonates, an aesthetic unmistakable and prevalent to this day. Founded by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, the art school was rooted in the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk — the idea popularised by Wagner in the mid-1800s translates as ‘total work of art’, and is used to describe a piece of art that encompasses many different disciplines.
With that in mind, Bauhaus taught fine arts like painting and sculpture, and placed them on a level playing field with disciplines like industrial design and craft. Gropius’s goal, he declared, was “to create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.” He succeeded, and although the school was only actively teaching until 1933 (when it was closed down by the Gestapo), its influence is still significant in contemporary design.
One of the school’s first students was an 18-year-old Hungarian named Marcel Lajos Breuer, a student who would turn tutor. Breuer’s Model B3 chair would become one of the designs most synonymous with Bauhaus, but it is a commission he would take on in the early 1960s that is most important to his story. Billionaire geophysicist Éric Boissonnas and Swiss architect Gérard Chervaz had discovered a prime spot in the French Alps in 1959, a prime spot that — with Breuer’s help — would become Flaine, a purpose-built ski resort founded on the sort of ideologies Bauhaus alumni had become closely associated with.
Startlingly unalike anything else in the Alps, Breuer’s brutalist monolith was a ski resort cast in concrete — typical of the divisive structures that had begun dominating cities during the mid-1900s. The brutalist style was inspired by Bauhaus contemporary Le Corbusier, whose utopian city living projects were founded upon a socially progressive doctrine and had inspired many of the time’s preeminent architects, Breuer included. When the trend faded, though, Flaine’s stark exterior was — to many — unbefitting of the natural beauty of its surrounds.
By the 1980s, public derision for ‘concrete carbuncles’ had peaked, and architectural icons were readily being demolished. What goes around comes around, though, and a new generation are more sympathetic to the true beauty that lies in these hulking gems. Millennials have been blessed with a better design education than the generations before — Jony Ive having taken Dieter Rams’ ‘Ten Principles for Good Design’ mainstream — and brutalism is positively en vogue. Contemporary travellers are demanding differential and, as such, long-maligned gems are returning to the spotlight.
Opening in 1971, the Totem was one of Flaine’s original hotels — and has recently been reimagined as Hotel Terminal Neige Totem. In the early 1960s, Éric Boissonnas and wife Sylvie had recruited Marcel Breuer for his avant-garde vision, theirs to bring the city to the mountain; a vision that prevails in Totem’s rebirth. Here in the Marmite resort of Flaine, the new Totem brings the wallet-friendly, design-conscious appeal of creative class favourites like Ace and Generator to the piste; Breuer’s skeleton updated with street art interventions and American comfort food … his architectural achievements, though, firmly remaining the star attraction. After all, there is a new wave of design-savvy travellers drawn to these inimitable icons.
The short 14 years of the Bauhaus’s existence were at times tumultuous, and as such the art school would have three homes: Weimar (1919—1925); Dessau (1925—1932); and Berlin (1932—1933). It is at Dessau where Breuer, then head of its woodwork workshop, would design and build his iconic Model B3; it is at Dessau where a succession of the most significant Bauhauslers would live and work; and it is at Dessau where design devotees can now bed down for the night. If ‘architecture tourism’ is a thing, then Bauhaus Dessau is its Mecca.
Regarded as the heyday of Bauhaus architecture, the school’s seven years in Dessau were where the modernist style its alumni would stamp across the world were honed — built by Gropius as part of the main Bauhaus building, the studio building would house future forces like Breuer, and it’s here that visitors can experience the atmosphere of the Bauhaus with unrivalled authenticity. Everything from its floor plan and materials to replicas of the original furniture have been meticulously returned to their original state, several rooms dedicated to the renowned students who once occupied them.
However, it’s not just an expedition to Breuer’s unprecedented Alpine brute or a pilgrimage to his former school that is on offer to sate the appetite of offbeat design obsessives — there are an ever-increasing number of hotels, hostels and apartments answering the growing demands of architecturally-acute travellers. Shouting about the ‘mindful renovation of a heritage building’ ain’t cutting the mustard no more.
A mindful renovation it may be (indeed it is a winner of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage), but Berlin’s Tautes Heim is so much more — a fascinating chance to experience one of the world’s most important housing estates like a local: a local living in the 1920s. Bauhaus contemporary Bruno Taut’s noted town planning project Hufeisensiedlung was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008, and is now home to a ‘rentable museum’ restored to its original glory; a cultural heritage project that puts the demands of design enthusiasts ahead of box-ticking for a fancy press release.
A milestone in modern housing, the estate forms an idyllic suburb that combines urban and rural living. Painstakingly taken back to the architect’s original vision, Tautes Heim offers visitors the same escapism as a stay at Bauhaus Dessau; the same chance to experience world-shaping design; and an opportunity to live and breathe what had once been consigned to textbook. Close to the U-Bahn and just a 25-minute cycle into the heart of hip Kreuzberg, staying on the Hufeisensiedlung estate represents a singular alternative to the city’s many design-led hotels and hostels, and the project’s rave reviews confirm a genuine hunger for this type of alternative design tourism.
Indeed, independent map publisher Blue Crow Media’s recent successes hint at this being a wider movement — the outfit charting some of the world’s most outré architecture in city maps like Modernist Belgrade, Brutalist Sydney, and Constructivist Moscow. That warming of public opinion to brutalism and the utilitarian simplicity of the Bauhaus style, coupled with a curiosity for outlandish constructions like those from the former Soviet Union, seems to have resulted in a heightened awareness of design heritage among contemporary travellers. Perhaps it’s the ongoing prevalence of design hotels and renewed interest in mid-century classics; fringe movements like Ettore Sottsass’s Memphis Group seeing mainstream revivals; or simply the need for Instagram differential. Whatever is is, niche architectural scenes are big news.
Like Bauhaus, there are some names that resonate sonorously among even the most casual of design’s admirers. Names like Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier. The latter, perhaps modern architecture’s most famous son, has a deserved place at the pinnacle of design, and those mapping out their own architectural bucket list would surely have plotted some of the Swiss-French artist-itect’s most revered works; the UNESCO having added a whopping 17 of his projects to their World Heritage list recently.
Marseille’s staggering Unité d’Habitation is one. The first realisation of Le Corbusier’s utopian Ville Radius (Radiant City) ideology — where apartment blocks would be complete with shops and schools, and all urban-dwellers would need — is now a veritable architectural icon, and home to a restaurant, art gallery and hotel. Reborn as a cultural cornerstone of the chaotic Mediterranean city, Unité d’Habitation is a bona-fide draw for Marseille, and an example of how those concrete carbuncles are having their moment in the sun.
Out near Lyon, La Tourette is another of those recent World Heritage additions: a monastery designed by the modernist architect, and now home to a hotel with accommodation that has been barely touched. Cell-like, this is not a creative class update in the mould of Breuer’s Totem hotel; instead, it’s a chance to experience Le Corbusier’s vision as it was intended. Like Tautes Heim or Bauhaus Dessau, La Tourette offers modest minimalism but maximal experience — design devotees who’ve earned their badges will approve.
The man born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret didn’t just make his mark in Europe. Freed from the shackles of Imperial domination, post-war India decided it needed a new city, and the result would be the architect’s most ambitious project; a from-scratch planned-city that remains — alongside Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasília — one of architecture’s most significant undertakings. None of Le Corbusier’s buildings are inhabitable by the public, but his influence can be felt at LaLiT Chandigarh; a high standard 179-room business hotel and spa that is the perfect layover for those making this particular pilgrimage.
And these pilgrimages can be made the world over. Sign up as an official architecture tourist, and expect your passport to endure some serious usage. Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania … Hawaii … many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s acclaimed houses can be rented, the vision of America’s most famous architect experienced first hand. Niemeyer? The 33-storey Hotel Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, designed by the noted Brazilian architect in the 1960s, has just reopened after two decades of dereliction.
As one begins to traverse the globe in the name of geeking over notable design, though, the familiar names will begin to fade. For devout architecture tourists, things can get exceedingly weird. How about a night at Walt Disney World?
The man behind the groundbreaking postmodern architecture of the Portland Building, Michael Graves, had previous with Disney — thanks to his style’s playful whimsy — but it is the gargantuan 1990 Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts in Florida that boldly stand out. As left-field as architecture dare be, Graves’ duo of vast resort hotels total two million square feet, house 2,265 rooms, are capped with 47-foot-tall swans and 56-foot-tall dolphins, and emblazoned with patterned façades. Embodying what Disney and Graves dubbed ‘entertainment architecture’, this is the antithesis of Bauhaus — but no less compelling.
The Kurpaty Sanatorium in the Ukraine resort city of Yalta looms boldly over a beach on the cover of Frédéric Chain’s brilliant book, Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed. The publication embraces the ‘no school’ architecture of the Soviet Union, a radical style of impulsiveness that was almost reactionary to the decaying socialist republic. Tired and devoid of anything that resembles luxury, the sanatorium continues to welcome guests and might well represent the height of niche architectural tourism — there are few more surreal constructions that can be inhabited.
Yalta’s space-age sanatorium might be peak outlandish, but this part of the world is rife with architectural oddities, the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia peppered with against-the-grain design. Belgrade’s Hotel Jugoslavija followed the Bauhaus’s minimalist modernism; Yekaterinburg’s Iset Hotel is a noted example of Russian-born constructivism; Slobodan Miličević’s brutal behemoth, Hotel Croatia, dramatically hugs a rocky section of the Adriatic Coast in Cavtat; and back in the Serbian capital, Yugodom is a stay-museum dedicated to the mid-century modernism of former Yugoslavia.
The oddities aren’t all out East — built at the tail-end of the 1960s, Ricardo Bofill’s La Muralla Roja (just outside Alicante) symbolises one of the key determiners in this story: that of Instagram influencers’ insatiable appetite for a new backdrop. The casbah-inspired housing project cum fortress is a labyrinth of red and pink hues, and Airbnb has allowed its impenetrable walls to be scaled. Equally, an apartment in the Barcelona-based designer’s staggering 1975 project Walden 7 — located in a suburb of the Catalan capital — can be yours for the night, whereas those in search of luxury can bed down at one of Bofill’s future icons, W Barcelona.
An example of the high-tech architecture style, the designer’s unmistakable, 324-foot hotel is symbolic of the sort of building that might find itself on the pages of a niche map in 50 years’ time. Put it in the same bracket as another five-star hotel in the city, Chicago-based firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s 1994 Hotel Arts, or with the leafy windows and towering gardens of Jean Nouvel’s Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel; if it’s branded as ugly now, bear in mind a cultural volte-face in decades to come. Get ahead of the game, and appreciate their architectural vision ahead of the crowd.
To that extent, expect to see studious design devotees in awe of Ma Yansong’s ludicrously brilliant ‘donut hotel’, the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort; OMA’s stacked skyscraper planned for Nhow Amsterdam; or Kengo Kuma & Associates’ potential plant-covered 1 Hotel for Paris. Architecture, by its very nature, is an art in flux, and it takes brave developers to commission bold works that will challenge cultural norms and inspire future generations of architecture tourists.
From Le Corbusier to cosmic communist constructions, this current passionate appreciation of off-centre architectural vision should be noted by those developers — let’s not forget that for every bonkers bit of futurist design, or every bit of life breathed back into ageing ‘concrete carbuncles’, there are hundreds of unsympathetic renovations and characterless steel and glass monstrosities. That maps celebrating brutalism and modernist architecture are flying off the shelves should be carefully observed — there is an appetite for design authenticity, weirdness is embraced. The time has come to stop playing it safe.