The Restoration of Residenzschloss and Bauhaus
I just spent three days in Dresden studying the rebuilding of the historic town core, including the city’s Residenzschloss (something of a hybrid of town hall and palace) with the famous treasury called the Green Vaults housed within it. This historic city was bombed severely at the end of World War II and all that survived of the Schloss was the foundation, some crumbling exterior walls, and towers and the vaults. Fortunately, before the attack, the contents of the vaults and were hidden out of the city for safekeeping. The shell of the Schloss was rebuilt and, five years ago, the vaults reopened with their remarkable contents of gold, silver gems, and other precious materials reinstalled.
After the bombs, with only the vaults remaining intact within the vast Schloss, the question arose of whether to rebuild a facsimile or replace the ruins entirely with a modern building. This choice had been weighed constantly at German sites since the war. What to do after a major loss has occurred to a city’s historic core? Which relates to the question that haunts so much of the psyche of Dresden and today’s Germany: how do you move on after so much loss?
In the end, the walls of the building were rebuilt with modern interiors that embrace some of the designs of the old rooms.
Most of us were taught the 20th-century modernist design philosophy that we should not build copies of buildings, but create modern originals that speak to our own times. This makes in a context that is evolving slowly, but, in practice, this precept is hard to follow when the entire town is literally gone.
On the way to Berlin, where I am now, we stopped at Dessau to see the famous building that housed the Bauhaus. The main building is almost completely rebuilt. During the Soviet era the famous screen of windows were bricked up when the building was converted to housing. Recently, the building has been restored along with the entire complex. The city’s design school is run there and the original dormitory rooms are rented to interested visitors.
Restoring the modernist Bauhaus building furthers the question of whether a damaged building should be restored rather than replaced. Of course, the earlier retrofitting of the building was a circumstance of the post-war era and, in a sense, its new restoration is a sort of recongealing after all that has passed: the radical damage of warfare, the Cold War era, and the fall of the Berlin wall.
Interestingly, during the visit we were reminded that all of the windows in the builiding are new. When the original window frames were removed, they were salvaged for local gardens where they were repurposed for greenhouses. In the 1990’s, one frame was salvaged and is now in another remodeled Bauhaus temple, the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Images from top: Dresden’s Residenzschloss in 1980 before restoration; a recent view after restoration; post restoration photos of the Bauhaus building, including the recently replaced windows.