Discrimination at the Bauhaus? Panel Discussion at the Copenhagen Architecture Festival

On the centennial celebration of the founding of the Bauhaus, an important influence on defining the Modern movement, a panel discussion at the Copenhagen Architecture Festival looked critically at the history from a gender perspective. Organizer Pernille Maria Bärnheim wove together a diverse panel including an Architectural Historian, Gender Studies expert and Professor Emerita and practicing architects and advocates. Architect Dorte Mandrup, cultural historian Birgitte Possing, Bauhaus expert Anja Baumhoff (co-author of Mythos Bauhaus) and Lone Feifer served as moderator.


Baumhoff painted a picture far different from the Bauhaus reputation and what we think about the Movement. Founder of the Bauhaus Walter Gropius served as first Director (1919-1928). He wouldn’t allow women to study Architecture. Many had tried, yet they were sent to the weaving room. He reportedly said women couldn’t think three-dimensionally (Coming from a man who couldn’t draw a line, Gropius seems to have confidence issues). One woman got a doctor’s note saying that weaving made her sick, and this rebel designer was able to do interior architecture and design nursery interiors. Baumhoff’s research is important, as it raises the question of whether if they knew it was wrong, what did they do to try to make corrective measures. From archival research, there’s evidence of “genderwashing” — efforts to cover up any evidence of outright gender discrimination–because remember – Bauhaus is supposed to be avant-garde, progressive, visionary. In the end, according to article by Charlotte Luxford on Women in the Bauhaus, only 11 female students managed to override the school’s policy to do architecture or metalwork.


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L to R: Dorte Mandrup, Birgitte Possing, Anja Baumhoff, Caroline James Image Credit: Kvindelig Platform

Co-founder of VOW Caroline James spoke about her background as an advocate-designer, beginning from the Pritzker Petition to Recognize Denise Scott Brown as Equal Partner in 2013, to co-producing two “Flash Mobs for Architecture” in 2018 in Venice Italy an New York. The Flash Mob is a “spontaneous gathering” of hundreds of architects and supporters to demand respect, equality, equity and inclusion in Architecture.

It’s evident how at 100th birthday of the Bauhaus, there will be need to the movement not just on a pedestal but also under a microscope to calibrate how the Movement measures up in relation to freedom, equality and discrimination. I wonder to what extent the frustration arises from how it’s difficult to tease out what’s smoke and mirrors.

About the Event: 

Bauhaus: Freedom, Equality and Discrimination
Roundtable discussion as part of the Copenhagen Architecture Festival
April 9, 2019, 17:00 – 19:00
Politkens Forhal
In collaboration with @copenhagenarchitecturefestival  and @goetheinstitut_daenemark

Lone Feifer, our moderator (DK): Architect, Director of Sustainability and Architecture at the Velux Foundation, member of the Danish Design Council, committee member of the Danish Association of Architects, board member of The Danish Architectural Press, board member of Forskønnelsen.

Anja Baumhoff (D): Social Historian specialised in Arts and Design history with a particular focus on Bauhaus and the modern. Author of ‘The Gendered World of the Bauhaus’ (2001), co-author of ‘Mythos Bauhaus’ (2009), and in May 2019 her new book ‘Der Neue Mann und das Bauhaus. Männlichkeitskonzepte in der klassischen moderne’ will be published. Professor at Hochschule Hannover – University of applied Sciences and Arts, also lecturer at a number of other institutions.

Birgitte Possing (DK): Professor emerita, dr.phil. in history and anthropology, author of ‘Argumenter imod kvinder’ (2018) amongst others, has held research and directorial positions at several cultural institutions.

Caroline James (US): Architectural designer, co-founder of Voices of Women in Architecture, author of several articles on architecture, equality, participatory design, and more.

Dorte Mandrup (DK): Architect, Founder and Creative Director of Dorte Mandrup Architects, Chair of the Jury of the EU Mies van der Rohe Prize 2019, Vice Chair of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Adjunct Professor at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, frequently invited as international Visiting Professor.

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