Built between 1926-28 the flats were built under the premise of ‘light, Air and Sun’. It was the intention to build affordable houses for the masses due to a shortage of homes following WWII. Designing a prototype of modern living, Gropius created the Torten Estate with the dictum ‘People’s needs instead of luxury needs’.
The settlement was located in the south of Dessau and was a model example of building rationalisation. It was an experiment in response to the deteriorating living conditions of the time, commissioned by the municipality of Dessau, the Torten Estate was conceived within a framework of the State Home Law, which meant that people owned their own homes. With this suburban estate project the Bauhaus found a practical solution to construct cost efficient homes.
Gropius designed an estate of terrace houses with kitchen gardens, measuring 350 to 400 m2 allowing the growth of vegetables and small-scale animal husbandry to support self-sufficiency.
There was three phases of construction, comprising of 314 terrace houses built in different variants of 57, 70 and 74 square metres. The houses were grouped in four to twelve units with the facades separated by vertical and horizontal rows of windows. Standardisation and cost efficient work routines were employed, but the owner residents were indifferent to the Bauhaus Movement and critised the construction defects which caused the overall building cost to rise.
A comprehensive trial was set up in 1927 by the Reichsforschungsgesellschaft für Wirtschaftlichkeit im Bau- und Wohnungswesen (Imperial Research Society for Economic Efficiency in Building and Housing), to provide information on the rational manufacture of residential housing, thus allowing different variants of the house types to be built. New building materials and industrial products were used, and the building site was organised so that several houses could always be built simultaneously, by specialised work forces, during one phase of construction. The structural precast concrete joists were prefabricated on- site and transported via small wagons and moved by crane.
Back-to-back cubes formed the semidetached houses, which were groups of four to twelve units, the load bearing walls are made of prefabricated and inexpensive hollow slag-concrete blocks and the ceilings with reinforced concrete joists. Not long after project completion, defects in design and construction became apparent and residents and owners soon made numerous alterations to deal with the problems. The first changes, chiefly to reposition too-high windows, were carried out in 1934. Today therefore, little of the original consistency of the estate remains.
The house at Mittelring 38 was the first to be restored to its original condition in 1992. Today, it is used by the Moses Mendelssohn Society, and is open to the public, as is the house at Kleinring 5, which is currently a B&B, it’s called the Torten Bed and Breakfast and has the original windows and has even been restored to the original interior colours. A maintenance and design policy for the protection of the appearance of the estate and its houses has existed since 1994, aiming to bring the building measures into alignment with the historical importance.
The Bauhaus Foundation owns one of the only houses in the estate to have been preserved in close to its original condition. It belonged to an elderly lady who had been one of the first people to move in during the 1920s. With little changed during her many years in the house, and many original features, including the kitchen with its stove and built-in tiled washtub, remaining, It is one of the only houses to have kept its stall in the garden, attached to the back of the house, which allowed the owner keep small animals such as hens and rabbits.
“She used it exactly as Gropius had planned,” said Markgraf. “One can really get a sense in this house of how people lived back then.”
The furniture designed specifically for the project in the Bauhaus workshops found no buyers.
BALCONY ACCESS HOUSES
The Balcony Access Houses formed the second phase of the Törten Estate and the Bauhaus’s department of architecture created a collaborative building project with three student study groups. The students took on the design and development planning of the estate – a mixed development of single-family and rental properties – under the direction of Hannes Meyer and other teachers in the architecture department such as Hans Wittwer and Ludwig Hilberseimer. However, Meyer and 12 students only built five Balcony Access Houses before his dismissal from the school. Each of the three-storey buildings, housed 18 flats, all with 2.5 rooms laid out within 47 square metres, complete with central heating and fitted kitchens and bathrooms. Access to the flats was by staircase towers linking balconies running along the north facade. The balconies that were planned for the south facade were not built due to lack of funds.
THE KONSUM BUILDING
The Konsum Building was designed by Walter Gropius and built in 1928, the building was commissioned for the Dessau Konsum consumers cooperative, and was erected as a landmark for the Dessau Torten Settlement. The housing estate was on the outskirts of Dessau so the building was built as a market place for its inhabitants. Comprising of a flat one-story section designated to a central grocery store, it was connected to a butcher’s shop and a bakery on either side by folding walls. The adjoining five-story block contained staff rooms and an apartment with three rooms, and two balconies on each of its levels with a communal area on the top floor housing a laundry room, drying-room and a roof terrace.
The five-story construction was executed as a reinforced concrete structure with brick masonry walls. All exterior elevations had whitewashed plaster and dark window frames, depicting the typical rectilinear forms required by Walter Gropius. The Konsum building remained undamaged throughout the war, and was restored in the 1990s. Today it is used as a central Info-point for the Törten Estate and hosts a permanent exhibition on the history of the settlement. The former co-op building is now home to the new information centre, which introduces these experimental buildings to visitors.