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"Biohaus": The Bauhaus and the Biopolitics of Global Space


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, art historians and urban studies scholars have been pleading for a more nuanced analysis of the Bauhaus in order to divorce from the one-sided affirmative reading of the iconic German art school. Yet, within the prevailing heroic narrative that still dominates contemporary public discourse after the 100-year anniversary of the school, the Bauhaus is praised for its affordable as well as working class-oriented design and it is thus depicted as intrinsically antithetical to today’s neoliberal housing market and bourgeois planning practices. To complicate this somewhat lopsided account, this paper draws on Henri Lefebvre’s critique of functionalist architecture and Michel Foucault’s notion of biopower to examine the late Bauhaus through a biopolitical lens. It first presents the Törten working-class housing estate in Dessau, Germany to scrutinize how biopolitical socio-spatial practices crystalize in Bauhaus urban planning and architecture. The second part of the paper turns to the film screen to discuss how the Weimar-era narrative of bio-functional modernism materializes in Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy’s late 20s, early 30s filmic works on urban life, the so-called “city symphonies.” Considering the postwar afterlives of the Bauhäusler, the Conclusion places these findings in a broader historical perspective and reflects on the contemporary implications of a Foucauldo-Lefebvrian rereading of the Bauhaus. It is within this final contextualization that the paper inquires into the possibilities of people-centered urban dwelling in the age of biopower.

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