Last summer, Rei started what was meant to be a "small side project" to rekindle her intellectual curiosity, which turned into a very large construction project. Here are some of the learnings she picked up along the way!
As part of our research, Beverly and I toured Walter Gropius’s house, the founder of Bauhaus. We learned more about Gropius, the history of the Massachusetts arts and patronage community, why Gropius started the Bauhaus movement, and what it was all about.
Back in those days in Massachusetts, activists were bringing over artists and architects from Europe to come to Harvard and the surrounding areas to build up this art community.
I was really inspired by what they were doing there, and there have been been a lot of principles from the Bauhaus movement that I also see as tenets of community building:
Non-transactional community building
Walter Gropius ended up in Massachusetts because this really rich woman, Helen Starro had all this money and wanted to offer it to artists that she found inspiring to come to the U.S. and start the teaching here. So she invited Gropius and his family to Lincoln, Massachusetts, where she was living, and said “Here's my land, you can pick anywhere that you want and build a house.”
Gropius decided to take a part of her apple orchard to build the Gropius House, then started the idea of the visiting fellowship. She was his patron, and he paid it forward by inviting a lot of Germany’s Bauhaus artists and European artists to come through and visit. They created this amazing art, photography, architecture, community and none of it was transactional. It was all about fostering this movement.
Form follows function
I’m also drawn to the the Bauhaus principle of functional design, where aesthetics are not just for vanity's sake. In Bauhaus, everything is meant to be usable. When Gropius constructed the house, he was really thinking: how do I create something that is incredibly beautiful, but also that is accessible to the majority of the world? And what is that combination between form and function?
If you look at the way that he built his walls, he used cork, and he used sideboard that was typically use on the exterior of a house for the interior parts of the house, because those were readily available supplies that you could get at the time that would last a long time. They would provide insulation and good acoustics. He used medical grade cabinets for his kitchen, because they were also readily available and made out of steel and would be durable for a long time.
He thought about the flow of his home, making sure to really pay homage to the natural surroundings and creating an indoor outdoor continuous space, rather than disrupting nature by plopping a big mansion on the land.
I’m thinking about a lot of those principles, especially the ones around form and function. For myself, how do I help people create something that is beautiful but also like easily accessible and available to them?
On materials and landscape in construction
When we first started the project, I’d done some quick Google searches of what might work and I was thinking of building the whole thing using Aircrete, which is a version of concrete that's a bit more sustainable.
But then my partner said, “It's still concrete. Do you really want to use concrete for the main structure, when we live in a very natural habitat? That seems like not the right material choice.”
He pushed me to think about other more natural materials. So, now the house will be composed of more woods and stones. It’s evolved into a craftsman aesthetic that actually fits with our landscape. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a stark contrast to where we actually live, but I think it fits more into our neighborhood and our community.
Through that, I've also learned a lot about thinking through the landscape and the environment: what types of trees and vegetation and brushes to bring in for the house. We went to a native nursery and I got to learn all the different types of native plants from the volunteers there, and started thinking about how to incorporate that into our environment.
Even though we're building a Bauhaus Bao House, we're doing it in Los Angeles. So we want to pay respect to the environment that we're in, and incorporate as much of the native plants as possible.