A couple of years after having lost Peterschule contest and almost simultaneously with his appointment as Director of Bauhaus, Hannes Meyer took part in a contest invited to build the German Trade Union School in Bernau. Among the five invited teams were (besides Meyer-Wittwer) Max Taut , Max Berg, Aloys Klement and Willy Ludewig. The jury was first-class: Heinrich Tessenow, Adolf Behne and Martin Wagner.
The program requested spaces for a series of very different activities in terms of order and size: rooms for students, dining rooms, classrooms, workshops, gym, pool and others. There was no demand of representation and the project had to be developed in a large land with a slight slope, surrounded by firs and a lake in the middle.
Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer proposal was surprising because, unlike their competitors' presentatins, it did not try to force spaces to get a unique character (which eventually was unnecessary, whether for the subject as well as for the location) and concentrated (according to the memo submitted at the contest) on showing how a community was organized more than a set of buildings, apart from developing a new worry for the operation of the building as an entity. As a consequence, they developed diagrams and sketches showing the thermal efficiency of their proposal (event though a contemporary specialist may criticize the perimetry excess).
The layout of the building set is highly innovative (fig. 1). The simplicity through which the different bodies comprising the program develop into ground - choosing for each the most efficient manner enabling an optimal relationship with the surroundings, as well as the circulation binding them (fig. 2). It is also surprising the appropriateness whereby a different building technique is chosen for each body: metallic structure for street-corridor, concrete and glass gate for dining-room, gym and pool, simple trilithic structure of concrete and brick for bedrooms. The building is developed in a slight slope of land with no impositions, the geometry used to organize the set enables the building go up and down without imposing a typical order to the site (figs. 3 and 4). Resolution of details is also highly pertinent: a very simple treatment, showing facilities and structures, typical in that time of manufacturing facilities than teaching institutions. The grace used to solve constructive details such as windows in stairs or dining-room, are still surprising. Figs. 5 and 6).
The building character varies according to the different bodies in which it is articulated: heavy factory of bricks in bedrooms, light and clear metallic structure in street-corridor (fig. 7), big concrete structure in social spaces (gym, pool and dining-room) (fig. 8). Each sector finds its tone and all spaces show a relation of its own with the surroundings, as the plant organization as a whole enables each section to establish a particular relationship, whether with the forest, the lake, or both.
The building is also surprising as a clear example of Neo-Brutalist avant la letre. When we verify that it was built 20 years before Hunstanton School (considered the initial work of the movement, built by Peter and Alison Smithson between 1948 and 1954) it is surprising to see the void reference to it from Neo-Brutalists, taking into consideration how interested they were to find background information for their proposals. Meyer-Wittwer work complies with all principles of the Neo-Brutalist movement: ground legibility, clear exhibition of structure and valuation of material for inherent qualities used as found. Even Meyer-Wittwer use the material that would turn into a fetish among Neo-Brutalists: exposed concrete. But even more notably, the project memory submitted to the contest (that showed its concern to build a community before a building) seemed to advance the words that would later be used by Peter and Alison Smithson in the Neo-Brutalist movement presentation in the pages of Architectural Design in 1955: “We consider architecture the direct result of a way of living”.
Because if one of Neo-Brutalists aspirations was to understand something of calda vita of the traditional streets in popular neighborhoods in their projects (using it even in heights in housing sets), what other thing did Meyer-Wittwer do with the corridor joining the set of the project? Even the sensitivity for the type of gross and manufacturing work detail is also an advancement of what Neo-Brutalism would take on over and over. And if the highest aspiration of Neo-Brutalists was to “reach emotional relationships with gross material” , Hannes-Wittwer work does not seem to have any other accomplishment: the adjustment employed to join concrete, steel, glass, and brick structures of manufacturing units, in perfect harmony with the fir forest and the lake. A 1928 work had reached the ideal that was so difficult to find among the works of a movement born a quarter of a century afterwards, which not only would dominate the scene the following 25 years, but also today we find that some of its aspirations are considered by many people as a sine qua non condition of good architecture, acting almost as fetish of these times. Because a part of the Neo-Brutalist aesthetic (because we do not believe that we aspire to its ethic, particularly if we share Reyner Banham doubt) is currently followed by many who ignore that they follow a tradition commenced by Meyer-Wittwer work: in 1928, Le Corbusier still had not started to use gross material, a practice that Neo-Brutalists would take as conscious inspiration.
Meyer-Wittwer school never had the recognition it deserved, not only because of the blindness of theorists and historians (although if we follow Arnold Schönberg words in his discussion with Mann and Adorno, we should never expect it), but because its history was as tragic as the history of European 20th Century. Three years after its inauguration, it was confiscated by Nazi Government which used it as SS training facility. After the war, it was used by the today extinct German Democratic Republic for secret use, and after the German reunification it reappeared (not without a timely stopped intention of demolition) and today we can aspire to find a fair valuation to its historical and architectural values.