Words by Nick Jones
Torten Estate, Dessau / Walter Gropius and Hannes Meyer / 1926-28
Gropius had been working on the concept of a “Hausbaufabrik” (home building factory) since 1916, in response to the stagnation of building activity during the First World War and the consequent lack of affordable housing for workers. The Torten Estate of 314 cube-like terraced houses, commissioned by the municipality of Dessau, was his first opportunity to put this theory into practice. With the German economy in perpetual crisis, the need to build cheaply was paramount. The loadbearing walls were made of prefabricated and inexpensive hollow slag-concrete blocks; the ceilings with Gropius’ Rapidbalken system of reinforced concrete joists. All of the structural components were prefabricated on site and craned into position. However, almost as soon as the houses were finished, a number of construction defects became evident, and residents quickly set about making their own alterations.