DESSAU, Germany -- Sandra Scheer looked up at the blue sky and smiled.
''I'm so glad it's a sunny day. This is nice-weather architecture," she said as she gestured at the play of light and shadow on the geometric forms of the Bauhaus Building.
I wasn't sure that Walter Gropius, who founded the Bauhaus school of design in 1919 and later served as chairman of Harvard University's architecture department, considered atmospheric conditions when he designed his masterwork. But Scheer, a student in the postgraduate program in urban studies offered by the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, made her point. The sunlight reflecting off Gropius's signature walls of glass made the buildings stand out.
One of the earliest and most radical colleges of art and design, the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1925. Gropius (1883-1969) designed the campus as a working showcase for his theories about how art, design, and technology could work together to herald a new postwar sensibility.
As the storm clouds of a second world war gathered in Germany, Gropius left the Bauhaus in 1928 and returned to Berlin and private practice. In 1934 he emigrated to Britain, and in 1937 to the United States and Harvard. The Nazi regime closed the Bauhaus in 1933, yet the diaspora of its faculty and students guaranteed that Bauhaus ideas would influence design and architecture around the world for decades to come. For those who want to go to the source, some of the most tangible achievements of the Bauhaus survive intact in Dessau.
''It's an icon of modern architecture," Scheer said of Gropius's compact campus. In 1994, the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation assumed stewardship of both the Bauhaus legacy and the Bauhaus buildings, which were damaged during the war, when they served as a school for women, a training facility for Nazi leaders, and even as an aircraft factory.
This year the foundation plans to complete a decade-long restoration of the buildings to the Bauhaus era and has started offering tours of the campus. Regularly scheduled guided tours are offered in German only, but an English language audio tour is available and allows visitors to proceed at their own pace.
Construction of Gropius's design was swift. Work began in September 1925 and the building was inaugurated in December 1926. The speed seems all the more remarkable, given the master's devotion to design details and his obsessive concern with how people would function in his space.
In the auditorium, for example, Gropius rejected conventional padded chairs in favor of sleek steel tube chairs with canvas seats and backs. Visitors can take a seat and confirm that the stripped-down design is comfortable enough to endure even the most long-winded lecture.
The adjoining cafeteria is another story. Long white tables are lined with utilitarian steel tube stools that have wooden seats and no backs. The stools are too low for the tables, making dining uncomfortable at best. Gropius wanted students to eat quickly and get back to work. Yet life at the Bauhaus was not without its comforts. One wing of the complex holds 28 dormitory rooms, each with a small sink in one corner and a wall of windows opening to a balcony. Each 215-square-foot room was the exclusive domain of a single student.
In a pine grove about a five-minute walk from campus, Gropius designed three two-family houses for the Bauhaus's most prestigious faculty members and a single-family home for himself. Bombs destroyed Gropius's home, but the Masters' Houses have survived and are open to the public after extensive renovation. Flat-roofed and angular, they sit side by side in a quiet neighborhood of more conventional homes.
Gropius constructed the houses of prefabricated cubes, added lots of windows, and rotated the separate living spaces by 90 degrees to guarantee some privacy.
In this hothouse of artistic talent, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky lived in adjoining halves of one of the duplexes. The design ensured that each artist could muse on his own upper-level terrace undistracted by the other.
Unlike Gropius's house in Lincoln, Mass., (which he built in 1938, lived in until his death in 1969, and which is now owned by Historic New England), the Masters' Houses do not contain the former occupants' furnishings. But Gropius's practical nature is evident in the built-in cupboards in the kitchen and dining room. On the upper floor, more cabinets separate the large, light-filled studio spaces from the modest bedrooms, which seem almost an afterthought.
Some tantalizing hints remain of how those masters lived in -- and personalized -- these small landmarks of modern design. Klee, for example, experimented with seven color schemes, the last of which featured soothing contrasts in gold, brown, light green, gray, and light blue. Kandinsky covered one wall of his living room with gold leaf.
The Dessau years were productive for Gropius. In addition to the school and Masters' Houses, he also designed an office building near the city center (first used as an employment office, now the municipal traffic department) and an affordable housing complex that remains largely privately owned.
Architect Carl Fieger, who worked with Gropius, designed the Kornhaus, a restaurant and pub that opened in 1930. The long, low building with a semicircular wall of glass was restored in 1996. The inside feels like a spacious, glassed-in balcony, but on a sunny day, most diners gravitate to the outside deck overlooking the Elbe River.
Between courses of onion soup, bratwurst, and sauerkraut, and apple strudel with vanilla ice cream, many of them sit reading glossy books on design and architecture. What better place to contemplate the Bauhaus legacy and appreciate firsthand the harmony of form and function?
Contact Patricia Harris, a freelance writer in Cambridge, at email@example.com.