Dessau-Törten Housing Estate
Dessau-Törten Housing Estate

During the Weimar Republic, there was a severe lack of affordable housing. In order to solve this problem, the city of Dessau commissioned the construction of the Törten Estate within the framework of the “Reichsheimstättengesetz (Reich Home Law)”. For the Bauhaus, which moved to Dessau in 1925, the estate served as a prototype for low-cost mass housing.

Industrial production

“The new aim, on the other hand, would be the manufacture by mass production methods of stock dwellings, which would no longer have to be produced at the building site but by special factories producing individual parts ready for assembly” and these “could then be put together to create several different types of houses […].” (Walter Gropius, 1924)

The Dessau-Törten Housing Estate, built in three construction phases, comprised 314 terraced houses with living spaces ranging from 57 to 75 square metres. Each of the houses had a kitchen garden with an area of 350 to 400 square metres. This meant that the inhabitants could be self-sufficient by cultivating fruit and vegetables or keeping small animals.

The houses were constructed following the requirements of low-cost building. The Walter Gropius office planned the estate on a site that consisted mainly of sand and gravel. This was useful for the concrete construction method, and helped to save transport costs. The construction site itself was organised on the principle of industrial piecework. Specialised working groups built several houses at the same time in one construction phase. Building components were manufactured on site, transported on a small train, and moved to the correct position using cranes. Load-bearing walls were built using prefabricated hollow slag concrete blocks, and the ceilings were made from reinforced concrete beams. Only 45 minutes were needed to assemble the ceiling of a room.

Cost-effective solutions

In three construction phases, three different basic house types were built, referred to as SieTö I, SieTö II, and SieTö IV; SieTö III was never realised. The house types differ in ground plan, elevation, construction, and furnishings. The pale-coloured cubes were assembled into semi-detached houses, in groups of four to twelve units. They were structured by means of vertical and horizontal window strips. The interior of the houses always featured a light colour scheme. In one out of two prototype apartments, Bauhaus furniture, for example by Marcel Breuer, was installed as a furnishing suggestion. However, this proved too expensive because the Dessau-Törten estate was primarily intended to provide low-cost accommodation. This goal, however, was not achieved until the advent of Hannes Meyer’s Houses with Balcony Access.


Little of the original unity of the estate remains today. This is not only due to planning and construction defects, but also to the fact that today’s living concepts differ from those at the time of the estate’s construction. The lack of sound insulation, inadequate heat insulation, and problems with condensation, building conversions were carried out shortly after Gropius’ departure from Dessau. Some houses were given an additional brick façade, steel windows were replaced by smaller wooden windows, and canopies were installed over the entrances. Over time, the dry toilets were replaced, and the housing technology and installations were modernised. Garages and extensions were added to many of the houses. In 1977, the estate was classified as a historical monument. Following a further wave of modernisations in 1990, the preservation and design statute of the city of Dessau came into force in 1994. It stipulated, among other things, an adherence to the reduced colour scheme envisaged by Gropius.

Historical substance

From the early 1990s, some of the houses were restored to their original condition. The Anton House and the Mittelring 38 House, which is now used by the Moses Mendelssohn Society, can be visited as part of a guided tour. Since 1994, the preservation and design statute ensures that any construction measures are carried out in line with the historical substance.

When the estate was built it also incorporated a centrally located high-voltage pylon and a pump house for sewage disposal. At the time these infrastructural facilities were visible signs of progress.

A permanent exhibition on show in Walter Gropius’ Konsum Building built in 1928 provides information about the idea, the vision, the construction history, and the inhabitants of the Törten estate. This exhibition was funded by the Friends of the Bauhaus Association.