Selman Selmanagić was a Bauhausler through and through. With his seating made of compressed wood veneer that featured more flexible armrests, he opened up new possibilities for seating comfort and design. Until his retirement in 1970 he taught the unity of art and technology and he sought to mould individual artists within a collective.
In 1929, Selman Selmanagić came to the Bauhaus in Dessau almost by accident. On a railway journey to Berlin, he met a German who warmly recommended the Bauhaus to him and gave him the address. After arriving in the capital, Selmanagić went to the Yugoslavian Consul, who supported his plan and gave him the letter of recommendation needed. After arriving at the Bauhaus, Selmanagić had to revise everything he had previously learned. Flourishes and wooden decoration, which he had learned as a carpenter and cabinet-maker, were regarded as unwelcome remnants of outmoded architectural styles.
Selmanagić studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau until 1932, graduating with Bauhaus Diploma no. 100. He remained at the Bauhaus, and moved to Berlin along with it in 1933. When the Bauhaus ultimately had to close its doors in 1933 due to the increased pressure of Nazi policies in Berlin, Selmanagić worked as a draughtsman in Walter Gropius’s architectural office until he decided to move abroad. In the following year, Selmanagić worked in Constantinople in the office of Halil Sejfi, who had studied with Hans Poelzig. With the money he earned, he then went on a kind of study trip that led him through Greece, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Italy. Like the architects of the modern period on their study trips, he concentrated on the early architecture of the Persians, Greeks and Egyptians, but he was equally interested in the development of the world religions in and around Jerusalem, where he finally settled as a freelance architect. He designed banks, furniture factories and residential buildings and fitted out the Café Tabor, which was frequented by emigrés from Germany.
Selmanagić finally returned to Germany in 1939. During the war, he joined the resistance movement in Germany. It now became difficult for him, as a Muslim, to find a professional footing in Berlin. Egon Eiermann dismissed him from his architectural office on the grounds that ‘new contracts exclude the employment of foreigners’ (employment testimonial from Egon Eiermann, addressed to Selman Selmanagić, 6 April 1939; Bauhaus Archive, Berlin). Up to 1941, Selmanagić worked in the building department at the UFA film studios, designing the construction and conversion of cinema buildings. Up to the end of the war, he did not design any more buildings and concentrated on film-set architecture, as a way of defending himself against the Nazis’ architectural style.
At the end of the war, a new city council was founded in Berlin, with the architect Hans Scharoun as city councillor responsible for architecture and housing. Scharoun appointed Selmanagić as head of the section for cultural and recreational sites – the two architects already knew each other from the Berlin resistance group, where they had made their first contacts with each other. In his new position, Selmanagić was responsible for the rebuilding of the Humboldt University and the design of the Walter Ulbricht Stadium (not preserved).
At the same time, Selmanagić also worked as an architect for exhibitions and trade fairs. His work was innovative, and he designed the first seats manufactured from compressed wood veneer. The material’s special qualities meant that armrests became flexible, opening up new possibilities in relation to comfort and design in seating.
In 1950, Mart Stam, Director of the Weissensee Art Academy and former master at the Bauhaus, appointed Selman Selmanagić as Professor of Architecture at the Berlin Art School. Stam was a single-minded follower of the Bauhaus tradition of producing industry-oriented design works. The extent to which his period at the Bauhaus had also been formative for Selmanagić can be seen from the study plan he drafted for the Weissensee Art Academy. Until his retirement in 1970, Selmanagic continued to work in accordance with the fundamental principles of the first Bauhaus manifesto: the unity of art and technology and the moulding of individual artists in a collective. In 1956, Selmanagić designed the annexe for the Art Academy at the former Trumpf Chocolate factory. The heart of the building, its auditorium, was reopened after renovation in February 2012
Letter by Walter Gropius to Selman Selmanagić, Cambridge, Mass., 8 August 1966, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.
Hain, Simone (2005): Gegen die Diktatur des Auges, in: form + zweck, No. 21, p. 79–99.
Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee, Schedule for the architecture department, copy at the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.
Kunsthochschule Berlin, Beiträge 10, Selman Selmanagić, Festgabe zum 80. Geburtstag am 25. April 1985.
Selmanagić, Selman (1979): Selman Selmanagić über das Bauhaus, Aufzeichnung eines Gesprächs, in: form + werk, No. 3, p. 67–68.
Report by Egon Eiermann to Selman Selmanagić, 6.4.1939, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.