Meyer was born in Basel, Switzerland, trained as a mason, and practiced as an architect in Switzerland, Belgium, and Germany, briefly serving as a department head at the Krupp Works in Essen from 1916 to 1918. In Zurich in 1923 he co-founded the architectural magazine 'ABC Beiträge zum Bauen' (Contributions on Building) with Hans Schmidt, Mart Stam, and the Supremist/Russian cultural ambassador, El Lissitzky.
Meyer's design philosophy is reflected in the following quote:
"1. sex life, 2. sleeping habits, 3. pets, 4. gardening, 5. personal hygiene, 6. weather protection, 7. hygiene in the home, 8. car maintenance, 9. cooking, 10. heating, 11. exposure to the sun, 12. services - these are the only motives when building a house. We examine the daily routine of everyone who lives in the house and this gives us the functional diagram - the functional diagram and the economic programme are the determining principles of the building project."(Meyer, 1928)
In 1926 Meyer established a firm with Hans Wittwer and produced his two most famous projects, for the Basel Petersschule (1926) and for the Geneva League of Nations Building (1926/1927). Both projects are strict, inventive, and rely on the new possibilities of structural steel. Neither was built. The Petersschule was designed to be a new primary school for girls, where the school itself would be raised as high above the ground as possible to allow for sunlight and fresh air.
Walter Gropius appointed Meyer head of the Bauhaus architecture department when it was finally established in April 1927. (Stam had been Gropius's first choice.) Meyer brought his radical functionalist viewpoint he named, in 1929, Die neue Baulehre (the new way to build), that architecture was an organizational task with no relationship to aesthetics, that buildings should be low cost and designed to fulfill social needs. Although he was fired for allegedly politicizing the school, scholars have shown that to be incorrect.
Meyer brought the two most significant building commissions for the school, both of which still stand: five apartment buildings in the city of Dessau called Laubenganghäuser Dessau which translates to 'Arcade Houses'. The apartments are considered to be 'real' Bauhaus buildings because they originated through the Bauhaus department of Architecture. The development bordered on an existing housing estate which was designed by Walter Gropius. The other major building commission was the headquarters of the Federal School of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (ADGB), a confederation of German trade unions, in Bernau. The school turned its first profit under his leadership in 1929. The Trade Union School’s purpose was to provide further education to administrators and leaders of the trade union movement on such topics as economics, management, labor law, and industrial hygiene. The school operated for only three years until the Nazis confiscated the building for use as an SS training facility during World War II.
After Gropius appointed Meyer to replace him as the school's director (1928-1930), Meyer continued with Gropius' innovations to focus on designing prototypes for serial mass production and functionalist architecture. In the increasingly dangerous political atmosphere of the Weimar Republic, Dessau's Mayor Hesse alleged that Meyer allowed a Communist student organization to gain traction and bring bad publicity to the school, threatening its survival. Mayor Hesse of Dessau fired him, with a monetary settlement, on August 1, 1930. Meyer's open letter in a left-wing newspaper two weeks later characterizes the Bauhaus as "Incestuous theories (blocking) all access to healthy, life-oriented design... As head of the Bauhaus, I fought the Bauhaus style".
In the fall of 1930, Meyer emigrated to the Soviet Union along with several former Bauhaus students. He taught at WASI, a Soviet academy for architecture and civil engineering. During his years in the Soviet Union, he acted as an advisor for urban projects at Giprogor (the Soviet Institute for Urban and Investment Development) and created plans related to aspects of the redevelopment of Moscow under the first five-year plan.
Outside of Moscow Meyer realised his ideas especially in the recently created Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the far east of the Soviet Union. Mayer realized not only the buildings (such as worker's dormitory, theatre etc.), and their internal design and furnishings, but also developed the urbanist project for the whole area's capital, the city of Birobidzhan.
In 1936 Meyer moved to Geneva for three years, then emigrated to Mexico City to work for the Mexican government as the director of the Instituto del Urbanismo y Planificación from 1939 through 1941. In 1942, he became the director of Estampa Mexicana, the publishing house of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (the Popular Graphic Arts Workshop).
Meyer returned to Switzerland in 1949, and died in 1954.
- Bauhaus, 1919-1933, by Magdalena Droste, Bauhaus-Archiv, page 248
- Theo Van Leeuwen, "Introducing Social Semiotics", Routledge, 2004, p.71
- Claude Schnaidt, Hannes Meyer: Buildings, projects, and writings (New York: Architecture Book Publishing, 1965).
- Hannes Mayer, "bauhaus und gesellschaft" (1929), cf. Wilma Ruth Albrecht: "Moderne Vergangenheit - Vergangene Moderne" (Neue Politische Literatur, 30  2, pp. 203-225, esp. pp. 210-214)
- Laubenganghäuser Dessau  on Architectuul
- ADGB Trade Union School  on Architectuul
- Richard A. Etlin editor, Art, culture, and media under the Third Reich, page 291, ISBN 0-226-22087-7 ISBN 978-0-226-22087-1
- Bauhaus, 1919-1933, by Magdalena Droste, Bauhaus-Archiv, page 199
- "Hannes Meyer and the Red Bauhaus-Brigade in the Soviet Union (1930-1937)". thecharnelhouse.org. Retrieved 2014-05-10.
- "The Leading Bray Book Site on the Net". braybooks.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
- Hays, K. Michael (1995), Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject: The Architecture of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer, The MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-58141-8
- Wingler, Hedwig (1978), Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, The MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-73047-2
- Schnaidt, Claude; Hannes Meyer, Dennis Quidell Stephenson (english version) (1965), Hannes Meyer : Bauten, Projekte und Schriften, London: Teufen; A. Niggli