The Bauhaus, a German school established from 1919 to 1933 in Weimar, revolutionized modern aesthetics in architecture and design. It set a new standard by integrating arts, craftsmanship, and industrial production. The school fostered a harmonious community of makers, devoid of class distinctions and arrogance, where artists and artisans collaborated seamlessly. Its innovative design approach and emphasis on the art-technology relationship were pivotal to its success. Bridging the gap between artists and artisans, the Bauhaus produced a new breed of designers proficient in both technical aspects of production and design aesthetics. Its enduring impact on design is evident in modernist design’s simplicity, functionality, and efficiency.
The Birth of Bauhaus
The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 after the local Academy of Fine Arts and the School for Applied Arts merged in Weimar, Germany. Walter Gropius, the founding father of Bauhaus, had a visionary idea to unify different art disciplines, including applied arts and craftsmanship, under one roof. The goal was to improve industrial production quality and establish a cohesive language among students. This concept revolutionized the art education and design world and continues to inspire creatives today. The Bauhaus school moved to different cities in Germany, producing some of the most influential designers and artists of the 20th century. Despite its short lifespan, the Bauhaus legacy continues to shape modern design and architecture.
The Revolutionary Curriculum
The Vorkurs, a preparatory course at the Bauhaus, was conceptualized and curated by the distinguished artist Johannes Itten. The comprehensive study program introduced students to a cross-disciplinary framework encompassing painting, sculpture, textile and metal design, furniture, and graphic design workshops. The teaching staff included some of the most celebrated artists of the time, such as Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, and Vassily Kandinsky, who brought their varied experiences and perspectives to the curriculum. It is truly remarkable how this blend of expertise and innovation shaped the essence of Bauhaus design, revolutionizing the world of art and design forever.
The Evolution of Bauhaus Practices
The practices adopted by Bauhaus were significantly influenced by various art movements such as German Expressionism, Deutscher Werkbund, New Objectivity, and Neoplasticism. The initial focus of the approach was on mystical arts, craftsmanship, and student self-reflection. However, when Lászlò Moholy-Nagy took over from Itten, a new aesthetic became more focused on essentialism and closer to Constructivism and New Objectivity. The school started experimenting with self-supporting structures. Joseph Albers led the way towards mass production, resulting in a significant shift in their approach, which proved to be highly innovative and successful.
Iconic Contributions to Bauhaus Design
The elements of the Bauhaus style began to take shape between 1926 and the early 1930s. One of the most iconic contributions to this movement was the typeface designed by graphic designer Herbert Bayer, which notably lacked capital letters. Meanwhile, Marcel Breuer’s furniture design workshop experimented using metallic tubular structures for chairs and tables. This was a groundbreaking concept that challenged conventional furniture design at the time. These developments marked a significant departure from traditional design principles and laid the foundation for the innovative and influential Bauhaus style.
A New Chapter in Architecture
During the early 20th century, the Bauhaus School of Art, design, and Architecture conducted extensive research in the field of architecture. One of the notable aspects of this research was the exploration of evolutions and contrasts in architectural design. For instance, the Sommerfeld house, designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer in 1922, featured a unique construction method that utilized stacked wooden logs, a departure from traditional building materials. On the other hand, the experimental house by Muche and Meyer, created for the first Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, was characterized by its minimal and mechanized design.
In addition to these projects, the Bauhaus undertook the Serienhäuser concept and later used it to build the teachers’ houses in Dessau in 1926. Walter Gropius developed this concept, which involved building standardized houses that manufacturers could produce at scale. This approach made homes more affordable and accessible to the general public.
Another significant project from the Bauhaus research was Gropius’ study of a total theater, or Totaltheater, created in 1927. This project aimed to develop a fully integrated theater experience incorporating various art forms, such as music, dance, and visual arts, into a single immersive performance. Overall, Bauhaus approached architecture research with an innovative and forward-thinking mindset, which set the foundation for the development of modern architectural design.
The Shift to Dessau
Political pressure forced the Bauhaus School of Art and Design to relocate from Weimar to Dessau in 1925. The move was a turning point for the school, allowing its founder, Walter Gropius, to design a new building that became an icon of modernist architecture. The new building, completed in 1926, was a large, glass-walled structure that housed innovative workshops for students to explore new techniques and materials. The increased space and resources led to a surge in production, with students and faculty embracing a new era of creativity and experimentation. Two years later, in 1927, the Architecture section was established at Bauhaus under the direction of Hannes Meyer. This new section focused on designing buildings and structures that were functional, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing, reflecting the principles of the Bauhaus movement as a whole.
The Focus on Social Values
Following Gropius’s resignation from Bauhaus in 1928, his successor, Meyer, shifted the school’s focus toward social values of production rather than aesthetics. During this phase of Bauhaus, architecture was referred to as “construction,” and fields such as ergonomics, economics, and building technology gained significant importance. This emphasis on social values of production reflected a broader societal shift towards improving living conditions through modern technological advancements. Under Meyer’s leadership, Bauhaus became a vital contributor to this movement.
The End and Legacy of Bauhaus
The Bauhaus Dessau, a school of art and design in Germany, had to close down in 1932 due to political pressure. Despite this setback, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, an architect and former director of the Bauhaus, started a privately run Bauhaus in Berlin the same year. However, by 1933, this institution also faced closure. Despite these challenges, the influence of the Bauhaus had already spread globally, and its legacy continued through various experiences.
In 1937, Lászlò Moholy-Nagy, a former Bauhaus instructor, founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago, later becoming the Institute of Design of IIT. This institution carried on the Bauhaus tradition of combining art and technology.
Another evolution of the Bauhaus has been the School of Ulm, also known as the Hochschule für Gestaltung, founded in 1953 under the direction of Max Bill. Later, Tomás Maldonado took over as director. The School of Ulm also emphasized the integration of art and technology, and its impact revolutionized various fields, including graphic design and product design.
Many designers have contributed to the Bauhaus movement. The most notable are:
Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-born architect and designer, revolutionized the field with his innovative designs. He joined the Bauhaus in the 1920s. He gained recognition for his works in Germany, including the German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition. In the late 1930s, he immigrated to the United States, creating iconic Modernist structures such as the Lake Shore Drive Apartments and the Seagram Building. A sleek and functional aesthetic characterized Mies’s designs. He passed away in 1969, leaving behind a lasting architectural legacy.
Marcel Breuer was a highly influential Hungarian architect and designer known for his contributions to the Bauhaus and modernist movements. He revolutionized furniture design by incorporating tubular steel and novel materials, and his architectural prowess extended to projects such as the Bauhaus interiors and residential buildings in Germany, Zurich, and Sussex. Breuer emigrated to England and later joined Harvard University as a professor of architecture. His remarkable achievements include the design of the UNESCO Headquarters and a visionary house in Glanville. Marcel Breuer’s legacy continues to inspire and shape the built environment.
Marianne Brandt (1893-1983) was a versatile German artist known for her contributions to painting, sculpture, photography, metalsmithing, and design. Educated at the prestigious Bauhaus art school, she became the head of the Bauhaus Metall-Werkstatt (Metal Workshop) in Dessau. Brandt’s timeless designs for household objects and her pioneering work in the realm of photomontages established her as a prominent figure in modern industrial design. Despite facing gender bias, she excelled in the male-dominated Bauhaus metal workshop and played a crucial role in securing collaborations with the industry. After leaving Bauhaus, Brandt continued her career in Berlin and East Germany. People highly regard her designs, and her legacy in art and design continues to influence the industry.
Christian Dell was a renowned German silversmith known for his exceptional craftsmanship. He honed his skills at prestigious academies and served as the foreman of the metal workshop at Bauhaus. Despite offers to work in the United States, Dell chose to remain in Germany and dedicated himself to creating exquisite silver goods. He established a successful jewelry shop and left a legacy of extraordinary artistry. Dell also displayed his visionary design skills by creating lighting sketches and pushing the boundaries of innovation. His collaboration with the lamp factory Gebr. Kaiser & Co. resulted in the production of exceptional lamps, now owned by Fritz Hansen.
Lilly Reich was a renowned German designer who significantly contributed to textiles, furniture, interiors, and exhibition spaces. She played a crucial role in the early Modern Movement, particularly during her collaboration with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Reich’s designs were known for their clean and functional aesthetic, incorporating elements of modernism and innovative materials. She also emphasized the importance of ergonomics in her designs. Despite her short-lived tenure at the Bauhaus due to its closure by the Nazis, Reich’s legacy as a pioneering designer and exhibition organizer remains significant.
Mart Stam, a prominent figure associated with the Bauhaus movement, significantly impacted modern architecture, urban planning, and design. Despite never formally teaching at the Bauhaus school, his influence remains noteworthy. Stam co-founded the influential magazine “ABC” and contributed to the design of the iconic Van Nelle factory. His potential appointment as the director of the Bauhaus and his innovative cantilever chair sparked debates and inspired other designers. Stam also participated in the Weissenhof Exhibition and contributed to urban planning in the Soviet Union. He later focused on teaching upon his return to the Netherlands.
The Bauhaus was a groundbreaking school of art and design that operated from 1919 to 1933 in Germany. Walter Gropius founded it to bring together fine arts and crafts to create a new kind of visual expression. The Bauhaus was more than just a design school; it was a movement that revolutionized architecture and design by emphasizing the importance of functionality, simplicity, and mass production. Its legacy continues to inspire and influence modern aesthetics, from furniture and product design to graphic design and architecture. The Bauhaus is known for its influential approach to design, which prioritizes using modern materials and techniques to create beautiful and functional objects. So, the next time you admire a piece of modern design, remember the Bauhaus and its impact on the design world. It’s truly amazing how one school can shape design history.