Sep 12, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
If you love modern lines, the shine of chrome, or the beauty of primary colors then you have The Bauhaus to thank. While this German school only lasted for about fifteen years, its impact is still felt today – over eight decades later. As we walk through its major historical events, ask yourself – what would design be like if The Bauhaus had never been formed or if the Nazi regime didn’t shut it down?
The Bauhaus | Beginnings
Established in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, the school was founded on the idea that art and craft could be unified. Citing influences such as John Ruskin and William Morris, its revolutionary teaching approach connected students with their craft via workshops and teachers from a diverse background. The original site in Weimar flourished under the the liberal republic that followed the end of the first World War. Also known as the International Style, its lack of ornamentation, simple forms, rational geometries, and support of mass production revolutionized design. Fun fact – even though they strove to harmonize all the forms of expression, architecture wasn’t offered until 1927.
The workshops provided a lot of the financial funding for the school’s work. The cabinetmaking and textile workshops were two of the most popular options. By 1923 the varied approach was proving financially difficult. To sustain the program it fully embraced mass production and adapted the slogan “art into industry.” A mere two years later the entire school moved to Dessau, with Gropius designing the new building. This landmark structure incorporated a lot of the features The Bauhaus promoted: steel frame construction, glass curtain walls, and efficient floor plans. In this new space, the workshops were able to evolve to higher levels.
The Bauhaus | Dessau
Marcel Breuer ran the groundbreaking cabinetmaking workshop from 1924-1928. Under his guidance, the very concept of furniture was being re-examined. When you appreciate the gentle ergonomics of a chair, you can trace its design roots back to Breuer’s efforts.
The textile workshop run by Gunta Stölzl experimented with abstract patterns and nontraditional materials like plastics, cellophane, and metals. Speaking of metals, the sculptural forms forged in the metalworking workshop captured the industrial shapes desired by this new style. But this approach wasn’t just reflected in the three dimensional form, but also with typography. Sans serif and the incorporation of photography into graphic design were first explored at the studios in Dessau.
The Bauhaus | Post-Gropius
In 1928 Gropius stepped down as the director and was followed by another architect, Hannes Meyer. Meyer continued much of Gropius’ work but placed more emphasis on art for the public good. However, due to political pressures, soon the school had another leader. Only two years later, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe assumed leadership of the program. It was under his tutelage that architecture played a more central role for The Bauhaus.
The school made its final move, to Berlin, that same year. The program reduced its scale, closing its doors in 1933. During WWII many of these amazing teachers and designers relocated to the United States. For Marcel Breuer and visual artist Joseph Albers that meant Yale, for Gropius it was Harvard, and for Moholy-Nagy it was Chicago and a New Bauhaus. Despite the school’s relatively short life, its legacy has only strengthened with time.
For our readers: What do you think of The Bauhaus’ teaching style? Do you think art should strive for unification?