It started as a school while promoting the concept of total work of art. Its principles spread throughout the world and today still influence designers. Read this interesting article in which we recall the history of Bauhaus, merging art and technology
The Bauhaus movement originated in Weimar on April 1, 1919 when the manifesto for a new school, the Weimar State Bauhaus, was announced on a pamphlet. The school was founded by German architect Walter Gropius as a merger of the Weimar Saxon Grand Ducal Art School and the Weimar Academy of Fine Art.
Gropius’ main objective was a radical concept: to reinterpret the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. He explained his vision of union of art and design in the Proclamation of the Bauhaus (1919), describing a school that combined architecture, sculpture and painting in a single creative expression.
The origins of the Bauhaus
Gropius developed a program of artisanal studies that would turn out artisans and designers capable of creating useful and beautiful objects, suitable for this new system of living. It was, in fact, favourable to a design teaching based on laboratories for both designers and craftsmen.
The 1919 Bauhaus program principles were based on Bruno Taut’s 1918 architectural program; Taut was convinced that the deep union of all disciplines in a new art of building would bring a new cultural unity:
Then there are no boundaries between arts and crafts and sculpture or painting, everything is one: building
In the revaluation of craftsmanship, the school is inspired by the nineteenth-century English Arts and Crafts movement that, in contrast to the rapid process of industrialization, intended to bring back an art capable of combining the functional purpose to the aesthetic value. The Bauhaus instead engages in the search for integration between the artistic product and the new social and productive reality.
The purpose of this new ideology is the need to put aside futility to bring out the essence of things.
During its initial phase, the school program covered all the various art disciplines.
The six-month preliminary course, which was preparatory to the following years, focused on experimentation with natural materials and abstract forms. Subsequently, students could access the three-year specialization courses on a specific artistic discipline and conclude the course with a training program in architecture and technology of mass production.
In their educational path, each student was followed by two teachers, a master craftsman and a master in theory.
Although Gropius’ initial aim was the unification of arts through craft, aspects of this approach proved financially unrealistic.
While maintaining the emphasis on craftsmanship, Gropius repositioned the objectives of the Bauhaus in 1923, highlighting the importance of design for mass production. The school adopted the slogan “Art into Industry” at this time.
History of the Bauhaus: the Dessau period
In 1925, the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau, where Gropius had designed the new building to host the school. The main building elements, that later became the manifesto of modernist architecture, consist in a steel frame construction, a glass curtain wall wrapping around the corners and an asymmetric pinwheel plan. Gropius designed the various sections of the building differently, consistently separating them according to function and to maximize efficiency.
The school building in Dessau become the Bauhaus architectural model and revolutionized the construction philosophy, where aesthetics is secondary to the use for which it is designed. According to the same philosophy, the architect’s job is to carefully analyze the functions of the building that will be key to design its shape.
This example of functional architecture features a double L-shape, in which no part is preponderant compared to the others. Classrooms, auditorium, laboratories, administrative offices and student accommodation are distributed throughout three wings connected by bridges.
Also, the building also does not have a main facade, but each side forms one of the different building facades.
Together with the structures, whose thicknesses are calculated in relation to the supporting forces, large expanses of glazing are the protagonists, due to the need to give light to the premises and, at the same time, not to conceal what happens within a school complex in a society where everything must be ‘transparent’.
The School encompasses different arts and professions dealing with photography, drawing, collage, publishing and even clothing.
Many ideas, prototypes and objects of common use have produced a series of unprecedented successes in the last eighty years. The furniture designed at the Bauhaus school is still considered among the classics of modern furniture: functional objects, with simple geometric shapes, destined to enter the homes of ordinary people adapting to their daily life.
The cabinet-making workshop was one of the most popular at the Bauhaus. Under the direction of Hungarian-born Marcel Breuer from 1924 to 1928, this study has reconverted the very essence of furniture, often trying to dematerialize conventional forms, such as chairs, to their minimal existence.
The textile workshop, directed by designer and weaver Gunta Stölzl, created abstract fabrics suitable for use in the Bauhaus environments. Students studied colour theory and design as well as technical aspects of weaving. At the same time, Stölzl encouraged experimentation with unorthodox materials, including cellophane, fiberglass and metal. The workshop fabrics, together with the architectural wall painting, adorned the interiors of the Bauhaus buildings, providing a polychrome but abstract visual interest in these rather severe spaces.
Metalworking was another famous workshop at the Bauhaus and, together with the carpentry workshop, it was the most successful in the development of design prototypes for mass production. Designers such as Marianne Brandt, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, and Christian Dell produced beautiful and modern objects such as lighting fixtures and tableware in this studio. Occasionally, these objects were used in the Bauhaus campus. Particularly, lighting fixtures designed in the metallurgical laboratory illuminated the Bauhaus building and some faculty quarters.
Brandt was the first woman to attend the metalworking studio and in 1928 replaced László Moholy-Nagy as director of the studio. Many of her designs became iconic expressions of the Bauhaus aesthetic. Her sculptural and geometric silver and ebony teapot, though never produced in series, reflects both the influence of her mentor, the Hungarian Moholy-Nagy, and the Bauhaus emphasis on industrial forms.
The typography workshop, although not initially a priority of the Bauhaus, also became increasingly important under Moholy-Nagy and graphic designer Herbert Bayer, greatly influencing the later graphics.
“Graphic design”, as intended today, did not exist before the advent of the Bauhaus. It was the Dessau school to redefine its meaning and to establish that it was not enough to simply fill in a page with images and texts, but, on the contrary, the arrangement of its layout played a central role in conveying the final message.
Typographic ideas of the Bauhaus, above all inspired by the work of Herbert Bayer, went even further. Some geometric, constructivist typefaces based on the design ideas of the Bauhaus served as visual symbol of this avant-garde institution and are still common use today, like ‘Futura’, Helvetica’ and the sans serif in general. Simultaneously, typography became connected to advertising photography.
In short, the Bauhaus has permanently shaped the design industry, encouraging its students to take into consideration psychological, linguistic, economic and visual aspects of what they had planned.
The ideals of the Bauhaus have not disappeared or been replaced by new movements. Some examples of its legacy can be found, for instance in the graphical interface of Windows 8, that, according to some research, was strongly inspired by the Bauhaus ideology.
In 1928 Gropius resigned as director of the Bauhaus and was succeeded by architect Hannes Meyer.
Meyer maintained the emphasis on mass design, eliminating parts of the program that he believed to be overly formalistic in nature. He emphasized the social function of architecture and design, fostering concern for the public good rather than private luxury. Advertising and photography continued to be noticed under his guidance.
History of Bauhaus: the Berlin period
Under the pressure of an extreme right-wing municipal government, Meyer resigned in 1930 and was replaced by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, famous for his saying “less is more”.
Mies Van der Rohe impressed the school with a strictly disciplinary character, more focused on architecture.
Germany’s unstable political situation, combined with the dangerous financial condition of the Bauhaus, prompted Mies to transfer the school to Berlin in 1930, operating on a smaller scale. Ultimately, the Bauhaus closed down in 1933.
During the turbulent years of the Second World War, many key figures of the Bauhaus emigrated to the United States, where their work and their teaching philosophies influenced generations of young architects and designers (International style).
Breuer and Gropius taught at Harvard, while Josef and Anni Albers taught at Black Mountain College, and later Josef taught at Yale. Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937. Finally, Mies van der Rohe designed the new campus and taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Although the Bauhaus lasted just over a decade, its impact extended far beyond simply teaching design being a place conceived to face a rapidly changing world.
See the previously published article 100 years of Bauhaus: history, events and icons