The Bauhaus Movement
Much of what we know and recognize as modern design and architecture had its start at a small school in Germany that only existed for 14 years – The Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus initiated a pivotal shift in the design world by celebrating function over form and minimalism over maximalism. Its founder, Walter Gropius, dreamed of “a clean and pure future” and the Bauhaus created a space where artists could “conceive, consider and create together”.
Founded in 1919 in the German city of Weimar, the Bauhaus reflected a new time that demanded its own expression. The ornate, somewhat indulgent, Victorian forms no longer seemed fitting in the aftermath of the devastation and destruction that took place during the Great War. Founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, rebelled against what he called the “romantic prettification and cuteness” seen in earlier design and spearheaded a movement which would be defined by “less is more”.
The Bauhaus’s core objective was rather radical: to reimagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. The 1919 Proclamation of the Bauhaus describes a utopian craft guild combining into a single creative expression that would result in the creation of functional and striking objects that were appropriate to a new way of living.
The school’s curriculum began with a preliminary course that immersed students from a range of backgrounds in the study of Bauhaus theory. This was taught at various times by luminaries such as Johannes Itten and Josef Albers. Students then entered specialized workshops, which included metalworking, cabinetmaking, weaving, pottery, typography, and wall painting. A Bauhaus student could come across Marcel Breuer leading the cabinet-making department, Gunta Stölzl revolutionising the art of textile design and production, Moholy-Nagy and Marianne Brandt teaching metalworking or Wassilly Kandinsky and Paul Klee exploring new ways to consider form.
Central to the movement was the importance of designing for mass production and in 1923, the Bauhaus adopted the slogan ‘Art Into industry’. This, coupled with the movement’s embracing of technology, ensured good design would be available to everyone – not just the elite. Gropius declared,
The Bauhaus believes the machine to be our modern medium of design and seeks to come to terms with it.
Between 1919 and 1933, the Bauhaus produced an astonishing array of designs – these include Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair, Mies van der Rohe’s Brno Chair, Josef Pohl’s Wardrobe on Rollers, Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich’s Barcelona Chair and Josef Albers Nesting Tables. These pieces are now collector’s items or are still reproduced today. If not original imitations, echoes of these designs are commonly found in contemporary furniture pieces and appliances.
The Bauhaus’ distinctive, modern style of furniture was centred around two principles – practicality and simplicity. Works were meant to be functional above all else and so furniture was reduced to its basic elements. The style was sleek, light and modern and designers took advantage of materials made available thanks to modern industrial techniques.
The school moved to Dessau in 1925 and then to Berlin in 1932, before closing in 1933 after constant harassment by the Nazi Party. Mies van der Rohe was the director for the school’s final years, with many of its leading members emigrating to the USA where they continued to expand Bauhaus ideals through their teaching methods, individual designs, and philosophies. Its graduates and professors went on to pioneer design schools throughout America- at Harvard, the Chicago Institute of Design, and Black Mountain College.
Today, the Bauhaus movement’s influence can be seen almost everywhere – it was not just a physical school, it evolved into a school of thought.
Artists and designers are still being taught to find solutions that are simple, rational, and functional and embrace the Bauhaus philosophy of “form follows function”.
The Bauhaus movement introduced minimalism, a trend that has grown in popularity recently as society sheds clutter and searches for the simplicity found in clean lines and simple colours. IKEA and Apple are examples of brands that have embraced the Bauhaus principles of sleek and simple design as is Steve Job’s famous quote: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”. This is indicative of the Bauhaus’ reach.
Skylines of major cities are characterized by Bauhaus architectural styles that incorporated glass and steel. Interiors that see rooms with a pop of yellow or red or a statement wall, geometrical shapes, simplicity and primary colours in graphic design and topography and the experimental use of materials in mid-century modern furniture design will all find their roots in the Bauhaus.
Although only 700 students attended the Bauhaus during its short, 14-year lifetime, it left an indelible stamp on the design world.
The Bauhaus emerged in reaction to a new world and offered a truly radical, international, and optimistic vision of the future of design. So ingrained are its principles into the fabric of our daily lives, that we sometimes don’t even see it.
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