The year 2019 marks the centenary of Bauhaus, a milestone marked in Germany with a widespread program of events and exhibitions all over the world under the theme "Rethinking the World"—fitting for a movement that sought to "create a new society via art," according to director Walter Gropius.
Get ready for a year of celebrations, and brush up on your
Bauhaus history below.
Cover photo: Bauhaus band. Photo: unknown, 1930. Bauhaus Archive Berlin.
What Is Bauhaus?
While Bauhaus may evoke a style to many of us today, it was initially an art school that operated in post-World War I Germany from 1919 to 1933. The school, founded by pioneering architect Walter Gropius, had the then-radical idea to combine craft and the fine arts, developing a curriculum in which all arts, including architecture, would be brought together to form a "total" work of art—in German, Gesamtkunstwerk.
In many ways, the Bauhaus was in reaction to the increased separation between manufacturing and individuality, production and the hand that created it. Bauhaus sought to unite craft and creation again, through both practical skills and theoretical knowledge, and immersed its students in the Bauhaus ideology. Bauhaus—the name itself meaning "building house" or "School of Building"—was originally located in the German city of Weimar from 1919, and then moved to Dessau in 1925, and finally to Berlin in 1932.
Students in the school came from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds (this would later, in part, lead to its closing and dissemination), and began their studies with classes on materials, color theory, and formal and graphic relationships before delving into more specialized studies in metalworking, cabinet and furniture making, weaving, pottery, typography, wall painting, and after 1927, architecture.
As the political situation in Germany became increasingly unstable in the 1930s, the school began to suffer from both financial and ideological difficulties. In 1932, after the school moved to Berlin, local elections brought the Nazis to power, and the school was shuttered in 1933. After its closure, many of the left-leaning key figures of the school, both students and teachers, emigrated to the United States and other countries, bringing their aesthetics and ideas with them.
Who Are the Major Figures in Bauhaus?
The list of major players in the Bauhaus reads almost like a who’s who of early modern art and architecture. Walter Gropius founded the school in 1919 and designed the school’s new building at Dessau in 1925; he remained at its helm until stepping down in 1928. Gropius was succeeded by Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, who had initially been appointed to the school’s first architecture workshop in 1927; however, Meyer was ousted by the local government in 1930 for being too left wing, and was subsequently replaced by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Faculty at the school were equally famous in their fields: artists and designers Johannes Itten, Lyonel Feininger, and Gerhard Marcks were early appointments to the school. Artists Paul Klee, Vasily Kandinsky, and Josef Albers often taught the preliminary course including color theory; László Moholy-Nagy, Georg Muche, and Oskar Schlemmer also taught courses. By the 1920s, Marcel Breuer directed the cabinetmaking workshop; Gunta Stölzl, the textile workshop; and graphic designer Herbert Bayer, the typography workshop. Under Mies, Lilly Reich directed the interior design workshop.
Key students of the Bauhaus included textile artist Anni Albers; designers Marianne Brandt (who would later run the metalworking studio), Wilhelm Wagenfeld, and Christian Dell; photographer Gertrud Arndt; architect and designer Hilde Reiss; and several other artists, designers, and architects.
What Are the Most Famous Bauhaus Works?
Some of the most significant works of the Bauhaus include not only the Dessau school building itself—which employed Bauhaus theories—but also the very items that were conceived of and then executed within its walls. Gropius’ complex for the Dessau location is today known as a key example of modern, functionalist design with steel framing, concrete bricks, and a glass curtain wall.
Equally important were the chair designs by Marcel Breuer, including the Club Chair (designed in 1925), also known as Model B3 or The Wassily Chair, and the Cesca (1928), his cantilevered steel chair. Other important designs include the typeface Universal Bayer (1925) by Herbert Bayer; a teapot, Model No. MT 49 (1927), by Marianne Brandt; the Bauhaus Door Knob by Walter Gropius; the iconic Bauhaus Lamp by William Wagenfeld; and many of painter Josef Albers’ early studies on form and color.
What Impact Does Bauhaus Have Today?
It’s hard to overstate the impact of the Bauhaus on the world of design, and its legacy is as deep as it is complex—in part because after the closing of the school, its students and faculty dispersed around the globe, disseminating their designs, techniques, and ideas all over.
For example, many key figures moved to the United States, where they taught at worked across the country. Breuer and Gropius taught at Harvard and produced students such as Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei, Lawrence Halprin, and Paul Rudolph. Mies designed the campus and taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology; Josef and Anni Albers taught at Black Mountain College and Josef later at Yale; Moholy-Nagy established the New Bauhaus in Chicago. Each educational institution in turn taught more students, ultimately having a critical impact on design education.
Furthermore, former students Arieh Sharon, Shmuel Mestechkin, Munio Gitai-Weinraub, and Shlomo Bernstein lived in Israel and helped disseminate Bauhaus ideals and designs throughout the country, resulting in the construction of thousands of "Bauhaus Style" buildings in Tel Aviv that are today referred to as the White City. In Australia, the Shillito Design School, established in the 1960s, was firmly grounded in the ideological and theoretical precepts put forward by the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 1930s.
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