100 Years of Bauhaus: What You Should Know About This Milestone Movement

100 Years of Bauhaus: What You Should Know About This Milestone Movement

By Kate Reggev
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus, we delve into its background and profound, lasting legacy on the art and design world.

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

Bauhaus Dessau, completed in 1925 and designed by Walter Gropius.

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. 

Walter Gropius and the University of Baghdad, 1967. 

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. 

Students and faculty of the Bauhaus on the beach, 1926-1927.

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.

With over 490 colorful half-timbered houses, the town of Celle, Germany, is considered one of the largest compact groupings of buildings that was designed using Bauhaus principles.  

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. 

The Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer, designed in 1925 and partially inspired by his interest in the tubular components of his bicycle.

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. 

A coffee and tea set by Marianne Brandt, who was a German painter, sculptor, photographer, and designer who became the head of the metal workshop at the Bauhaus in 1928. 

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.

The Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, designed by Walter Gropius in 1938 after his arrival in the United States.

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. 

"Knot 2," Anni Albers, 1947. Both Anni and Josef Albers pushed students to consider how line, color, and form could communicate ideas to the viewer, and pursued these concepts in their own work.

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.

Tel Aviv is home to one of the largest neighborhoods of Bauhaus architecture, known as the White City. This building, The Norman Hotel in Tel Aviv, was originally designed as two separate apartment buildings in 1925: one half features Renaissance and oriental influences, while the other is a clean-lined, modernist structure reflective of Bauhaus design.

Together, these institutions and individuals helped change the face of modern art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, typography, and industrial design for decades to come.  

Follow along with 100 Years of Bauhaus.

Related Reading: Design Icon: Walter Gropius


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