Anyone with more than a passing interest in the world of design has come across the term “Bauhaus.” However, few are aware of the interesting history connected to this school of thought, nor can we understand the depth of contributions made by followers of the movement. Despite our lack of familiarity with all that Bauhaus entails, it is still a strongly influential philosophy in our world today and has made a lasting impact on every aspect of design from furniture to architecture, graphic design and advertising.
The Bauhaus was first conceived as a school of architecture and art which sought to combine all forms of arts and crafts and technology and would enable its students to become masters of the design and creation process. Bauhaus was deeply influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement which was based on the tenets that art and design should be well conceived with regard to the function of the object being created and be well constructed, while also showing respect for the materials used. Bauhaus was also equally influenced by the developing Modernist movement which called for experimentation with forms and materials used while encouraging the widespread use of technological production processes. These two basic philosophies are apparent in the Bauhaus founder’s manifesto which attempted to define his ideals in establishing the school. He wrote:
Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artist! Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.
–Walter Gropius, from the Bauhaus Manifesto and Program, 1919
Bauhaus style architecture
To ensure his school’s success, Gropius staffed Bauhaus with the leading artists and designers of the day. Notable faculty members included painters Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee, and architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer.
Bauhaus School in Dessau
The innovative ideas of the Bauhaus were reflected in its curriculum which allowed students to learn through the integration of theory and application, and it exposed students to all areas of the arts. Classes available included such diverse areas as film, theater, pottery, mural painting, weaving, metalworking and typography. Students began with a six month preliminary course which provided information on form, color and material. This was followed by three year courses which focused on problems related to form and practical workshop instruction in concentrated areas which emphasized technical craft skills. Final courses specialized in building construction with stress placed on craft and workmanship. Through the Bauhaus process, students received a thorough education which included theoretical knowledge, the practical application of this knowledge and the ability to produce high quality, well-crafted results.
Original syllabus designed by Walter Gropius
Although the Bauhaus faculty always encouraged the significance of function over form and the creation of a simple, modern style, the philosophy of the school varied somewhat over the years due to changing leadership and the different philosophies that each instructor embraced. However, the school consistently encouraged its students to develop an individual style while promoting collaboration and a shared purpose. It also maintained its view that art and design should be developed for the masses rather than the elite. To that end, it pushed for the implementation of modern, technological processes of product reproduction in an attempt to create products that were easily accessible and affordable for all and it promoted the creation of objects that would be useful for large numbers of people on an everyday basis. Many iconic designs that are still well known today originate from the Bauhaus school, such as the cantilever chair and the Barcelona chair.
Iconic Bauhaus chair designs
The Bauhaus school existed from 1919 to 1933 in Germany, and during its years of existence it moved to three different cities. As the philosophy that it adhered to was considered quite radical at the time, it was heavily criticized and misunderstood; its existence was also vulnerable as it relied on state funding to continue operation. In each of its three locations, it was forced to move due to political pressure and extensive criticism. It was finally forced to close in 1933 after being labeled a producer of “degenerative art” by the ruling Nazi party. Despite its formal end, the ideas of the Bauhaus continued through its leaders and teachers as they immigrated to other countries and carried on with the work they began at the school.
Seagram Building designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
The legacy of the Bauhaus school is still apparent today; its modernist style is visible in current architecture and design objects, while its philosophy is widely utilized by contemporary designers. In addition, many of its more significant ideas have maintained their relevance and are still worth following. For example, the most important tenet, that form follows function is applicable in every aspect of design, as is the value of the connection between color and shape when creating. Finally, the Bauhaus belief in collaboration and a shared purpose is a principle that should be followed; not just in the world of design, but in everyday life as well.
Whitney Museum of American Art designed by Marcel Breuer