What Is The Bauhaus & Why Is It Important?
Despite being short-lived, the Bauhaus is widely regarded as the most influential art school of the 20th century that helped shape modern design and architecture.
The Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known as the Bauhaus, symbolizes Modernism and Artistic ingenuity.
The Bauhaus also strongly influenced contemporary design education with its unique approach to teaching that emphasized experimentation and problem-solving in design work.
To learn more about the Bauhaus, read more below.
The Bauhaus school of art went through three different relocations and stages. It was formally called the “Staatliches Bauhaus” because it was a state-funded institution combining two schools – the Grand Ducal Saxon Academy of Fine Art and the Grand Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts.
The school was founded in Weimar, in the state of Thuringia, in 1919 by German modernist architect Walter Gropius. Under his direction, the Bauhaus in Weimar operated until the politically motivated closure in 1925. During this time, Gropius laid the groundwork for the second phase of the school, which took place in Dessau, in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt, from 1926 to 1932.
During Bauhaus Dessau, the school was at its peak. The director was Hannes Meyer, and most of the designs that we know today as the Bauhaus style came from Dessau, including the famous Bauhaus Building built by Gropius. After the closure of Dessau in 1932 due to increasing pressures from the Nazi Party, Bauhaus teachers and students moved to Berlin, in the state of Brandenburg, where they established a new Bauhaus school.
It was a privately funded school, with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as the director. The Bauhaus Berlin lasted until April 1933, when it was finally closed by the Nazi regime. The teaching staff and students fled Germany, spreading the Bauhaus style throughout the world with major expansions in Chicago and North Carolina at institutions like Black Mountain College.
Life At The Bauhaus
Drawing on ideas of the English Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century and Art Nouveau, the school created the concept of the “Gesamtkunstwerk,” or total work of art. The driving idea of Bauhaus was to level the distinction between the fine and applied arts and create new aesthetics that combine visual arts with industrial techniques.
Fusing fine arts, the know-how of traditional craftsmen, and industrial processes under one roof, Bauhaus aimed at producing simple and purposeful designs with an artistic feel that can be mass-produced and serve the community. It was a self-described utopian movement that attempted to improve people’s everyday lives through beautiful and functional design.
The German school acted as a hub for Europe’s most innovative creative minds at the time, teaching painting, ceramics, textiles, metalworking, photography, typography, graphic art, theatre design, architecture, and interior and product design. The teaching method at Bauhaus replaced the traditional pupil-teacher relationship with the idea of a community of artists, architects, designers, and craftsmen living and working together.
Famous Faculty and Students
Bauhaus had many famous architects and avant-garde artists of the twentieth century among its lecturers, including Hannes Meyer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Marcel Breuer, Herbert Bayer Marianne Brandt, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, and others.
The students were encouraged to experiment and invent new designs that had to be simple, functional, and easy to produce. Among the most commercially successful workshops were the textile and metalworking studios. Their products were sold under the school’s patent, providing vital funds back to the Bauhaus.
The school of art was also known for its costumed parties that were part of the training program. These events were an opportunity for relaxation, creative exchange, and improvisation among students and teachers. Later, they became large-scale performing arts shows, such as Oskar Schlemmer’s “Triad Ballet” from 1922, with costumes and stage designs produced in Bauhaus workshops.
The Main Principles of Bauhaus
The main principles of the school were posted in The Bauhaus Manifesto, which was written by Walter Gropius in 1919. Some of the major principles of the movement included::
- Arts and architecture were to lead back to craftsmanship. Gropius’ aimed to create one style that would unify architecture, fine arts, and crafts. He embraced the philosophy of “Gesamtkunstwerk”, the “total work of art,” and reformulated it into “Total Design,” intending to convey the famous idea through a “new guild of craftsmen” into all aspects of modern life.
- Emphasis on technology. Following the principle of combining arts and crafts, Bauhaus artists embraced modern technologies, merging art and design with mass production.
- Function follows form. According to Gropius, an object’s design should be based on its intended function. The manifesto states that an object is defined by the natural materials that it is comprised of. So these materials were meant to be studied deeply to understand the object’s full function. Bauhaus designs are straightforward and functional, made of simple, geometric shapes, clean lines, and primary colors, and with little to no embellishment.
- Simplicity and minimalism. Bauhaus’s aesthetic is based on simplicity, clarity, balanced visual composition, rationality, and functionality. Ornamentation was allowed only if it followed on from function.
- Truth to materials. Bauhaus architects and designers believed that materials should be used honestly to reflect the true nature of objects and buildings. They used basic utilitarian materials, steel, concrete, and glass, unmodified and exposed, emphasizing beauty in their functionality.
- A holistic approach to design. Bauhaus architects and designers strived to integrate the school’s techniques into everyday life.
- Continuous development and innovation. The Bauhaus school advocated for constant experimentation and evolution of their architects and designers, urging them to invent something new using modern technologies and materials constantly.
Characteristics of Bauhaus Style
Coming from a desire to merge all the arts and industry, the Bauhaus strived to create beauty through functional, utilitarian design. The most basic principle of the Bauhaus movement was “form follows function.” This idea used simple, geometric shapes with few decorative details to design functional, straightforward objects and mass-produced objects.
Bauhaus designs are characterized by clean lines, simple, useful shapes with little or no decoration, primary colors, and the rational use of modern materials such as glass, concrete, and steel.
The most important contribution of the Bauhaus is in the field of industrial design. The Wassily chair designed by Marcel Breuer in 1927-1928, the MR20 armchair designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1927, and Marianne Brandt’s Teapot, in silver and ebony (1924) are now part of collections of the world’s foremost art museums, including MoMA in New York City, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Centre Pompidou in Paris, and The Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
These objects are considered iconic expressions of the Bauhaus style. They have become some of the most popular collectible items in the luxury furniture market.
The most famous architectural project of the Bauhaus movement was the Bauhaus Building in Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius in 1925-1926. It is the built manifesto of functionality, clarity, and minimalism, regarded by art historians as the symbol of “white modernism” par excellence. In fact, the Bauhaus Building was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996, and the former building in Weimar.
Impact & Final Thoughts
The Bauhaus had a significant impact on art and architecture trends throughout the world. From its demise, many of the artists involved fled and created a kind of Bauhaus diaspora. We can see the influence of many designers and artists in Contemporary Art today, like Donald Judd and Meret Oppenheimer.
Although the school itself doesn’t stand today as an institution, the archives and preservation can continue to inspire the innovation and artistry that Gropius envisioned when opening in Weimar.
And with that, we can wait in anticipation for the next Bauhaus and the artists it will produce and how they will change the lens of art history and disciplines to follow.