Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was an art school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term Bauhaus literally meant “house of construction,” and was understood as meaning “School of Building.”
The Bauhaus was first founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar with the idea of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together. The Bauhaus style later became one of the most influential currents in modern design, Modernist architecture and art, design and architectural education. The Bauhaus had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.
The school existed in three German cities: Weimar from 1919 to 1925, Dessau from 1925 to 1932 and Berlin from 1932 to 1933, under three different architect-directors: Walter Gropius from 1919 to 1928, Hannes Meyer from 1928 to 1930 and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from 1930 until 1933, when the school was closed by its own leadership under pressure from the Nazi regime. The Nazi government claimed that it was a center of communist intellectualism. Though the school was closed, the staff continued to spread its idealistic precepts as they left Germany and emigrated all over the world.
The creation of Bauhaus—Why and How?
Germany’s defeat in World War I, the fall of the German monarchy and the abolition of censorship under the new, liberal Weimar Republic allowed an upsurge of radical experimentation in all the arts, previously suppressed by the old regime. Many Germans of left-wing views were influenced by the cultural experimentation that followed the Russian Revolution, such as constructivism. Just as important was the influence of the 19th century English designer William Morris, who had argued that art should meet the needs of society and that there should be no distinction between form and function. Thus the Bauhaus style, also known as the International Style, was marked by the absence of ornamentation and by harmony between the function of an object or a building and its design.
However, the most important influence on Bauhaus was modernism, a cultural movement whose origins lay as far back as the 1880s, and which had already made its presence felt in Germany before the World War, despite the prevailing conservatism. The design innovations commonly associated with Gropius and the Bauhaus—the radically simplified forms, the rationality and functionality, and the idea that mass-production was reconcilable with the individual artistic spirit—were already partly developed in Germany before the Bauhaus was founded.
The Bauhaus was founded at a time when the German zeitgeist had turned from emotional Expressionism to the matter-of-fact New Objectivity. An entire group of working architects, including Erich Mendelsohn, Bruno Taut and Hans Poelzig, turned away from fanciful experimentation, and turned toward rational, functional, sometimes standardized building. The acceptance of modernist design into everyday life was the subject of publicity campaigns, well-attended public exhibitions like the Weissenhof Estate, films, and sometimes fierce public debate.
The Bauhaus had a major impact on art and architecture trends in Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Israel in the decades following its demise, as many of the artists involved fled, or were exiled by, the Nazi regime. Tel Aviv in 2004 was named to the list of world heritage sites by the UN due to its abundance of Bauhaus architecture; it had some 4,000 Bauhaus buildings erected from 1933 on.
The Bauhaus has helped produce The Aluminum City Terrace in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, the Alan I W Frank House in Pittsburgh, the Institute of Design (part of Illinois Institute of Technology), among other projects.
The influence of the Bauhaus on design education was significant. One of the main objectives of the Bauhaus was to unify art, craft, and technology, and this approach was incorporated into the curriculum of the Bauhaus. The structure of the Bauhaus Vorkurs (preliminary course) reflected a pragmatic approach to integrating theory and application. In their first year, students learnt the basic elements and principles of design and color theory, and experimented with a range of materials and processes. This approach to design education became a common feature of architectural and design school in many countries.
One of the most important contributions of the Bauhaus is in the field of modern furniture design. The ubiquitous Cantilever chair and the Wassily Chair designed by Marcel Breuer are two examples. (Breuer eventually lost a legal battle in Germany with Dutch architect/designer Mart Stam over the rights to the cantilever chair patent. Although Stam had worked on the design of the Bauhaus’s 1923 exhibit in Weimar, and guest-lectured at the Bauhaus later in the 1920s, he was not formally associated with the school, and he and Breuer had worked independently on the cantilever concept, thus leading to the patent dispute.) The single most profitable tangible product of the Bauhaus was its wallpaper.
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