- Rainer K. Wick
German school of art, design and architecture, founded by Walter Gropius. It was active in Weimar from 1919 to 1925, in Dessau from 1925 to 1932 and in Berlin from 1932 to 1933, when it was closed down by the Nazi authorities. The Bauhaus’s name referred to the medieval Bauhütten or masons’ lodges. The school re-established workshop training, as opposed to impractical academic studio education. Its contribution to the development of Functionalism in architecture was widely influential. It exemplified the contemporary desire to form unified academies incorporating art colleges, colleges of arts and crafts and schools of architecture, thus promoting a closer cooperation between the practice of ‘fine’ and ‘applied’ art and architecture. The origins of the school lay in attempts in the 19th and early 20th centuries to re-establish the bond between artistic creativity and manufacturing that had been broken by the Industrial Revolution. According to Walter Gropius in 1923, the main influences included John Ruskin and William Morris, and various individuals and groups with whom he had been directly involved: for example Henry Van de Velde; such members of the Darmstadt artists’ colony as Peter Behrens; the Deutscher Werkbund; and the Arbeitsrat für Kunst.
In April 1919 Gropius founded the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar, incorporating the former Kunstschule and the Kunstgewerbeschule, which had been directed by Van de Velde. Although Van de Velde had originally proposed Gropius as a possible successor in 1915, the issue was not settled until four years later, after the end of World War I. The allusion in the Bauhaus’s name to medieval masons’ lodges was emphasized by Lyonel Feininger’s Expressionist and Cubist-inspired woodcut of a Gothic cathedral, which was used for the title page of the founding manifesto of the Bauhaus in 1919. Gropius’s manifesto ran (Gropius, 1919):
The ultimate aim of all artistic activity is building! … Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all get back to craft! … The artist is a heightened manifestation of the craftsman. … Let us form … a new guild of craftsmen without the class divisions that set out to raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! … Let us together create the new building of the future which will be all in one: architecture and sculpture and painting.
The reversion to the ideal of the medieval craftsman contrasted with the cooperation between art, industry and commerce that Gropius had advocated before World War I, and which was to dominate the Bauhaus after 1922. This change of direction can easily be explained against the background of the specific circumstances of the period. The devastation of the war and the immediate post-war period caused Gropius to have grave doubts about the machine and the expectations of progress associated with it. Like many of his contemporaries, he was borne along by the romantic utopian hope that by turning back to the Middle Ages with its deep spirituality and communal ideals, meaning and direction could be given to one’s actions. Similar ideas were also circulating at that time in the Berlin Arbeitsrat für Kunst, to which Gropius belonged, and which had a significant influence on the early days of the Bauhaus.
Gropius began to gather an unrivalled array of avant-garde artists. In 1919 he first appointed the painters Lyonel Feininger and Johannes Itten and the sculptor Gerhard Marcks as teachers at the Bauhaus. In the period up to 1922 they were followed by Georg Muche and Lothar Schreyer (1886–1966), both of whom, like Itten, emanated from the circle centred on the Expressionist Sturm-Galerie in Berlin, run by Herwarth Walden. They were also joined by Oskar Schlemmer, Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky. The structure of the Bauhaus curriculum was represented by Gropius in a wheel-like diagram, in which the outer edge of the wheel signifies the six-month preliminary course (the Vorkurs), while the two middle rings stand for the three-year courses (the Formlehre and Werklehre), including the materials that were used. The hub of the wheel refers to the building construction and engineering with which the Bauhaus was also concerned.
One of the most influential personalities on early Bauhaus was undoubtedly Johannes Itten, who established the celebrated preliminary course, derived from his experiences as a student at Adolf Hölzel’s academy in Stuttgart. This compulsory course was designed to purge novices of residual academic tendencies and to activate their individual artistic potential. It was also intended to impart basic qualifications in creativity to serve as a foundation for the subsequent workshop training. The basis of the course was Itten’s general precept about the artistic value of contrasting effects, whether of light and dark, materials and textures, forms, colours and rhythms. A prominent place was reserved in Itten’s teaching for ‘analyses of Old Masters’. These had the objectives of establishing either the rationally perceptible picture-structures based on geometry and construction, or the essential meaning expressed in the work, which should be identified through empathy. Feeling and thinking, intuition and intellect, expression and construction belonged inextricably together in Itten’s holistically conceived educational and teaching programme.
The educational and teaching structure enabled those studying to qualify doubly as artists and craftsmen. The ‘dual system’ involved, on the one hand, artistic instruction known as Formlehre, in which the artist–teachers invested their full powers of innovation. Klee’s lectures on basic problems of form, and Kandinsky’s ‘Colour Seminar’, his ‘Introduction to the Abstract Elements of Form’ and his course on ‘Analytical Drawing’ were particularly noteworthy.
The other component of the syllabus was ‘practical instruction’ (Werklehre), in which the students attended regular classes in the Bauhaus workshops. The strong emphasis on craft was expressed in the fact that in the early days of the Bauhaus people spoke not of professors and students but of masters and apprentices. Each workshop was run by two masters, an artist and a craftsman or technician, or in the terminology of the Bauhaus a Meister der Form and a Meister des Handwerks. Each master specialized in one or more forms of art, although in the early phase people’s spheres of activity were not always definitely established, and they altered frequently as a result of staffing changes. The form masters included Gropius, whose carpentry workshop made furniture characterized by strictly cubic tectonics and to some extent influenced by followers of De Stijl, in particular Gerrit Rietveld. Modernist styles also influenced the abstract work of Kandinsky in his mural painting workshop, while folklore inspired the individual craft textiles from Muche’s weaving room.
The workshop training was aimed at the acquisition of specific technical and craft skills as well as artistic and design skills, based on the fundamental principle of learning through doing, of practical work on concrete tasks. Here the private aesthetic languages of the form masters were transformed into ‘a public institutional language’ resulting from the ‘technically orientated attempts at problem-solving’. This attempt to achieve communication between art and craft was extremely progressive, at that time matched only in revolutionary Russia at Vkhutemas in Moscow. The Bauhaus’s integration of different art and craft forms was exemplified by the avant-garde theatre workshop run first by Schreyer and then by Schlemmer. As well as producing paintings, Schlemmer designed costumes for his ballets that resembled coloured metallic sculpture (e.g. The Abstract, 1922; Stuttgart, Staatsgal.; for illustration see Schlemmer, Oskar).
Despite such attempts to combine different arts in one piece of work, the Bauhaus in its early phase was in general far from realizing the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk under the ‘wings of architecture’. In the first years there was no department of architecture, even though, according to the original concept, it should have been the cornerstone of the Bauhaus. Moreover, there was no effective coordination between the individual workshops, although there were exceptions, for example the collaboration of several workshops in furnishing and decorating the Expressionist Haus Sommerfeld (1920–21) in Dahlem, Berlin, designed by Gropius. The various workshop products from this Expressionist phase of the Bauhaus show the influence of Johannes Itten: with all their formal strictness they are in fact single pieces made by a craft process, some with ornamental surfaces. They show a sharp contrast with the principles of the pre-war Werkbund directed towards industrial mass production. Another interesting contradiction relates to the role of women in the Bauhaus. Although at the outset the school took women as students on the same basis as men, by 1920 Gropius was attempting to force women from the Vorkurs to the weaving, pottery or bookbinding workshops, and he prevented their admission to study architecture.
In its first years the Bauhaus was severely tested by the conflict between Gropius and Itten. Apart from personal differences, this was a conflict of principles that arose from the incompatibility between Itten’s emphasis on autonomous artistic creation and Gropius’s interest in socially committed design. Itten’s primary orientation towards fine art was accompanied by Bohemian attitudes and quasi-religious activities in the Mazdaznan movement. In contrast, Gropius’s basic inclination was directed towards finding a new place in society for the artist who had lost his roots in the 19th century, to enable him to collaborate in a socially constructive way on the shaping of reality. As a result, from c. 1922 Gropius supported a move in the Bauhaus towards industrial design, based on the following now famous formula: ‘Art and technology, a new unity: technology does not need art, but art does need technology.’ This tendency was strengthened as the widespread pathos of the immediate post-war period soon gave way to a general disenchantment that led people to seek what was socially necessary and practicable. The move away from craft towards industry also coincided in time with the decline of Expressionist influences and the penetration of Russian Constructivist ideas into the Bauhaus through the appointment of Kandinsky and the participation of El Lissitzky at the Dadaist–Constructivist conference in Weimar, both in 1922. In 1921–2 Theo van Doesburg took up residence in Weimar, giving his private seminars based on Constructivism in opposition to the Expressionist Bauhaus: these met with an enthusiastic response, particularly from opponents of Itten. As Itten was not prepared to associate himself with the Bauhaus’s new direction he left the school in the spring of 1923.
With the appointment in 1923 of László Moholy-Nagy as Itten’s replacement, Functionalism started to become the determining factor in the development of the school. In contrast to Itten, Moholy-Nagy had a quite untroubled relationship with machines and industry, claiming that technology was a reality of the 20th century. Moholy-Nagy ran the preliminary course from 1923 to 1928. His teaching was pervaded with scientific content, concentrating on constructive problem-solving far more than had been the case in Itten’s day. Technical reproducibility became the guiding principle governing Bauhaus activity, and Moholy-Nagy’s repertory of formally extremely reduced images had a crucial impact on design work in the workshops as well. In particular he worked as a form master in the metal workshop, training such designers as Marianne Brandt (see fig.).
These new trends were presented publicly for the first time in the context of a large Bauhaus exhibition in 1923. It included a review of international architecture including designs by J. J. P. Oud, Le Corbusier and Gropius, and a show house by Georg Muche, on which several Bauhaus workshops had collaborated in the furnishing and interior decoration. Murals by Joost Schmidt (1893–1948), Herbert Bayer and Oskar Schlemmer were also exhibited in areas throughout the school’s premises. There was also a display of items produced in the workshops, which demonstrated the development from craft-produced individual works to industrial assembly-line products. From the beginning the Bauhaus had been exposed to persistent criticism from politically conservative forces. In spite of the positive reception accorded to the exhibition in the German and international press, the funds allocated by the state of Thüringen were so sharply reduced after the victory of right-wing parties in 1924 that on 31 March 1925 the Bauhaus at Weimar decided to close.
In 1925 the Bauhaus transferred from Weimar to Dessau, an up-and-coming industrial town. A series of far-reaching changes were associated with this move. The preliminary course was lengthened from six months to a year, the workshop area was thoroughly overhauled and pottery, previously taught by Marcks, ceased to be part of the curriculum. There were also changes to the system by which an artist and a craftsman were in joint charge of each workshop: this had in fact latterly given rise to conflict, and so the running of the workshops was now partly entrusted to teachers known as Jungmeister. Having themselves trained at the Bauhaus, they now had the double qualification in art and craft that had been one of the declared objectives of Bauhaus teaching from the outset. It is interesting to note that some workshops not only had new people in charge but also were renamed in order to indicate an awareness of modern industrial demands: for example the former printing department under Feininger became the advertising department led by Herbert Bayer. Moreover, in Dessau the whole school was given the secondary title of Hochschule für Gestaltung.
The general conditions governing the continued work of the Bauhaus clearly improved. With substantial financial resources at its disposal, from 1926 the Bauhaus was housed in a new glass and reinforced concrete building designed by Gropius (see fig.). This was a milestone of Functionalism. The building contained the school, workshops and students’ dormitory in three wings, which created a dynamic asymmetric shape. The designs of the outside walls corresponded to the different interior spaces, the workshops, for example, having huge spectacular sheets of glass. The building’s design exemplified the Functionalist desire to develop freely an architectural order derived from science and technology.
In Dessau the metal workshop and the furniture workshop were among the most successful. In the furniture workshop Marcel Breuer, who had been at the Bauhaus as a student since 1920, succeeded in developing armchairs and chairs made of tubular steel, a breakthrough in designing furniture appropriate to its function and adapted to the potential of industrial mass production (for illustration see Breuer, Marcel). The most outstanding characteristics of this metal furniture were its small mass, its transparency, lightness and ease of movement (the base of the frame acting as a skid).
Under Moholy-Nagy the metal workshop continued to set the standards for the gradual transformation of the Bauhaus into a modern laboratory of prototypes for industrial mass production. This applies particularly to the classic, innovative designs of light fittings by such designers as Marianne Brandt, Karl J. Jucker (1902), Wilhelm Wagenfeld or Gyula Pap (1899–1983).
A similar emphasis on industrial design was apparent in the textile department run by Gunta Stölzl from 1927 to 1931. Interest was concentrated completely on the design and manufacture of such utilitarian materials as furnishing textiles, and experiments were also begun on the use and aesthetic effects of new types of materials, for example synthetic fibres.
The workshop for mural painting in Dessau was taken over by Hinnerk Scheper (1897–1957). In contrast to Kandinsky’s interest in abstract monumental painting, for which there was no longer any appropriate setting in modern architecture, Scheper placed emphasis on the problems of using colour in creating buildings and interiors, as shown for example by his colour master-plan for the Bauhaus building in Dessau (1926; N. B. Scheper priv. col., see 1988 Budapest exh. cat., p. 179). However, Kandinsky continued to develop on a smaller scale a sophisticated abstract vocabulary (e.g. Several Circles, 1926; New York, Guggenheim.
The same processes of modernization can also be recognized in the work of the advertising department. Bayer designed such severe typefaces as the universal, contour-free shadow type, which made a decisive contribution to the rationalization and categorization of script and typography, purging everyday graphic design of traces of historicism or Expressionism.
While a strictly utilitarian approach was generally dominant at Dessau, the sculptural workshop under Schmidt was the exception. The sculptural workshop had the character of a foundation department for the systematic study of such basic forms as the cube, sphere, cone and cylinder, and the complex interpenetrations of such forms. It also produced props for the Bauhaus stage (directed by Schlemmer) and fulfilled commissions for trade fairs and exhibition stands.
This phase of reorganization and consolidation culminated in 1927 with the setting up of the long overdue department of architecture with the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer as head. It was thanks to Meyer that the systematic teaching of architecture was instituted on a scientific footing, discarding all aesthetic considerations since they were at variance with his socialist-inspired Functionalism. Gropius’s leadership came to an end in spring 1928. Worn down by administrative duties and having been the butt of conservative criticism both in Weimar and in Dessau, he elected to work as an independent architect in Berlin: Meyer took over as Director. At the same time Moholy-Nagy (who was succeeded as head of the preliminary course by Josef Albers), Bayer and Breuer left the Bauhaus; Muche had already left Dessau in 1927.
3. Final period and later influences, from c 1928.
As the new Director, Meyer, socially committed and a strong adherent of Marxist ideology, fully spelt out his concepts regarding the Bauhaus and society (Meyer, 1929): ‘Building and creating are indivisible and they are a social occurrence…. The Bauhaus at Dessau is not an artistic phenomenon, but a social one. As creative designers our work is conditioned by society, and society makes its mark on the whole range of our tasks.’ Under Meyer’s direction the Bauhaus’s programme moved decisively away from the original concept of a unified art school towards that of a centre of production to satisfy social needs. The department of architecture now became the central focus of the Bauhaus, not, however, in the integral way announced in its founding manifesto but largely as an autonomous specialized department dissociated from other departments.
Meyer promoted a rigorous Functionalism in architecture, asserting that buildings should be organized according to economic, technical, social and psychological factors, although it is arguable whether his buildings met these ‘functional criteria’. However, his Marxist commitment was expressed in such buildings as the workers’ housing estate in Törten, Dessau (begun 1926), in which the houses were entered from communal balconies, and the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund school at Bernau near Berlin, the architect’s major work from that period, for which he won a competition in 1926. Within the Bauhaus the influence declined of those artists with innovative ideas in solving problems of applied creative design. The independent painting classes set up by Klee and Kandinsky had no institutional connection with the rest of the work at the Bauhaus and can be seen only as a relapse from Gropius’s original master-plan for a new unity of art and technology. In these circumstances it was inevitable that the Bauhaus should start to disintegrate: Schlemmer, who had attempted to provide an anthropological basis for the Bauhaus system of teaching with his course Der Mensch, resigned from the school in 1929. In 1931 Klee went to the Kunstakademie at Düsseldorf, and Kandinsky became Meyer’s main opponent within the Bauhaus.
At the same time it cannot be denied that between 1928 and 1930 the Bauhaus worked with unsurpassed efficiency as regards performance and economics. This was partly due to Meyer’s transformation of teaching workshops into places of productive design in order to underline the social justification of the Bauhaus. In 1929 a department of photography was set up under the professional photographer Walter Peterhans (1897–1960). It concentrated not on experimental photography (as had been typical of Moholy-Nagy) but on commercial work, through its strict attachment to the advertising department led, after Bayer’s departure, by the extremely versatile but now almost forgotten Schmidt.
In 1930 Meyer was dismissed from his post as Director of the Bauhaus because of his Marxist commitment. The new Director, recommended by Gropius, was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another exponent of Functionalism. However, he was anxious to bring the school back on to a non-political course. He combined the demand for social efficiency with a high aesthetic standard. Nonetheless, he remained loyal to Meyer’s course in that the Bauhaus under his leadership retained the characteristics of a school of architecture with a few courses in design, two in fine-art painting and one in photography. In contrast to Meyer, however, Mies van der Rohe favoured teaching over the Bauhaus’s programme of production.
After the victory of the National Socialists in the local elections in 1932, the Bauhaus in Dessau was closed down. The school moved to Steglitz, Berlin, where it continued to operate as a private institution under more difficult conditions in a former factory building. However, after Adolf Hitler seized power in 1933 the National Socialists put a final end to the continued existence of the Bauhaus, which had been vilified as culturally Bolshevist. After unsuccessful attempts by Mies van der Rohe to save it, with repression from the police, the Sturm-Abteilung (SA) and the Gestapo it was forced to close down.
After the closure of the Bauhaus, its members were dispersed across Europe and the USA. Some became highly influential teachers: for example Gropius took up a professorship at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, in 1937, while in 1938 Mies van der Rohe settled in Chicago, becoming Director of the College of Architecture, Planning and Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. However, most important was the involvement of Albers in the Black Mountain College, NC. Through the workshops and courses they disseminated Bauhaus design and teaching methods in the USA. Internationally numerous establishments came to model themselves on the Bauhaus, for example the New Bauhaus or the School of Design in Chicago, both founded by Moholy-Nagy, and after World War II the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm. As well as setting standards for the development of modern design and the International Style, the Bauhaus established concepts for the teaching of art and design that remained relevant more than half a century later.
- Berlin, Bauhaus-Archv
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- W. Gropius, ed.: Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, 1919–1923 (Weimar and Munich, 1923)
- H. Meyer: ‘Bauhaus und Gesellschaft’, Bauhaus, 1 (1929), p. 2
- G. C. Argan: Gropius und das Bauhaus (Reinbek, 1962)
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- Bauhausfotografie (exh. cat., Stuttgart, Inst. Auslandsbeziehungen, 1983)
- La tessitura del Bauhaus, 1919/1933 nelle collezioni della Repubblica Democratica Tedesca (exh. cat., essays E. Wolf and others; Pesaro, Pal. Ducale, 1985)
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- 50 Jahre New Bauhaus: Bauhaus–Nachfolge in Chicago (exh. cat., ed. P. Hahn; W. Berlin, Bauhaus–Archv, Mus. Gestalt, 1987)
- Bauhaus, 1919–1933: Meister- und Schülerarbeiten: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin (exh. cat., ed. J. Aron; Zurich, Mus. Gestalt., 1988)
- Bauhaus Utopien: Arbeiten auf Papier (exh. cat., ed. W. Herzogenrath; Budapest, N.G.; Madrid, Cent. Reina Sofía; Cologne, Kstver.; 1988)
- Experiment Bauhaus: Das Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin (West) zu Gast im Bauhaus Dessau (exh. cat. by U. Brüning and others, W. Berlin, Mus. Gestalt., 1988)
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- Keramik am Bauhaus (exh. cat., ed. K. Weber; W. Berlin, Bauhaus-Archv, 1989)
- Photography at the Bauhaus (exh. cat., ed. J. Fiedler; Berlin, Bauhaus-Archv, 1990; Cambridge, 1990)
- Die Metallwerkstatt am Bauhaus (exh. cat., ed. K. Weber; Berlin, Bauhaus–Archv, Mus., Gestalt, 1992)
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