In the wake of World War I, the Russian revolution, and the German revolution, a new type of art school emerged: the Bauhaus ("build house") school of art and design.

Both Dada and Bauhaus were influenced by the avant-garde movements of the time: Futurism, Constructivism, Cubism, Expressionism, and Gestalt psychological theory. With the grand disillusionment of war and the spreading of Marxism ideals, people were looking for new ways of understanding and experiencing the world.

Unlike their contemporary Dada artists, who focused on nonsensical expression and anti-establishment art, the Bauhaus sought holistic design education that would harness increasing industrialization.

Ready to learn more about this influential design movement? Let's dive in.

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What's Bauhaus?

The Bauhaus school, founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, aimed to bridge the gap between artist and craftsperson. This design movement merged art and technology to create functional yet aesthetically pleasing designs.

It emphasized combining form and function in a harmonious way, aligning with the principles of modernism.

The Bauhaus movement was deeply influenced by the German Wohnreform ("housing reform") movement that sought to address the living conditions in the rapidly industrializing Germany at the turn of the 20th century. Wohnreform was concerned with the aesthetics as well as social and functional aspects of architecture and furniture design.

It advocated for simplified design and using new materials and construction methods to improve the quality of housing and living spaces.

In its unique approach to teaching, the Bauhaus took many of these principles and expanded on them to unify art, craft, and technology. The movement's manifesto saw the potential for design to be a part of social change, improving the quality of life for all people by creating beautiful and functional objects.

The influential school also functioned as a working studio, with teachers' and students' clean-lined designs achieving commercial success.

This ethos resonated with the core values of Wohnreform but extended further into the realm of industrial design. The idea was that mass production could be harnessed to create well-designed, affordable products accessible to the masses, not just bespoke items for the affluent.

With its revolutionary approach to architecture and industrial design, Bauhaus greatly influenced the development of modernist design and the so-called International Style.

"The ultimate goal of all art is the building!" – Walter Gropius, Bauhaus Manifesto, 1919

Initially based in Weimar, Germany, the Bauhaus school later moved to Dessau and then to Berlin. It was closed in 1933 due to pressure from the Nazi regime. While the school's physical existence was relatively short-lived, its impact on the art and design world remains profound.

Led by visionary architects, designers, and artists, the Bauhaus school trained multidisciplinary designers in order to create a new material reality. Some notable masters (lecturers) and proponents of Bauhaus include:

  • Lyonel Feininger, the first master of the Bauhaus school's printmaking workshop.
  • Johannes Itten, the first master of the Vorkurs foundational course at Bauhaus.
  • Gertrud Grunow, who was the first female master at Bauhaus Weimar, taught the Theory of Harmonisation course.
  • Paul Klee was a renowned Expressionist painter and color theorist who taught at Bauhaus.
  • Lucia Moholy, a photographer who was married to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, documented Bauhaus architecture, products, and campus life which contributed to the movement's corporate identity.
  • Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who took over Itten's role at the school when he left and co-taught the Vorkurs with Josef Albers, headed up the metalwork workshop. He later became the Director of The New Bauhaus: American School of Design in Chicago, USA.
  • Josef Albers, a Bauhaus master who later taught at the Black Mountain College, USA, was the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
  • Anni Albers, a weaving student under Gunta Stölzl who later took over her position as master. She's credited with groundbreaking work in textile design. Anni was married to Josef Albers.
  • Gunta Stölzl headed up the textile department at Bauhaus Dessau and her work displays the distinctive Bauhaus style.
  • Wassily Kandinsky, the basic design and theory master at Bauhaus, formed Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four) artists' group with Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, and Alexej von Jawlensky.
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was an architect and the last director of Bauhaus before its closure in 1933.
  • Oskar Schlemmer taught at the Bauhaus' workshop on sculpture before becoming a master of form in theater at the school.
  • Herbert Bayer, a student and later master, created the Universal alphabet, which became the signature font of Bauhaus.
  • Marianne Brandt was the first female student to attend the metalwork course at Bauhaus and succeeded Moholy-Nagy as master.
  • Marcel Breuer, one of the first students at Bauhaus and later head of the carpentry workshop, went on to become an iconic Brutalist architect and modern furniture designer.

At its core, Bauhaus was a school of thought that embraced the principles of simplicity, functionality, and modern development.

Definition of Bauhaus

The central goal of Bauhaus was to bridge the gap between fine arts and industrial design. By embracing modern technology and industrial methods, Bauhaus sought to transform everyday objects into visually striking yet functional pieces.

This meant that even the most utilitarian objects, such as furniture or housewares, were given the same artistic consideration as traditional fine art.

Simplicity, clean lines, and minimalistic forms characterized the abstract designs of Bauhaus. Bold geometric shapes and daring color combinations were used to evoke emotion and create visual interest.

These unique designs rejected traditional ornamental embellishments and instead focused on practicality and efficiency.

Through this innovative approach, Bauhaus broke away from traditional craftsmanship and profoundly impacted the development of modern design. By emphasizing mass production, functionality, and abstract aesthetics, it laid the foundation for the design principles that continue to influence art, architecture, and industrial design today.

Background of Bauhaus

The revolutionary art school aimed to integrate the fine arts with industry. Nothing quite like it had existed before 1919. Gropius envisioned a holistic approach to design, what he called "total design."

One of the biggest influences on the Bauhaus is the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. This art style emphasized the importance of handcraftsmanship. Gropius wanted to build upon this idea by incorporating modern industrial techniques and materials into the creative process.

Under Gropius' direction, the Bauhaus developed a design ethos focused on experience and experimentation. Its curriculum encompassed various disciplines, including architecture, furniture design, textile design, stagecraft, and graphic design.

But this influential movement faced significant challenges. With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Bauhaus artists and teachers were targeted for their progressive ideas and forced to flee. Many of them found refuge in other countries, where they continued to spread Bauhaus principles and influence the field of design.

The enduring legacy of the Bauhaus can be seen in various design fields today. Its emphasis on clean lines, geometric forms, and functionality continues to inspire modern architecture, furniture, and graphic design. The Bauhaus style became synonymous with modernist design and has profoundly impacted the aesthetics and principles of creative work worldwide.

Let's look more intently into the scope of Bauhaus' influence in various industries.

How Bauhaus has influenced design

Walter Gropius and the interweaving of disciplines

Gropius, the founder of the original Bauhaus school, played a pivotal role in interweaving disciplines in design. He was appointed the master of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar in 1919. It was this school that was merged with the Weimar Art Academy and transformed into the Bauhaus under his directorship.

He sought to break down traditional barriers between the various types of artistry and foster a collaborative environment where artists, designers, architects, and craftspeople could work together.

He believed that the purpose of architecture is to satisfy society's needs and emphasized efficiency, simplicity, and practicality.

This advanced the idea of functional architecture, which greatly influenced the design of the Bauhaus buildings. The Bauhaus school buildings featured streamlined forms, large windows for ample natural light, and an emphasis on functionality over ornamentation.

Gropius incorporated several key principles into his Bauhaus designs:

  1. Using modern materials and technology, such as steel, concrete, and glass, to create buildings that reflected the spirit of the age.
  2. "Form follows function," a phrase coined by skyscraper architect Louis H. Sullivan in 1896, prioritizing the functionality of a space over its aesthetics.
  3. Open, flexible floor plans that could adapt to the changing needs of the inhabitants.

He emigrated to the United States in 1937 and was appointed professor of architecture at Harvard University. His former Bauhaus student and colleague Breuer joined him at Harvard, and this is perhaps the most influential time of their careers.

Overall, Walter Gropius's visionary leadership and commitment to cross-departmental training and mastery of craft paved the way for modernist architecture and design. His emphasis on functional architecture and incorporation of key principles have become iconic examples of modern design.

Hannes Meyer and Bauhaus Dessau

Taking over from Gropius as director of the architecture department at Bauhaus Dessau in 1928, Hannes Meyer brought a new approach to the school in terms of architectural design and socio-political ideologies.

He believed architecture should be rooted in the needs of the working class and the collective rather than individual expression. He implemented his political ideas into student organizations and teaching programs, focusing on practical solutions for affordable housing and social utility.

Under his leadership, the architecture department emphasized community-driven projects and engaged with public housing initiatives.

He designed and oversaw the construction of the ADGB Trade Union School, an iconic building that showcased the functionalist approach of the Bauhaus. The school featured simple geometric forms, open-plan spaces, and an emphasis on natural light and sustainability.

Despite his contributions, Meyer's time at the Bauhaus was short-lived, as his political views clashed with those of the Nazi regime. In 1930, he was forced to resign as director, and his successors continued to guide the Bauhaus in a new direction. But Meyer's influence on the movement, particularly concerning social and political engagement, left a lasting impact on the legacy of the Bauhaus.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's architectural modernism

Renowned modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe studied alongside and influenced the later work of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, who became famous as the Brutalist architect Le Corbusier.

Appointed as the director of the Bauhaus school in 1930, he tried to keep it afloat in the face of the imminent second World War. After the closure of the Bauhaus by the Nazis in 1933, Mies van der Rohe found a new home for his innovative ideas in the United States. Same as Gropius and Breuer, he emigrated to the US in 1937.

Mies van der Rohe was appointed the head of the architecture department at the Armour Institute of Technology (later the Illinois Institute of Technology), where he continued propagating the Bauhaus philosophy through his teaching and architectural practice.

Besides his famous building designs, Mies van der Rohe designed some of the most recognizable modern furniture pieces. One of these designs is the Barcelona Chair, seen below. These cantilevered steel chairs with rectangular leather cushions became an icon of modern luxury living.

He played a vital role in shaping modern American architecture. He brought his expertise in modern architecture and design, emphasizing the principles of simplicity, functionality, and honesty of materials. His work influenced other designers and architects who profoundly impacted the field, such as Frank Lloyd Wright.

Josef and Anni Albers at Black Mountain College

After the closure of Bauhaus and their relocation to USA in 1933, Josef and Anni Albers became highly influential figures at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The college was an experimental school that embodied many of the educational philosophies of the Bauhaus, especially its interdisciplinary approach to art and design education.

They both also continued their artistic careers, becoming celebrated artists with their work exhibited around the country. Anni was the first textile designer exhibited at MoMA. She was also commissioned by Gropius to produce textiles for Harvard University and designed mass-producible textiles for the Knoll furniture company, publishing her design writings throughout her career.

Oskar Schlemmer's contribution to art schooling and theater

Oskar Schlemmer made significant contributions to art schooling and theater, playing a crucial role in the development of the Bauhaus movement. As a teacher at the Bauhaus School, Schlemmer's work revolutionized the way were approached.

Schlemmer's innovative exploration of the human body is particularly noteworthy. He believed the body was a vessel for artistic expression and sought to highlight its potential through his teachings. His approach to art schooling focused on the integration of various disciplines, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and experimentation.

One of Schlemmer's most renowned works is his theater piece, Triadisches Ballett (Triadic Ballet) (1912). This groundbreaking production combined elements of dance, movement, and costume design to create a visually captivating experience.

The choreography and costumes were meticulously crafted to transform the human body into abstract geometric forms, challenging traditional notions of performance and aesthetics.

Henry Van de Velde's role in design

Henry Van de Velde played a significant role in the development of graphic design during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a Belgian architect, designer, and artist, he made invaluable contributions to the field and greatly influenced the rise of modern graphic design. He's seen as one of the founders of Art Nouveau and its German counterpart, Jugendstil.

He designed the building and established the Grand-Ducal School of Arts and Crafts in 1907, which later became the Bauhaus under Gropius' directorship. That same year, he co-founded the Deutscher Werkbund (or German Werkbund) association of artists, architects, designers, and manufacturers. Mies van der Rohe served as the association's architectural director.

From packaging to wallpaper, Van de Velde's work in graphic design was characterized by his innovative use of typography and his integration of form and function. He believed that graphic design shouldn't be limited to mere decoration but should also serve a purpose in conveying information effectively.

His designs showcased clean lines and harmonious compositions, incorporating natural flowing curves and bold geometric shapes.

He also designed furniture and interiors, truly encompassing the Bauhaus vision of integrated design disciplines and manufacturing.

Images sources: Wikimedia Commons and Apollo Magazine

The International Style of Modern architecture

The International Style of Modern architecture emerged in the early 20th century as a response to the rapid industrialization and technological advancements of the time. It's characterized by simplicity, clean lines, and functional design.

The focus of the International Style is on the use of modern materials such as glass, steel, and concrete, and the emphasis on functionality rather than ornamental details.

The Bauhaus movement played a significant role in shaping the International Style. Notable architects associated with the International Style include Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Gropius himself. Their designs were characterized by simplicity, open spaces, and the use of modern materials. Iconic examples of International Style buildings include the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier, and the Fagus Factory by Gropius.

The International Style of modern architecture, influenced by the forward-thinking ideas of the Bauhaus movement, continues to influence contemporary architecture with its timeless and minimalist approach to design.

Industrial design

Industrial design played a significant role within the Bauhaus movement, contributing to its overall impact on design and architecture. The Bauhaus embraced the principles of functionalism, mass production, and the integration of form and function, extending these principles to everyday objects through industrial design.

At the Bauhaus, industrial design aimed to create affordable, aesthetically pleasing, innovative products that could enhance people's daily lives. This approach reflected the Bauhaus's commitment to improving living conditions through design.

The Bauhaus attracted talented industrial designers who contributed greatly to its legacy. Marianne Brandt and Wilhelm Wagenfeld were key figures associated with the Bauhaus. Brandt, known for her work in metalwork and lighting design, created iconic pieces such as the Kandem table lamp.

Wagenfeld, on the other hand, is remembered for his glass designs, most notably the Bauhaus Table Lamp. These designers, among others, helped shape the vision of the Bauhaus and its industrial design approach.

New techniques in graphic design

The principles and practice of Bauhaus have greatly influenced the development of new techniques in graphic design. Bauhaus valued the integration of art, craft, and technology, which later became foundational principles in modern graphic design.

One prominent Bauhaus figure who pioneered new graphic design techniques is Herbert Bayer. Bayer's innovative use of typography and experimental layouts revolutionized graphic design in the 20th century. His work, such as the geometric sans-serif Universal typeface, exemplified the Bauhaus ethos of simplicity, functionality, and clarity.

Joost Schmidt, another prominent figure of the Bauhaus movement, had a significant influence on modern graphic design that can still be seen today. Schmidt was primarily known for his work in typography and exhibition design. He was a master craftsman in the Bauhaus's printmaking and advertising workshop and eventually became a teacher there.

One of Schmidt's most enduring contributions to graphic design was his approach to typography and layout, which emphasized clarity, simplicity, and the integration of text and image in a harmonious composition. This approach broke away from the ornate and heavily decorated styles that were prevalent before the Bauhaus.

Schmidt's designs often featured clean, sans-serif typefaces, and an asymmetric layout, concepts that were revolutionary at the time but have since become standard in modern design.

Perhaps his most famous work is the poster he designed for the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition in Weimar, which has become an iconic example of Bauhaus graphic design. This poster showcased many key elements of the Bauhaus design philosophy, including geometric shapes, a balanced yet dynamic arrangement of elements, and a focus on typography.

Bauhaus today and beyond

Reflecting on the enduring legacy of the Bauhaus movement, it's clear that its principles continue to resonate powerfully in the realms of graphic design, architecture, and beyond.

The Bauhaus ethos, characterized by an unyielding commitment to functionality blended with aesthetic simplicity, has transcended time and geographical boundaries, embedding itself in the very fabric of contemporary design.

The minimalist designs, clean geometric forms, and harmonious color palettes that were once revolutionary are now familiar, almost ubiquitous features in both digital and print media.

Bauhaus' interdisciplinary approach, which merged art, craftsmanship, and technology, anticipated the integrated, cross-functional nature of contemporary design and creative work. This holistic approach not only fostered innovation during the Bauhaus era but also set the stage for the collaborative, cross-disciplinary ethos prevalent in today's creative industries.

The Bauhaus, with its revolutionary spirit and forward-thinking, isn't just a historical phenomenon but a living, evolving influence. Its principles and styles continue to guide designers toward a synthesis of beauty, functionality, and inclusivity.

As we look to the future of design, the principles of the Bauhaus remain relevant and inspiring. In the digital age, where design is increasingly driven by user experience and sustainability, the Bauhaus' focus on functional, accessible, and efficient design offers valuable lessons.

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Frequently asked questions

What's Bauhaus and who were the key figures?

Bauhaus was a renowned art and design school that operated from 1919 to 1933 in Germany. It sought to merge crafts and fine arts, fostering a utopian vision of uniting creativity and functionality.

Bauhaus had a profound influence on modern design and shaped various artistic disciplines, including architecture, graphic design, industrial design, and more.

Bauhaus had several notable figures who played instrumental roles in shaping the movement. Some of these key personalities include Walter Gropius, the founder and first director of Bauhaus, along with renowned artists and designers like Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Anni Albers, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who later became the Bauhaus director after Gropius.

What was the philosophy behind Bauhaus?

The philosophy of Bauhaus was rooted in the idea that art and design should be integrated into all aspects of modern life. It emphasized simplicity, functionality, and craftsmanship, seeking to bridge the gap between art and industry.

Bauhaus aimed to create a new aesthetic for the modern world, embracing new materials, techniques, and technologies.

What was the legacy of Bauhaus?

Despite its relatively short existence, the impact of Bauhaus on the art and design world is far-reaching. It laid the foundation for modern architecture, graphic design principles, and the concept of industrial design. Bauhaus challenged traditional notions and ultimately shaped the development of design education and practices globally.

Where can I learn more about Bauhaus?

There are several resources available to delve deeper into the world of Bauhaus. One can explore books such as Bauhaus: 1919-1933 (2002) by Magdalena Droste or visit museums dedicated to Bauhaus, such as the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation or the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin.

Additionally, online platforms and educational institutions often offer courses and resources to further explore the principles and legacy of Bauhaus.

When was Bauhaus founded?

Bauhaus was founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany. Gropius successfully merged the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts with the Weimar Academy of Fine Art to establish the influential art and design school.

Who was Walter Gropius?

Walter Gropius was an architect and a prominent figure in the Bauhaus movement and the founder of this influential design school. As the driving force behind the establishment of the Bauhaus, Gropius played a key role in shaping the development of modernist architecture in the 20th century.

With his visionary ideas and innovative approach to design, Walter Gropius laid the foundation for the International Style of architecture. His legacy continues to inspire contemporary architects and designers, and his functional and minimalist designs remain as relevant today as they were during his time.

What's the Bauhaus style?

The Bauhaus style emerged in the early 20th century as a response to the changing world and the desire to incorporate mass production into design. Rejecting excessive decoration and embracing the principles of minimalism, the Bauhaus movement prioritized the convergence of form and function.

This emphasis on practicality and efficiency was a direct consequence of the Industrial Revolution, as designers sought to create products that were accessible and could be produced on a larger scale.

One of the key aspects of the Bauhaus style was its interdisciplinary approach. Artists, architects, craftsmen, and designers collaborated and shared ideas to develop abstract, modernist designs across various mediums. Typography, architecture, woodworking, set design, and painting all became avenues for exploring new forms, materials, and techniques.

This cross-pollination of disciplines fueled a creative energy that broke traditional boundaries and led to the creation of innovative and avant-garde pieces.

The Bauhaus style, with its clean lines, geometric shapes, and simplified forms, remains influential in modern design. It revolutionized the fields of graphic design, industrial design, and architecture, leaving a lasting legacy of abstract modernist designs.

How to pronounce "Bauhaus" and what does it mean?

Bauhaus, pronounced as "bow-house," is a German word that holds significant meaning in the world of art and design. The term itself combines two words: "Bau," which means building, and "Haus," which means house. Together, they represent the essence of the Bauhaus movement, which emerged in the early 20th century in Germany.

Which ideas are most closely associated with Bauhaus principles?

The ideas most closely associated with Bauhaus principles are the integration of art, craft, and technology. Bauhaus puts forward the principles of simplicity, practicality, and mass production. The Bauhaus school aimed to break away from the ornate and heavily decorated styles of the past and instead focus on functional and aesthetically pleasing designs that could be produced on a large scale.

The interdisciplinary nature of the school brought together artists, architects, craftsmen, and designers who collaborated and shared ideas. They developed abstract and modernist designs that were accessible to the masses. The Bauhaus style not only influenced architecture but also industrial design, graphic design, typography, and set design.

Some key principles and concepts integral to the Bauhaus style include the emphasis on combining form and function, the use of simple geometric shapes, the integration of new materials and technologies.

The Bauhaus designers believed in the power of design to improve society and enhance people's lives.

Essential Bauhaus design elements include:

  • Clean lines
  • Asymmetry
  • An emphasis on functionality
  • The use of primary colors

The Bauhaus principles continue to inspire and influence contemporary design.

Why did the Nazis find Bauhaus style objectionable?

After World War I, Germany was in a politically tumultuous state marked by economic instability and widespread resentment. The rise of radical ideologies, including Communism and National Socialism (Nazism), stoked fear and anxiety among conservative factions. The Bauhaus style, with its radical experimentation and cosmopolitan modernism, was seen as objectionable to the Nazis for several reasons.

Firstly, the political climate in Germany after the war was one of extreme nationalism and anti-modern sentiment. The Nazis sought to restore traditional values and foster a homogeneous national identity. With its avant-garde, international approach and rejection of ornamental aesthetics, the Bauhaus style was deemed too revolutionary and non-conformist.

Many of the students and teachers also held strong anti-Nazi beliefs, with some being of Jewish descent.

Secondly, the focus on rationality and functionality in Bauhaus design challenged the traditional notions of craftsmanship, which held great importance in Nazi ideology. The Nazis perceived craftsmanship as a way to uphold cultural heritage and promote national pride. The Bauhaus approach, which embraced mass production and new technologies, was viewed as a threat to these traditional craft practices.

Lastly, the Bauhaus style promoted mass production and accessibility, which contradicted the Nazi regime's elitist and exclusivist ideology. The Nazis advocated for a hierarchical society where only a select few had access to luxury and high-quality goods. The Bauhaus ethos of making design accessible to the masses was seen as undermining this perceived social order.

The controversy over issues of Nazi support led to the eventual closure of the Bauhaus school in Dessau in 1933.

What's the difference between De Stijl and Bauhaus?

De Stijl and Bauhaus were two influential movements in the early 20th century that revolutionized design and art. While they both aimed to break away from traditional aesthetics and embrace modernism, there are key differences between their design principles, artistic movements, and influences.

De Stijl, a Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917, focused on creating a harmonious and balanced composition through the use of geometric forms and primary colors. Inspired by the ideas of Piet Mondrian, De Stijl sought to achieve universal harmony through abstraction and simplicity. Its design principles emphasized the use of straight lines, rectangular forms, and a reduction of unnecessary ornamentation.

On the other hand, Bauhaus was an influential German school of design founded in 1919. It aimed to merge art, craft, and technology to create functional and aesthetically pleasing designs. Bauhaus embraced new materials and industrial production techniques, seeking to create innovative and accessible designs for mass production. Its design principles centered around functionality, rationality, and integrating art into everyday life.

While the early 20th-century trends of modernism influenced both movements, De Stijl placed a greater emphasis on abstraction and a reduction of form, while Bauhaus focused more on integrating art and technology into everyday objects. These contrasting approaches resulted in different visual aesthetics and design philosophies within the artistic movements.

Bauhaus history, style, and famous designers | Linearity
Bauhaus history, style, and famous designers | Linearity