“The organism of a house evolves from the course of events that have predated it in a house, it is the functions of living, sleeping, bathing, cooking, eating that inevitably give the whole design of the house its design is not there for its own sake, it arises alone from the nature of the building, from the function it should fulfil…architecture has not exhausted its raison d’etre, unless we consider our emotional needs for harmonious space, for melodious sounds and for room to move, that first bring the space to life, as the purpose of reaching a higher order”. Walter Gropius, in 1930
In German, the word Bauhaus means literally, “building houses”. But, beyond words, the concept refers to a whole new conception of arts and life. Part of their basic training, the artists were encouraged to go out of their narrow expertise – not only painting, designing, sculpture – and to embrace the area of creative experiences. The ain was to offer them a wider base for improving their knowledge.
The idea of this article started relatively spontaneously. While being in Germany in 2009, I took various opportunities for understanding more about this movement, which I knew but only at a very superficial level. I was familiar with many of the works and projects, but was fully unaware of the philosophical background of the entire movement. Since, I was fascinated not only by the diversity of the artworks belonging to the Bauhaus movement and the current influences, but also by the holistic conception corresponding at a great extent to the needs of the world we are living today.
The origins
Kunstgewerbschule was founded in Weimar by Henry van de Velde in 1908. In 1919, he was succeeded at the head of this institution by Walter Gropius, who had closed relationships with Weimar’s other school, theHochschule fuer Bildende Kunst. Three years before he recommended and the local authorities agreed, the merging of the merging of the Kunstgewebeschule and the Hochschule fr Bildende Kunst into a single interdisciplinary school of craft and design.
While he fought on the front of the WWI, Gropius wrote “Proposals for the establishment of an educational institution to offer artistic advisory services to industry, trade and craft”. The manifesto of the Movement was released in 1919 – as a couple of paragraphs expressing the main idea of the founder in a very concise form -, and illustrated by a woodcut – The Cathedral of the Future, an industrial utopia using the religious symbol as a pretext for inclusiveness and holistic perspective – by Lyonel Feininger.
Once confirmed as the leader of Bauhaus, he followed his principles and succeeded in bringing in Weimar various outstanding artistic names of the day: Lyonel Feininger, Gerhard Marcks, Johannes Itten, Georg Muche, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky. The expressionists were joined by De Stijl representatives. In 1923, one of the most representative figures of the movement, Theo van Doesburg, delivered some lectures for the students of Bauhaus. Another influence is from the part of the Russian Constructivism.
Even Gropius was an architect by formation, a department of architecture was absent in the first years of life ofBauhau’s school. Ironically enough, in many cases the movement is identified more by the influence in the area of city planning and manners of building, than in the area of design and visual arts, in general.
The context when the Bauhaus was born is extremely interesting – a tumultuous period, both in international and home politics – the end of the WWI, the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the boiling socialist-anarchist movements in Germany, among which the Spartakus Bund lead by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg – asin the area of arts, where Dadaism and Blaue Reiter and Fauvism and De Stijl were only ones of the most important new categories of artistic expression. Despite obvious political orientations – on the left – of some of the members of the school’s board, Gropius outlined and tried to maintain his own life a self assumed political neutrality. In the same time, he was a strong believer in the need for a new society, in his aesthetical vision projected as a total environment where all the manifestations of arts were connected and interdependent in a better world for the humans. A vision transmitted for decades and resurged in our 21st century.
Back to the origins
His vision about the mission of arts is outlined in the manifesto published in 1919, in his first year of directorship. The starting point of his approach was the reform of education, as a first step in creating a unitary framework covering the entire spectrum of artistic activities. The system was organised on the basis of a master-apprentice relationship, mirroring the Renaissance and concepts of education, turning around the idea of spirituality. But the main idea of the education was more than getting the knowledge of skills. Paul Itten, for example, used to start his classes with breathing exercises and gymnastics, while teaching theories of form and colour or art history, and outlining the correspondences between musical and spatial composition, in the spirit of harmony and equilibrium.
The spiritual interests of Itten went well beyond his pedagogical purposes and he, together with Muche, get more involved with the Mazdazbab sect, whose teaching and practices – as the vegetarianism, for example – heintented to introduce to Bauhaus. In December 1922, following various conflicts with Gropius, he left Bauhaus.
Paul Itten was followed by Josef Albers and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who focused more on practical aspects, as factory visits.
From the very beginning the activities of Gropius’ school – a state institutions – were not regarded with sympathy by the local politicians and guilds. The eccentricities of people like Itten and his followers increased the suspicions and disagreements. The local guilds representatives were worried about a possible shortage of jobs took by Bauhaus students and accused the school of being a hotbed of communism and subversion.
In a move to alleviate some critics and to outline the importance of the movement, in 1923 it was organized an exhibition featuring the works of the school. The feedback received by the exhibition in US and abroad was impressive, while in Germany the positive echoes were almost non-existent.
Women in art
“We wanted to create living things with contemporary relevance suitable for a new style of life. Huge potential for experimentation lay before us. It was essential to define our imaginary world, to shape our experiences through material, rhythm, proportion, colour and form”. Gunta Stlzl
An important part of the pioneering work of Bauhaus is represented by the place assigned to women’ education. At the time, most part of the women was receiving education at home with tutors. The Bauhaus introduced on the artistic market of the time various names of women. At the beginning, the number of women applying for education superseded the men, but in a relatively short time, their names were lost. We rarely remembernowadays about Ilse Fehling (sculpture), Alma Siedhoff-Busher (toys), Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain(ceramist) or Benita Oette (weaving).
In the middle of the political storm
The struggle with local authorities for winning respect and reconnaissance was shadowed by the rapid and not always predictable in the good sense, evolutions taking place on the political stage in Germany. Weimar, the headquarters of the school was the city who gave further signal of the dark times approaching, by electing the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.
As a direct consequence, the funding was limited and, in 1926, Gropius moved the school to Dessau, a city enjoying a more relaxed political environment. But, in the same time, Gropius was looking further for increasing the autonomy of his establishment. One year before the move, in November 1925, with the financial support of Adolf Sommerfeld, Gropius created a limited company to promote and retail the school’s designs – BauhausGmbH. – duly produced a catalogue, designed by Herbert Bayer, which illustrated Bauhaus products. The idealistic period was about to end.
The Dessau period
When Gropius relocated his school in Dessau – and designed the new headquarters -, the city was a very quiet industrial city, with woodlands around. It kept those treats today. The friendly landscape is punctured by thegeometric houses of Bauhaus former residencies.
The new location is reflecting a shift in the general perception of the world of Gropius himself. He ceased to be a strong believer in the anti-capitalist, socialist utopian ideas shared in his first part of the career being more interested in a capitalistic-functional approach. At the level of the works produced by Bauhaus in this period, it is reflected by the increase level of industrial production.
Bauhaus without Gropius
In the following years, Gropius became more interested in the theoretical approaches and wanted to delegate as more as possible from the administrative tasks. After failing in 1928, to hand over the directorship of the Bauhaus to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, he appointed the Swiss architect, Hannes Meyer, a communist, as professor of the newly rebranded Hochschule fuer Gestaltung/Institute of Design, position held until July 1930. Meyer introduced a more scientific approach to Bauhaus and introduced lectures on economics, psychology, sociology, biology and Marxism to the curriculum. The Constructivist period ended with him, as the focus on “pure” arts. In parallel with the expansion of Nazism, end 20s and beginning 30s registered an increase in the communist activities within the school, including by direct involvement in supporting various strikes. It creates various conflicts with old and new names of the Bauhaus, worried about the increasingly negative press, leading finally to the dismissal of Meyer.
He was followed by Mies van der Rohe whose main task was depoliticization of the school. His first step was to close the school, forced 170 students to reapply, expelled others and created a new curriculum. The new interest was in architecture, which focused the most part of the interest of the educational program. The political interests were completely eliminated.
The full relaunch of the school was stopped by the victory of the National Socialists in Dessau, October 1931, which prompted to the fulfilment of their old dream – the closure of Bauhaus.
The end of a chapter
Bauhaus was moved by Mies as a private school in Berlin, but followed the same path following the further political victory of the National Socialists. The premises were raided by the Gestapo, and on the 19th July 1933 it was took the decision to dissolve the school. Many of the masters, including Mies, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, and Josef Albers emigrated to the United States to escape persecution and in 1937 Lszl Moholy-Nagybecame the director of the short-lived New Bauhaus in Chicago. A year later, a retrospective of Bauhaus design was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the school’s reputation as the most important design institution of the 20th century grew.
The heritage
The Functionalist approach to design pioneered at the Bauhaus had a fundamental impact on subsequentindustrial design practice and provided the philosophical bedrock from which the Modern Movement evolved. The Bauhaus also had a profound and widespread impact on the way in which design was subsequently taught and this was most especially felt at the Hochschule fur Gestaltung, Ulm.
The White City
One of the most preserved places where the heritage of Bauhaus was transmitted is Israel, where, beyond Tel Aviv, the only city in the world built in the Bauhaus style, it could be found traces in Haifa, Jerusalem or in the kibbutzim.
The influences are more belonging more to the register of the International style and are adapted to the functional needs of the city in terms of social and climacteric treats. It favours the asymmetry and regularity, with smooth facades and open floor plan. The windows are smaller. The whole complex of the White City is part of the UNESCO heritage.
The first building was raised in the 1930s by former students in Bauhaus: Ariel Sharon, Dov Carmi, GeniaAverbuch, Richard Kauffmann, Eric Mendelsohn – who designed, among others, the residence of the first president of the country Chaim Weizman.
Books and Articles
Charlotte&Peter Fiell, Design Handbook. Concepts. Materials. Styles, Hong Kong Kln London Los Angeles Madrid Paris Tokyo: Taschen, 2006

By Laura