by Luigi Coluccia
In the decade preceding the outbreak of World War II, a new school of applied arts was born in Germany, the Staatliches Bauhaus, which soon became the reference point for the contemporary Modern Movement. Its influence on architecture and design in the 20s and 30s, in Europe and overseas, is crucial and will be affecting architecture and design even in the following decades, up to nowadays.
Founded in 1919 in Weimar, the school operates and promotes its classes until 1933, when it finally closes, with the advent of Nazism. Walter Gropius has been the creator and the first Director of the school, followed by Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Many were the artists who became teachers in the school, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Marcel Breuer are only a few of the best known.
The name of the school recalls the medieval term for the bricklayer lodge. In fact, Gropius’ initial aim was a unification of the arts through craft. All forms of art should merge into a new architecture, a complete and unified expression of all the arts.
‘Together, we are intending, conceiving and creating the new building of the future …’ – from the Walter Gropius’s founding manifesto, drafted in 1919, which is shaped by an educational vision even more than by its architectural and craft vision.
The Bauhaus school is inspired by the 19th century English Arts and Crafts movement, aimed at restoring a kind of art capable of combining the functional purpose to the aesthetic value, thus opposing to the fast industrialization process. While maintaining the emphasis on craft, the Bauhaus stressed the importance of designing for mass production. It was at this time that the school adopted the slogan “Art into Industry.”
Bauhaus seal, 1922 – Visual representation of the school main characteristics: rationality, essential style, efficiency, centrality of man and machine.
Initially, the school provided classes in all the arts. The curriculum commenced with a six-month preliminary course that immersed the students in the study of materials, color theory and formal relationships in preparation for more specialized studies. Only after the students could access the three-year “specialization” courses on a specific artistic discipline, concluding with a specialization program in architecture and technology of mass production. In their learning path, students were followed by two teachers, a master craftsman and a master in theory. The School hosted teachers-artists from all over Europe, who were forced to leave Germany with the advent of the Nazism, thus contributing to spread the Bauhaus concept, especially in the United States.
The school, which initially got government subsidies, was closed and reopened in 1925 in Dessau, in the new building designed by Gropius himself and quickly became the manifesto of the new European rationalist architecture. The building is still in perfect condition and can be visited.
The Bauhaus school revolutionized the construction philosophy: the building aesthetic becomes secondary to the use for which it is designed. The architect’s job is to carefully analyze the functions that the building is going to have and these are key to design its shape. The school building in Dessau and the cottages built for teachers become the Bauhaus architectural model.
The School building is referred as an example of functional architecture: its double elle form , in which every part is equally relevant and never predominant on the other, is based on the multiple functions that the school building had – the classrooms, the auditorium, the laboratories, the administrative offices and the student accommodations.
The complex appears as separated into various functional components and then reassembled into a whole, in a linear and uniform way, excluding any privileged point of view. The building is also not provided with a main facade, but each side represents one of the different building facades. This is a significant break from the past and in line with one of the founding criteria of the Bauhaus architecture, according to which the form is subject to the function and functions are equivalent to each other, none is dominant over the other.
Bauhaus Masters: Josef Albers, Hinnerk Scheper, Georg Muche, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Gunta Stölzl e Oskar Schlemmer.
The school does not neglect any art or profession and deals with photography, drawing, collage, publishing and even clothing. Many ideas, prototypes and everyday objects conceived at that time are pioneering the success of a series of manufacturing objects in the last eighty years. The furniture objects designed at the Bauhaus school are still today among the classics of modern furniture and have been the seeds of today’s design: functional objects, with a simple, geometric form, aimed at entering the homes of ordinary people, fitting into their daily lives. These common objects are also conceived to match the evolving technological and industrial reality, without losing the attention to detail and attention to quality of materials.
Although the Bauhaus fails to establish itself as a popular movement, proves to be a great starting point for the new, modern design.
Hannes Meyer is appointed Director of the school in 1928 until 1930, when Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe – the theorist of the “less is more” concept – takes over, placing the emphasis on the aesthetic side of architecture, neglecting its social and political aspects. Van der Rohe will be the last director of the school that, as anticipated, finally closes in 1933.