German School’s Wide Influence on Modern Design

In an enormous release of creative energy in Germany that followed World War I, a good many artists, hopeful that a better world could be made out of the ruins of a devastating war, became possessed of a new idealism (The Bauhaus Fusion of the Arts). One result of this was the ‘Bauhaus’ which is a place and the germinating spirit that joined art and industrial design.

The Bauhaus Building in Dessau.  t was the longest serving of the three Bauhaus sites, in use from 1925 to 1932. (Bauhaus Fusion of the Arts)
The Bauhaus Building in Dessau. (Bauhaus Fusion of the Arts)

The rise of fascism

The rise of fascism in Germany meant that it did not remain amendable to the Bauhaus idea for long and the Nazis killed it off. This was the United States gain, for many of the Bauhaus teachers and students emigrated to the States to pursue their artistic endeavours unencumbered. A direct consequence of this migration is the Institute of Design at Chicago established in the late 1930s as the “New Bauhaus.”

Background

The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, then 35 years old and already widely respected as an architect. Gropius was named the director of the Ducal Academy of Fine Arts at Weimar in 1918. Later, he was also put in charge of the Weimar School of Arts and Craft. The unity of the arts happened to be an ideal about which Gropius had strong convictions. He felt that class distinction between craftsman and artist were arbitrary and an “arrogant barrier.” The ideal school would be one in which creative minds could join together and create an environment that would be conducive to creativity. He soon formed a team of creatives that would be the envy of other art institutions of higher learning.

Bauhaus Style Poster Exhibition Poster 1923, (Bauhaus Fusion of the Arts)
Bauhaus Style Poster Exhibition Poster 1923

Attracting talent

Gropius looked for teachers who were both creative artists and constructive critics. Wassily Kandinski taught mural painting and theory, Paul Klee glass painting and weaving, Lyonel Feininger painting and graphic arts. Additionally, the faculty included Oskar Schlemmer, who taught stone sculpture and theatrical design; Gerhard Marcks, who taught ceramics, Laszlo Moholu-Nagy, as a metal-work instructor. Marcel Breuer was in charge of furniture workshops, and Herbert Bayer, an architect, taught typography and designed the lower-case alphabet in which Bauhaus publications were printed. Both these men were former Bauhaus students who remained as teachers.

Bauhaus course structure

It was a Bauhaus principle that neither art can neither be taught nor learned. Students were instructed in the basic principles of the arts and crafts, exposed to the energy of the artists under who they worked. They were encouraged to experiment. Staff members and students both worked towards a collective ideal, not unlike any creative endeavours it had occasions of conflict and controversy. Gropius, however, encouraged a flexible approach to day to day problems as the Bauhaus way.

A Bauhaus course included the intensive studies of forms and the use of materials – combining fine art and reliable craftsmanship. Each student worked directly under an artist and an artisan. The boldness and freedom of intellectual climate attracted to the Weimar, a dazzling range of individuals.

The conservative Weimar citizens found the Bauhaus rather challenging to tolerate, and they finally made existence so difficult that the school was moved to Dessau. There, in 1926, it moved into a new building of unique design by Gropius, who also designed houses of contemporary style for faculty members.

In its Dessau period, the Bauhaus focused increasingly on industrial design and to the aesthetics of the form of household items. Marcel Breuer designed, in 1925, the first chair to be constructed of tubular steel an idea that has supported large industries. Designs for lamps, tapestries, stage settings, ceramics, chinaware, street signs, buildings, printed brochures flowed out of the Bauhaus in striking new forms.

Bauhaus typography and furniture example
Bauhaus typography and furniture example

The students even organised a jazz band which quickly became known all over Germany. Fees for its appearances helped members pay school fees. Students also received commissions whenever their designs were sold for manufacture and commercial production.

Gropius resigned in 1928 to devote more time to architecture. He was briefly succeeded by Hannes Meyer, who was followed by the architect, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe. The National Socialist party looked with deep suspicion on the Bauhaus, and in 1932 it was moved to Berlin, where the 1933 Nazi victory finished it.

Move to the United States

Laslo Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian architect and bold experimenter in photography, photography, painting and typography, theater design and writing, took the Bauhaus idea to Chicago, and in 1937 founded the institute of design there. Moholy-Nagy headed this institution until he died in 1946.

Gropius directed the department of architecture at Harvard for many years; Feininger resumed his painting career in New York; Breuer taught architecture at Harvard and practised in New York.

Other “Bauhaus men” and their students have had a far-reaching influence on the shape and the quality of the everyday objects that we live with. It would be not easy to pass through a home, an office or along the streets of a city without encountering objects that do not have the Bauhaus touch in their DNA.

If you enjoyed this post you may also be interested in;

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.