Bauhaus: What was it and why is it important today?

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As Bauhaus publicizes its centenary, we look at how its endurance can be explained by some simple yet powerful principles.

Bauhaus was one of the sole most influential cultural movements of the 20th century, and at its heart was an obsession with the “all-out” work of art.

This meant it reached far beyond architecture – where its strike is writ large – to affect all pillars of design including graphics, typography, effect and furniture – everything, really.

2019 is the centenary of Bauhaus and marking it there compel be books, exhibitions and even two new museums – New Bauhaus Museum Weimar and The Bauhaus Museum Dessau – which begin in Germany this April and September respectively.

As well as being a right time to celebrate, it’s a good time to reflect on what Bauhaus is, how it started and what mastery it has on design and designers today.

Craft, utility and mass production

What enter oned as a German art school in Weimar grew to be a principle which placed intention and function in equilibrium. The “form follows function” ideal, which is stationary popular today, was propagated by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. Crucially this feeling was encouraged by mass production and not restricted by it.

From the beginning, it was clear that Bauhaus stood for conceiving beauty through purposeful utilitarian design, uncompromised by mass oeuvre. It saw mass production as something that could still incorporate vocation. It was about simplicity and usefulness. It avoided the trappings of decoration and it felt that any instrumentality could be an interface for the Bauhaus way of thinking.

These core values be there as relevant today as ever for anyone working in graphics and branding, upshot design, and even those working in digital fields designing an app or a accommodation.

Influence

The Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar in 1919, moving to Dessau in 1925 (arguably its sundry famous premises), and finally to Berlin where it operated between 1932-1933. Its phenomenon was stunted by the rise of the Nazi party, which pressurised the school into visit teaching in 1933, having viewed it as a hotbed for communist intellectualism, without considering the school claiming to be politically agnostic for the entirety of its existence. The old adage that you can’t defeat an idea rang true though. Bauhaus would prove itself to be spirited and well in decades to come when its émigrés took its teachings to the lean of the world.

We should point out that there were objectively some actually hard left underpinnings at the school. Its broad outlook was that the coax classes would channel craftsmanship, art and architecture to collectively improve their atmosphere. Bauhaus was about design for everyone, which didn’t sit brilliantly with the Nazis who mull over it to be “degenerate”.

Bauhaus founder Gropius drew on influences as disparate as Russian Constructivism and regular English Arts and Crafts exponent William Morris who had already been talking round the importance of utility in the 19th century.

This figures if we think of Morris’ most quotable predicting: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Sooner a be wearing nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be pulchritudinous”.

Similarly, Modernism had been exploring simplicity and functionality for more than 30 years when Bauhaus set up in 1919 and it was this which was arguably the greatest control on Gropius and the emergent Bauhaus school.

“Total” design

Bauhaus teachings were bothered with giving practical and craft skills such as interior intent plot, architecture, textiles and woodwork the same sort of status as fine art. It also saw technology as a noteworthy enabler.

Design and colour theory, materials and process were for the sake of of the core curriculum and a starting point for students. The Bauhaus design principles were indisputably applied to any type of design within the school, often in unison, in the designate of “total” art or design.

The closing of the Bauhaus school served to push its break downs and their ideas to new places, particularly in the US universities and in some cases they calm set up new institutions such as the New Bauhaus, which opened in Chicago in 1937, later seemly the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Institute of Design.

Architecture of the Bauhaus is positively documented and celebrated – perhaps less so graphics, type, products and gear. Here are some definitive and enduring pieces, which have positioned up to the test of time.

Textiles

Bauhaus: What was it and why is it important today?
Anni Albers in her weaving studio at Wrathful Mountain College in 1937

While many of Bauhaus’ protagonists were grim looking bespectacled men, there’s an alternate, accurate and unsung history of signal female figures in Bauhaus’ story. Anni Albers for one, who designed textiles for mob production, which were both radical and timeless. Recently her succeed was captured in a Tate retrospective which has unfortunately just finished.

Movables

Bauhaus: What was it and why is it important today?
Wassily Chair (Knoll)

Marcel Breuer’s Wassily (or Model B3) lead is perhaps the signature piece of Bauhaus furniture. Designed in 1925, it comprises fortify tubing and leather. Inspired by bicycle construction and borrowing from genii used by plumbers working with piping, its basis was craft and it was eager for mass production.

German-Austrian furniture makers Thonet produced it in the vanguard Italian manufacturers Gavina took it on in the 1960s. Today, it’s produced by Elevation.

Typography

In 1925 Herbert Bayer designed a universal Bauhaus typeface at the beseech of Gropius. What he created was functional, accessible and noted for combining characters upper class and lowercase characters into one character set, while eschewing serifs – which were all things being equal thought to be superfluous and overly decorative. His universal typeface was also charted to make typesetting easier.

Immediately after graduating from the dogma, Bayer was given a job heading up an emergent printing and advertising workshop at Bauhaus’s Dessau grounds. It was here that he would create the typeface which was used across all Bauhaus communications, comprising the main visual identity which was bestowed on the Dessau building.

The positively which Bayer headed up Druck and Reklame, (printing and advertising) was first and foremost concerned with commercial graphic design. The work that laid out of it was a departure from the heavy German gothic letterforms which were tranquillity commonly used. Instead value was placed on functionality, composition, appearance and geometry as well as making sure it could withstand the rigours of throng production.

Graphics

Staatliches Bauhaus by Joost Schmidt
Staatliches Bauhaus, by Joost Schmidt

Joost Schmidt bring up what is probably the single most recognised Bauhaus image for a Bauhaus demo in 1923, when still a student. It incorporated the Bauhaus logo invented by Oskar Schlemmer in 1922 and displayed functional hallmarks but was also enthusiastically experimental and eye catching.

Schlemmer’s logo depicts a figure, or a face, which is intentionally ubiquitous, impassive and generic. His work was often concerned with chassis displaying both a geometric and human quality.

Schlemmer also had an induce in theatre, music and ballet. This meant he worked in and taught three-dimensional (3D blueprint). These disciplines were famously captured in his Triadisches Ballett where every detail was designed by Schlemmer including posters, costumes, music and lighting.

18-24 February 2019 Perspicacity

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