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BAUHAUS

 

OVERVIEW  
 

Often misunderstood as a single entity with a consistent program and body of work, the Bauhaus was an educational program that occupied three successive sites in post-World War I Germany: Weimar (1919–25), Dessau (1925–32), and Berlin (1932–33). Distinguished by its changes in location, direction, and faculty, the program’s turbulent history is reflected in the various articulations of the Bauhaus program that, although not wholly distinct from one another, appeared as separate phases of development.

The first Bauhaus (literally, “house of building”), located in the legendary city of German arts and letters, Weimar, was founded by the German architect Walter Gropius in April 1919, several months after the surrender of Germany and the formation of the Weimar Republic. Taking up residence in a building that formerly housed Henri van de Velde’s School of Arts and Crafts, the “First Proclamation of the Weimar Bauhaus” (officially known as the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar) declared the formation of a new school dedicated to the arts and crafts, a “new guild of craftsmen, without class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.” Modeled on a medieval guild, Gropius’s “new guild” would harbor artists and craftsmen who would “together…conceive and create the new building of the future, a new building that will embrace architecture, sculpture and painting in one unity and which will rise one day toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.” The frontispiece of the program, a woodcut designed by Lyonel Feininger, constituted an emblem of this new faith. Depicting a Gothic cathedral with three stars radiating the light of the heavens, the symbol hearkened back to another age, an age idealized in the literature and art of German Romanticism.

A director of the revolutionary group Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Work Council for Art), Gropius’s early appointments to the Weimar faculty, or “Council of Masters,” indicate his vision of an internationalist, pluralist program in which students and faculty alike could share their views and aspirations for artistic and social revolution. Including Gerhard Marcks, Adolf Meyer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Georg Muche, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Lothar Schreyer, and Wassily Kandinsky, the Bauhaus masters were supplemented by an “Honorary Council of Masters,” a group whose members were drawn from countries across the whole of Europe. Ranging in age from 17 to 40, students were from the north and south of Germany and Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Baltic countries; two-thirds were men, and half had served in the army. Curricular studies included mural painting, sculpture, theater, dance, and music. Reflecting the program’s affiliation with medieval guilds, students developed from apprentices to journeymen in order to finally reach the title of “Master.”

In accordance with Gropius’s vision, the early years of the Bauhaus were marked by the engagement of a variety of movements, styles, and pedagogical methods, including German Expressionism, Dada, Russian Suprematism, and Constructivism. Aptly characterized by Wolfgang Pehnt as an “expressionist art school,” the Weimar Bauhaus did in fact exhibit a pronounced bias toward Romantic themes, including social unity, subjective artistic expression, vernacular Christianity, and collective artistic expression, a tendency that was modified over the course of the program’s evolution. The presence of Johannes Itten, a practitioner of the Perozorastrian religious sect, further exaggerated this view. Charged with teaching the required preliminary course (Vorkurs), Itten espoused individual expression over collective responsibility while introducing his students to a cultlike way of living that depended on the elevation of subjective visions, the rigors of individual self-discipline, and bodily and spiritual purification.

On the other hand, the empirical visualization techniques and allegorical figuration of Paul Klee (Ways of Nature Study; The Thinking Eye ) and the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, along with the other Bauhaus masters, mediated Itten’s influence.

Internal and external criticisms of the Bauhaus, a school never fully adopted by either the citizens of Weimar or the government of the state of Thuringia (where Weimar is located), were continual problems for Gropius, who spent most of his time defending the program as the controversy increased. Both as a defensive measure and as a signal of the evolving nature of the Bauhaus curriculum and aims, a new motto, “Art and Technics: A New Unity,” and a new seal, Oskar Schlemmer’s “Constructed Man,” were adopted in 1922. Tempering Gropius’s earlier proclamation of social revolution through art, the attempt to unify “art and technology” sought to counter what many Bauhäusler, students and faculty alike, perceived as the subjective and mystical excess of certain aspects of the program. Officials of Thuringia regarded the program as a waste of resources and a hotbed of foreign influence, a reading of Gropius’s original intentions that was not dissuaded by the school’s new motto and seal. Students, dismayed by the constant upheavals within the school and searching for an alternative to Expressionist drama, were drawn to forms of Constructivism. Sensing an opportunity to achieve an even greater impact for his own artistic ideas during the Dada-Constructivist Congress held in Weimar in 1922, Theo van Doesburg, founder of the Dutch Constructivist movement De Stijl, set up an atelier in Weimar. Students began to migrate to van Doesburg’s studio, perhaps in search of an objective, delimited, and scientific (mathematical) approach to art, and this inevitably led to the import of van Doesburg’s ideas and influence within the Bauhaus itself. A master of compromise bent on sustaining his educational program, Gropius approached the problem directly, hiring the Hungarian Dada-Constructivist Lazslo Moholy-Nagy, a student and associate of van Doesburg, to teach the preliminary course. This arrangement brought about a relative truce between van Doesburg and Gropius.

In further response to the criticism leveled by his peers and colleagues, Gropius sought to assuage various factions, elaborating his views with the publication of Idee und Au fbau des Staatlichen Bauhauses Weimar (Idea and Construction of the Weimar Bauhaus) in 1923. Although Gropius’s vision of the Bauhaus program had evolved into a more comprehensive plan (including admissions policies, a program constitution, and a more carefully articulated curriculum), Idee und Aufbau retained several ideas from his original vision, ideas now wedded to a focus on demonstrating outcomes.

The more abstract courses taught by Klee and Kandinsky were supplemented by carpentry, stained-glass, pottery, metal, weaving, stage, wall-painting, and architecture workshops. The 1923 Bauhaus exhibition—an event requested by the Thuringian Legislative Assembly— provided a report of the Bauhaus’s accomplishments to date. The exhibition, spread mainly throughout the school, featured a one-family house (“Haus am Horn”), built and furnished entirely by the Bauhaus students, and included lectures, performances, and “other entertainments,” such as the Bauhaus jazz band.

A whole greater than the sum of its parts, the Weimar Bauhaus program sought to overturn the “decadence of architecture” and the “elitist and isolating effects of the academy” with an “awareness of the infinite that can only be given form… through finite means.” Uniquely combining Elementarist theory, nature study, representational techniques and methods, and quasi-scientific experimentation with materials and processes, the Bauhaus curriculum sought to promote a seamless integration of “practical building, building experiments, and the engineering sciences.” Seeking a revolution of art with the intention of providing a revolutionary impulse for humanistically based change, Gropius’s “guiding principle” was centered on “the idea of creating a new unity through the welding together of many arts and movements: a unity having its basis in Man himself and significant only as a living organism.”

The prolific output of Gropius and the Bauhaus masters and students, coupled with the support of numerous critics, scientists, architects, and artists, could not forestall the antagonisms and threats of the state government (Thuringia). The decision to leave Weimar was made on 26 December 1924. Students and masters of the Bauhaus finally vacated the premises of the Bauhaus at Weimar in the first few months of 1925. By this time, 526 students had been trained at the Bauhaus, although far more took only the preliminary course. Fortunately, the close of the Bauhaus at Weimar did not represent the end of the Bauhaus program.

During the period of greatest controversy in Weimar, Gropius secured permission from the mayor of the city of Dessau, Dr. Fritz Hesse, to transfer the Bauhaus to Dessau, where it remained relatively free of state criticism for several years. Almost all the former Bauhaus masters transferred to Dessau, and five former students—including Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, and Marcel Breuer—were appointed masters. Gropius designed a new suite of buildings to house the program, moving the program from its temporary quarters in Dessau in 1926. Sharing its premises with the Municipal Arts and Crafts School, the Dessau Bauhaus included the technically innovative school building (including a laboratory workshop, administration offices, and technical school) and a dormitory with 28 studio apartments, baths, dining hall (which acted as an auditorium and included a stage), and laundry for the students. Near the Bauhaus, Gropius designed a series of houses for the Bauhaus masters and director, all of which were supplemented by the Bauhaus workshops.

The curriculum was modified as well, enlarging the architecture program and adding a department of typography and layout. The principles were also clarified, with the purpose of the Bauhaus defined as “

1. The intellectual, manual and technical training of men and women of creative talent for all kinds of creative work, especially building; and

2. The execution of practical experimental work, especially building and interior decoration, as well as the development of models for industrial and manual production.”

A Bauhaus Corporation, chartered for the express purpose of handling the business aspects of the various Bauhaus models, was also installed. The Dessau Bauhaus continued to thrive. In 1926 Gropius received an additional commission to design 60 housing units for a new housing community in Dessau, a commission that grew to 316 houses by 1928, all of which were partly furnished by the Bauhaus workshops.

In 1926 the new generation of Bauhaus masters—Albers, Breuer, and Bayer among them—began to elaborate the practical experiments of the Bauhaus, producing furniture, typography, graphic design, photography, weaving, light fixtures, and domestic objects that have come to be known as representative of the “Bauhaus style.” Parallel studies in painting and sculpture also developed, with the figurative lyricism of Klee and Schlemmer providing a foil for Kandinsky’s continued experiments with analytic abstraction.

Because of the relative stability of the program, the over-whelming administrative burdens placed on him in the position of director, and a substantial increase of professional work, Gropius resigned in early 1928, recommending as his successor the head of the Department of Architecture, the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer. Because of various conflicts with municipal authorities, Meyer resigned in 1930. His replacement, the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, moved the Bauhaus to Berlin in 1932, continuing to oversee the program until it was closed by the reactionary National Socialist regime in April 1933.

The closure of the Bauhaus, presaged by the program’s original commitment to humanistically based change, pedagogical experimentation, innovation, and internationalism, did not in fact spell the demise of the Bauhaus. Guaranteed by the numerous graduates of the program and facilitated by its prominence as a premier program for the study of the arts and architecture, the Bauhaus program was incorporated into various design curricula throughout Europe and the United States. Bauhäusler, including Mies van der Rohe, Moholy-Nagy, Gropius, and Albers, were appointed to head schools of art and architecture, and many other members of the Bauhaus received teaching positions in universities, colleges, and schools of art. Together with their advocates, Bauhäusler revolutionized the way in which art and architecture were taught while reinforming modern American business and commerce with new ideas about modern life (domestic and corporate) and advanced methods of communication. As Mies so deftly phrased the impact of the Bauhaus, it was not a style, an institution, or even a program for study; rather, “it was an idea, and Gropius formulated this idea with great precision…. The fact that it was an idea, I think, is the cause of this enormous influence the Bauhaus had on every progressive school around the globe. You cannot do that with organization, you cannot do that with propaganda. Only an idea spreads so far.”

ELIZABETH BURNS GAMARD

 
   
   
   
   
   
GALLERY  
 
  1925–1926, Bauhaus Building, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1925–1926, Bauhaus Building, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  Walter Gropius’ office at the Weimar Bauhaus, 1924
   
 
  1925-1926, Masters’ Houses, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1925-1926, Masters’ Houses, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1925-1926, Masters’ Houses, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1925-1926, Masters’ Houses, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1926-1928, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1926-1928, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1927, Fieger House, Carl Fieger, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1928, Konsum Building, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1928, Houses Naurath and Hahn, Richard Paulick, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1928-1929, Employment Office, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1928-1929, Employment Office, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1928-1929, Employment Office, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1928-1929, Employment Office, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1929-1930, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate: Houses with Balcony Access, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1929-1930, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate: Houses with Balcony Access, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1929-1930, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate: Houses with Balcony Access, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1929-1930, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate: Houses with Balcony Access, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1929-1930, Kornhaus, Carl Fieger, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1932, Kiosk, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, DESSAU, GERMANY
   
 
  1923, Baby Cradle, Peter Keler
   
 
  1923, Bauhaus Chess Set, Josef Hartwig
   
 
  1924, Tea infuser, Marianne Brandt
   
 
  1925-1926, Wassily Chair, Marcel Breuer
   
 
  1929, Brno Chair, Mies van der Rohe
   
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
ARCHITECTS  
 

BREUER, MARCEL

GROPIUS, WALTER

MEYER, HANNES

MIES VAN DER ROHE, LUDWIG

VAN DOESBURG, THEO

 
   
   
   
   
   
   
BUILDINGS  
 

BUILDINGS

1925–1926, Bauhaus Building, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY

1925-1926, Masters’ Houses, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY

1926-1928, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate, DESSAU, GERMANY

1927, Fieger House, Carl Fieger, DESSAU, GERMANY

1928, Konsum Building, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY

1928, Houses Naurath and Hahn, Richard Paulick, DESSAU, GERMANY

1928-1929, Employment Office, Walter Gropius, DESSAU, GERMANY

1929-1930, Dessau-Törten Housing Estate: Houses with Balcony Access, DESSAU, GERMANY

1929-1930, Kornhaus, Carl Fieger, DESSAU, GERMANY

1932, Kiosk, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, DESSAU, GERMANY

DESIGN

1923, Baby Cradle, Peter Keler

1923, Bauhaus Chess Set, Josef Hartwig

1924, Tea infuser, Marianne Brandt

1925-1926, Wassily Chair, Marcel Breuer

1929, Brno Chair, Mies van der Rohe

1929, Wardrobe on Rollers, Josef Pohl

 
   
   
   
   
   
   
MORE  
 

INTERNAL LINKS

Breuer, Marcel; Constructivism; De Stijl; Gropius, Walter ; Meyer, Hannes ; Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig ; van Doesburg, Theo

FUTHER READING

Bayer, Herbert, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius (editors), Bauhaus, 1919–1928, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1938; London: Allen and Unwin, 1939 Droste, Magdalena, Bauhaus, 1919–1933, Cologne: Taschen Verlag, 1990; as Bauhaus, 1919–1933, translated by Karen Williams, Berlin: Taschen, 1990 Forgács, Éva, Bauhaus, Pècs, Hungary: Jelenkor Irodalmi és Muvészeti Kiadó, 1991; as The Bauhaus Idea and Bauhaus Politics, translated by John Bátki, Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 1995 Gropius, Walter, Scope of Total Architectu re, New York: Harper and Row, 1955; London: Allen and Unwin, 1956 Hochman, Elaine S., Bauhaus: Crucible of Modernism, New York: Fromm International, 1997 Kaes, Anton, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg, The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994 Kentgens-Craig, Margaret, Bauhaus-Arkitektur: d ie Rezeption in Amerika, 1 919–1936, Frankfurt and New York: Lang, 1993; as The Bauhaus in America: First Contacts, 1919–1936, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1999 Lane, Barbara Miller, Architecture and Politics in Ger many, 1918–1945, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1968 Whitford, Frank, Bauhaus, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1984 Wingler, Hans Maria, Das Bauhaus, 1919–1933: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Bramsche: Gebr. Rasch, 1962; 2nd edition, as Das Bauhaus, 1919–1933: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, und die Nachfolge in Chicago seit 1937, Cologne: DuMont Schauberg, 1968; 2nd edition translated as The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, translated by Wolfgang Jabs and Basil Gilbert, edited by Joseph Stein, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, and London: Cambridge University Press, 1969; 3rd edition, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1976

   

 

AMSTERDAM SCHOOL
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