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02 March 2023

Bauhaus. Revolutionary ideas at the source of modern design.

A composition based on the balance of horizontal and vertical lines, clean forms responding to functional needs. The idea of ​​Bauhaus is fully expressed in architecture, but we read it equally well in furniture designs or graphics. The uniqueness of the concept of combining all aspects of design has been recognized for more than 100 years after its creation.

The development of industry and mass-produced items greatly facilitated their availability. At the same time, he questioned the quality of goods produced in this way. The German architect Walter Groupius saw the need to change design in the era of industrialization. Objects and construction on a massive scale were to gain quality thanks to educated designers involved in their creation. He wanted to incorporate the skills related to the production of unique items by artists and craftsmen in single copies, into industrial processes and objects intended for a wide audience.

A school unlike any other

Realizing that innovative thinking requires proper preparation, he decided to put his ideas into practice through education. The opportunity to implement a revolutionary enterprise for those times appeared in 1919 in Weimar. Walter Gropius became the rector of the school created after the merger of the Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Artistic Crafts and named Das Staatliches Bauhaus. This is where contemporary design was born.

The idea of ​​a complete Gesamtkunstwerk, in which architecture, furniture, fabrics, and even dishes or typography form a coherent whole, so close to Gropius, could be realized thanks to the thorough knowledge and understanding of these areas by all the artists. Therefore, the organization of the new school resembled medieval guilds, where students became apprentices and professors became masters. Teaching began with a one-year course, during which the newly admitted adepts learned the technique, were to trust their intuition and open themselves to individual talents. In the next three years of study, they became full-fledged designers, and often also teachers of younger colleagues.

Art closer to craft

The manifesto published shortly after the founding of the school equated architects, artists and craftsmen. He recommended everyone to take up the craft, he called artists inspired craftsmen. He saw the value in every field of visual arts in technical perfection. It must be admitted that this concept has been successfully implemented and the works of the Bauhaus show this interpenetration of the fields of fine arts. Otto Werner’s cubist sculptures and Marianne Brandt’s metal tea kettle are connected by geometric simplification. Gunta Stölzl’s textiles and Vasily Kandinsky’s paintings use color in a similar way, and the graphic compositions in numerous publications are deceptively similar to the architectural projections of buildings.

The initial idealistic assumptions and expressionist approach to design gradually gave way to rationalism and a closer approximation to industrial production. Apprenticeships in factories have been integrated into the teaching process. This coincided with the growing reluctance of the Weimar nationalist authorities to the cosmopolitan attitudes of the university authorities and resulted in the need to move the school to Dessau.

The new building – an icon of style

The complex of school buildings designed by Walter Gropius perfectly implements the ideas of the university. To this day, we can admire the modern shape maintained in the spirit of industrial functionalism. The interconnected buildings create a balanced composition of verticals and levels. In the functional interiors, illuminated by large glazing, the space is emphasized with patches of intense color. Lecturers and students of the university were responsible for the design of the interiors and equipment. The furniture has an architectural character, clean lines, a minimum of decoration. Attention shifts to the beauty of the juxtaposed materials. Marcel Breuer’s innovative Wassily armchair, whose structure was made of steel tubes, comes from this period. According to the designer, he was inspired by a bicycle frame. The light openwork form looks like an ascetic sculpture devoid of tectonics.

On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the university in 2019, the complex in Dessau, inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List, was opened to the public after a thorough renovation. In the permanent exhibition, you can see over 1,000 objects on display illustrating the history of Bauhas design thought.

Great personalities

The strength of the university were charismatic lecturers. Apart from the founder, they gave it direction and modified it. In the first period, an important figure was the artist Johannes Itten, a supporter of intuition and subjective experience. He was replaced by Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, who wanted a closer relationship with the industry. The teachers also included Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. In 1926, Gropius handed over the management of the school to Hans Meyer, the university gradually lost its connection with craftsmanship, and classes reflecting the rector’s left-wing political views were included in the curriculum, which did not win him supporters among the radicalizing authorities. The last months of Bauhaus functioning in 1930 was the time of Mies van der Rohe and the emphasis was primarily on teaching architecture.

Although Walter Gropius protested when the “Bauhaus style” was mentioned, today we recognize him easily. Joint work, exchange of ideas and expressive personalities of the lecturers were reflected in the designs of furniture, fabrics, works made of wood or metal. Innovative forms – pure and rational – inspire designers to this day. They were complemented by expressive spots of color: red, blue or yellow. Like typography inscribed in geometric frames, they created a contemporary aesthetic. And although most of the prototypes created at the school were not suitable for implementation into production, contemporary design still refers to them and develops their avant-garde message.

Author: Agnieszka Gruszczyńska-Hyc