100 years of Bauhaus: ‘Construction of the future’
This year is the centenary of the foundation of the Bauhaus, probably the most influential arts, crafts and design school in history. Its opening manifesto declared: ‘Together let us call for, devise and create the construction of the future, comprising everything in one form: architecture, sculpture and painting.’
In the beginning, the Bauhaus represented something of a revolutionary moment: a progressive ideal springing out of the First World War. It was an avant-garde experiment in which predominantly radical artists and leftist utopians gathered to reject traditional neoclassical and Beaux-Art styles. It brought a diverse range of crafts together to aid the creative process. Teachers included Kandinsky, Breuer, Klee, Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe.
Founded by architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus had a relatively short life – just 14 years. In 1926, the school moved from Weimar to Dessau into its most recognisable building (designed by Gropius), branded forever by its Herbert Bayer-inspired typeface. This was around the time that architecture entered the curriculum, and when the ‘Bauhaus style’ started to come into its own.
It was intended to be a non-political venture. In many ways it was a William Morris-inspired production house. But while Morris had rejected the industrial age and harked back to the romantic era of the craftsman, the Bauhaus emerged in the midst of a modernism that was alienated from the past. The theoretical approach to various subjects arose out of the crisis of legitimacy in the way society was heading. New ways of teaching and collaboration sprang out of its studios and lecture halls that have influenced the way that architecture, in particular, has been taught ever since.
The closure of the school by the Nazis in 1933 has perpetuated the perception of the radical Bauhaus and in many ways, it was this moment – its closure and the dispersal of its staff and students – that elevated the reputation of the Bauhaus. Ever since, its legacy has been hotly contested: both dismissed as an aloof intellectuals’ vanity project and lauded as a heroic fortress of experimentation.
But recently, it seems to have been given a new lease of life by initiatives like The China Design Museum, opened last year in Hangzhou in China. Designed by Alvaro Siza, it houses 350 original design works from Bauhaus. The intent, says director Yuan Youmin, is to ‘nurture the public’s aesthetics for daily life’.
So, has the Bauhaus style taken over the world? Or is it about time that we broke with its methods and invented something new? What should – and what should not – the Bauhaus teach us today?