What Is Bauhaus Design?
While many people enjoy the abstract shapes, the bright colours and the industrial design of contemporary art, few know its origins. Today’s visual arts and graphic design have been greatly shaped and influenced by the Bauhaus movement.
Bauhaus was a modern design movement that resembled hope, modernity and a rejection of mass production. It brought us modern architecture and furniture design, as well as popular artists including Piet Mondrian, M.C. Escher, Gerrit Rietveld, El Lissitzky and more.
How Walter Gropius Started It All
German architect Walter Gropius was the mastermind behind the Bauhaus movement. In 1919, he established Staatliches Bauhaus, a school in Weimar, Germany that strictly offered art education. He did this by bridging two existing art schools – the old Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Applied Arts – together.
The Bauhaus’s translation, “construction house,” is the perfect example of what the school sought to do; to marry art and craft, artist and artisan, to create beautiful and functional modern art. After several years of operation, the school’s design philosophy morphed into the Bauhaus aesthetic.
What Is Bauhaus Style?
Bauhaus is commonly described as a combination of modernist style and the Arts and Crafts movement, which was a rejuvenation of fine art by architects, craftsmen and artisans during the 1880s.
Bauhaus sought to bring art back into everyday life while prioritizing function. It wanted to rebel against the unspecialized methods of production in the Industrial Revolution while putting more power back into the hands of the artists and creators. These values are very obviously represented in Bauhaus design principles. These principles were:
- Structure and precision
- Industry and technology
- Union of the artist and artisan
- Combining work, living and play
Bauhaus changed the course of art history. Its principles of simplicity and innovation pushed artists out of their comfort zones and into areas of play. Already established Avante-Garde art styles like Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Cubism were expanded on with abstract geometric art, new mediums and type fonts.
One fantastic example of the area is Yellow-Red-Blue, a famous Wassily Kandinsky artwork. It is known to represent the experimentation and principles of the Bauhaus movement thanks to its lines, movement, bright colours and has obvious notions towards functionality with its subtle depiction of modernist architecture.
Other Bauhaus artists like Paul Klee, Anni Albers and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy similarly utilized simple geometric shapes and bright colours in their famous abstract art.
Not only did Bauhaus influence art, but it also greatly influenced architectural style during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Many of the principles of Bauhaus design were translated to Bauhaus architecture with characteristics like:
- Functional design over ornamentation
- A focus on geometric forms
- Use of modern materials (e.g., steel, glass, concrete, etc.)
- Flat roofs
- Smooth facades
- Glass curtain walls
The original Bauhaus Building is a wonderful example. It features concrete, large glass windows and an asymmetrical design. This design education building stands in stark contrast with other popular 1920s buildings like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Both of these buildings feature symmetry, ornamental touches and influences of classical design, all of which go against Walter Gropius architecture.
Many famous Bauhaus architects arose out of this cultural movement. Hungarian designer Marcel Breuer designed the Doldertal Apartments in Zürich. While El Lissitsky’s architecture was visionary, his buildings were rarely possible to construct. For example, his horizontal skyscrapers or cloud-irons were impossible to build due to the lack of technology or advancements in engineering, physics and construction during the early 20th century.
While Bauhaus impacted the design and appearance of building structures, it also impacted buildings’ interiors.
Bauhaus reinvigorated craftsmanship and sparked a new interest in artfully designed furniture and household objects. As students and teachers attempted to harmonize art and craftsmanship, metalworking, cabinetmaking, textiles and more exploded in popularity. Thanks to many of the talented artists who attended the early Bauhaus schools, we now have:
- The Wassily or the Tubular Chair
- The Brno Chair
- The MT8 Lamp
- The Barcelona Chair
- The Eileen Gray Side Table
The Bauhaus Archive
As tensions rose prior to World War II, Bauhaus shifted locations several times to avoid the pressure of the Nazi regime. There was first Bauhaus Weimar (1919-1925), then the Bauhaus Dessau (1925-1931) and finally the Berlin Bauhaus (1932-1933). The changing location of the school allowed the Bauhaus design and sacred geometry to spread while students and faculty could avoid the pressures of the Nazi party who deemed that its modernist styles were “un-German.”
Despite the disapproval of the Nazi regime, Bauhaus was an attractive and exciting new advancement in the art world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York released a statement that it was going to open “what will probably be considered its most unusual exhibition—and certainly one of its largest” exhibitions. The Bauhaus exhibition ran from December 1938 to January 1939. Although the show was considered “unusual”, Bauhaus gained immense popularity.
In 1969, the 50 Years Bauhaus show arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Canadians could view the comprehensive artwork, furniture and photographs of new Bauhaus buildings designed under the tutelage of the German painter and designer, Walter Gropius.