Nearly a century after its inception the Bauhaus legacy still inspires artists of all disciplines.
Today the term defines an entire style with functionalism at the core. Revolving around this central theme throughout its existence, the most modern and disputed art school of its time, the Bauhaus established a new understanding of art, craft and architecture.
A matter of course today, a novelty then, it united the traditionally divided fine, performing and applied arts. The former hotbed of the avant-garde has an impact on followers and critics till this day.
The revolutionary teaching mission was to nurture the understanding of art in context with craft and later technology, away from its existence in self-purpose. The school encouraged fresh ideas, the exploration of new materials, technologies or simply a fresh angle to a known challenge resulting in some sensational innovations.
Walter Gropius organized his brainchild in a novel way and established workshops for ceramics, metal, wood, stone sculpting and more. Each of them headed by two masters, a master of form, the artist and a master of the craft. Each workshop had a productivity department, comparable to modern research departments. Their task was to develop prototypes based on functional analyses. This approach not only changed what would be designed in the future but also how it would be developed.
The manifesto from 1919 explicitly prescribes, “The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building! To embellish buildings was once the noblest function of the fine arts; they were the indispensable components of great architecture…Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist!"
After moving to Berlin the Bauhaus dispersed itself 1933 due to the increasing pressure form the Nazis and many of those who were active at and around the Bauhaus emigrated in the 30s. Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and others contributed to the international circulation of Bauhaus design through their teaching assignments and commissions.
Mies van der Rohe, last director of the school is often quoted with the famous line “less is more” and couldn’t be clearer. The driving themes of the design school are straightforwardness, functionality and minimalism. There should be no art for art’s sake rather it should evolve from functionality.
Indeed only few of the designs originating at the Bauhaus itself are still in production today but many nowadays produced furniture designs are influenced by the Bauhaus. Thus the term Bauhaus furniture describes an entire category of functional, modern furniture.
Marcel Breuer’s club chair B3, after its resurrection in the 60s nicknamed Wassily, must be one of the most spectacular Bauhaus designs. Not only had Breuer applied the school of thought without compromise but combined it with technological innovation. The chair initiated the triumphal procession of tubular furniture.
The tubular cantilever, created around the same time made history as well. Cantilevers occupied a few designers who were intrigued by Mark Stam’s work. Some were commercially successful, amongst them Breuer’s Cesca chair or Mies van der Rohe’s interpretation which led to a legal dispute over copy rights that should go on over many years and involve several designers and companies.
Mies van der Rohe created some true Bauhaus classics for the pavilion at the world exhibition in Barcelona 1929 and the Weissenhof estate in Stuttgart 1927. Innovative technology and distinct forms merge with characteristic elegance. He understood to transfer the functionalist thought into comfortable, highly aesthetic designs without the at times forbidding vibe of functionalism. His cantilevers MR10 and MR20 are not the only design icons by his hand that are often referred to in context with the Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus itself and projects revolving around it encouraged the international exchange between artists and architects.
In France Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray worked on their own interpretations of functionalism and selected metal for their work although their designs turned out far more luxurious then those of their German peers.
Many architects pick up theories of the Bauhaus and designers and develop them further thus creating exciting variations of the common factor functionality.
Mies van der Rohe adds a cool layer of elegance. Le Corbusier creates a machine-like aesthetic. The chaise longue LC4 is a perfect example.
Marcel Breuer approaches the task like a craftsman and Eileen Gray makes an imaginative attempt full of humour and phantasy.
George Nelson who should later become creative director at Herman Miller Furniture interviewed Mies van der Rohe 1931 during his explorative travels through Europe’s design scene and published the article in the magazine Pencil Points. This and other accounts made the Bauhaus popular in the US as well and further inspired the industrial furniture production.
A few years later Hermann Miller would systematically target designs that were practical as well as aesthetic and suitable for mass production and collaborated with designers such as Charles & Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia and Isamo Noguchi thus connecting art and technology in the best possible manner true to the Bauhaus philosophy.
Till today Bauhaus designs depict a modern lifestyle. The marketing strategy for the Bauhaus classics nowadays revives the contradiction of offering luxury goods rather than commodities, which was the social pretence on which the Bauhaus was built. Or as Gropius put it “The creation of standard types for all practical commodities of everyday use is a social necessity.”
The pretence to find new ways to solve social challenges adequately ultimately democratised design.