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Updated Monday, 26th November 2001

The powerhouse which drove German design - and then spread worldwide.

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(1919 - 1933)


A Unified Approach

The Bauhaus school of industrial design was founded in Germany in 1919. Although in existence for only fourteen years, its influence on modern architecture and design has been immense, and many of its famous students and masters gave the Modern Movement a philosophical, as well as practical, grounding in the volatile years of the early twentieth century.

The aim of the Bauhaus was to heal the schism between the arts and the crafts. Students (who usually numbered one hundred) were taught to be as proficient in artistic fields as in the technology of production. They were taught a multi-disciplined curriculum, often attending classes in photography, theatre production, painting, and design.

The school's founders believed that the long-standing polarisation of arts and craftsmanship was damaging to human artistic and material development. However, for the first four years of its existence, the Bauhaus did not teach an architecture courses and was dominated by the Swiss artist Johannes Itten, a charismatic teacher who was fond of wearing a monk's outfit and tried, in 1921, to convert his students to an ancient Persian religion.

The Dessau Phase

Itten's relations became strained with his colleague Walter Gropius, a German architect and teacher, and the school's first director. In 1923, Itten resigned and Gropius became more influential. He was a great believer in mass production and insisted that students master the production process from start to finish, so that their artistic sensibilities would be informed by the possibilities of new technology.

Gropius and the Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy encouraged students to make contact with industrial companies around the town of Weimar, where the school was based. The drive for mass production, and consequently standardisation, were central to Modernist architects' vision of reshaping our cities.

Gropius gathered around him some of the brightest artists and designers of the time, including the painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and the designer Marcel Breuer. But the avant-garde nature of the Bauhaus was anathema to the growing influence of National Socialism in Germany.

In 1925, after the Ministry of Education had cut its grant, Gropius announced the school's closure. There it might have ended but for an offer from the industrial city of Dessau. In 1926, the Bauhaus relocated to a new purpose-built school, designed by Gropius and Swiss architect Hannes Meyer. Clean, modern, and confident, the new building signalled that the school's time had come.

The following years were the heyday of the Bauhaus. Marcel Breuer and his students began to produce revolutionary tubular lightweight chairs, and the department became a valuable source of income for the school. The form of these products increasingly became derived from function, an approach to design for which Bauhaus is still synonymous.

National Socialism and Exile

Gropius resigned in 1928, and was replaced by Meyer. Under Meyer, the school's curriculum became more leftwing, and many of the early masters left. In these years of increased Nazi influence in Germany, the Bauhaus once again became a target of the far right.

Meyer was forced out and replaced by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, who banned political activity and turned the Bauhaus into a more orthodox architectural school, in a vain attempt to save it. But in 1931, the Nazis gained control of the Dessau city government. They criticised the school as "Jewish" and "Oriental", forced its Marxist teachers and students to leave, branded its work "decadent", and even planned to put an "Aryan" pitched roof on top of Gropius' school building.

Mies took the school to an old warehouse outside Berlin in 1932, but in 1933, the year Hitler became Chancellor, the Bauhaus was closed for good.

Many of the Bauhaus leading lights fled Germany for good. Gropius and Breuer left for Britain where they stayed briefly in the Lawn Road Flats, and Mies eventually left for the United States in 1937, where he would complete his most celebrated work after World War Two.

The influence of Bauhaus, particularly its Dessau phase, on Modernist architecture was profound. The insistence on standardisation, the experiments in mass production, and the pioneering of the concept of industrial design, all influenced the Modernist approach to building and design.

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