The Bauhaus : 100 years of Modernism
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, the wellknown school of Arts & Crafts associated with the idea of Modernism. Created in Weimar in 1919, its initiator, the architect Walter Gropius, wants to integrate the contingencies of the modern world around the ideals of Arts and Technology. Focused on architecture and construction, the school advocates to bring together the arts and the know-how technics. Indeed, Bau means construction in the broad sense, and Haus means the house. Therefore, Bauhaus is a neologism meaning the house of construction or building house.
The aim is to create a unity or closer ties between arts and crafts. The idea is to produce a work that is not limited to its purely aesthetic or objectionable meaning. It is to influence the transformation of social reality by urging collaboration and interaction as the founding principles of creation. In other words, it legitimizes the Plato of the Republic, in advocating an art for the city, at the expense of the individualistic Kantian approach, that is to say of an art devoid of any utilitarian purpose.
A Collaborative Education
At the Bauhaus, teaching drafts a new approach to creation by combining theory and practice. First, Walter Gropius imagines a pedagogy inspired by the schools of the Middle Ages. Instead of the regular teachers, the training is given by “Masters.” (Meister) Students are called “apprentices” (Lehrlinge), They can become “companions” (Gesellen) and “young masters” (Jungmeister). «The Board of Masters» manages the affairs of the Bauhaus as well as the appointments of young masters.
In 1922, Walter Gropius summarizes the teaching of the Bauhaus in the form of three concentric circles aimed at reaching the ultimate stage: construction (der Bau).
The first part is a one year elementary course (Vorlehre) in order to give each student a basic artistic training. This base is complemented by specific courses such as “interaction between shapes and colors” by Wassily Kandisky and Paul Klee.
The second part is a three-year workshop. A first section teaches form (Formiehre), it is given by an artist, a «master of form». The second section is practical (Werklehre) and is given by a «master craftsman». In addition, each workshop corresponds to a material: stone, clay, glass, colour, fabrics, metal, wood.
From 1919 to 1923, the spirit of the school was built around the extravagant personality of Johannes Itten. Under his tenure, expressionism is the guiding principle of the school artistic orientations. At the beginning of 1923, the arrival of the constructivist Moholy-Nagy, as head of the metal workshop, sealed the conceptual turn of the Bauhaus. From then, the technical world supplants the craft world. Following Russian constructivists, the Bauhaus engages in productivism.
Also in 1923, the Bauhaus’s first major exhibit opens : Kunst und Technologie – Eine Neue Einheit (Art and Technology – a new unit), Gropius publishes an article that aims to get rid of the spirit of the individual and symbolist work of art. It orients the aims of creation towards the design and manufacture of utilitarian objects, to be crafted in collaboration with the industry. The construction of the houses am Horm symbolizes this new orientation.
In 1924, Thüringer Ordnungsbund’s right-wing nationalist party wins a majority in the Weimar Landtag: the Bauhaus budget is cut in half. Since its foundation, the Bauhaus has been caught in crossfire between various political parties. The right wing rejects this school because of its utopian, even Bolshevik, views. During these same elections, the city of Dessau is won by the democrats, who are more than happy to welcome the Bauhaus in their industrial city. Gropius draws up the plans for the new school which construction is completed in December 1926. The school opens again in a very favourable creative climate.
The majority of teachers and pupils claim to be Marxists; not in its Leninist form, but rather Hegelian. This Marxism aims at the emancipation of the masses through the fruit of a profoundly anti-bourgeois collective work. In 1928, the constructivist guard, Marcel Breuer and Moholy-Nagy, leave the school. Gropius calls Hannes Meyer, in charge of the architecture workshop and a fervent Marxist, to succeed him. Meyer wants the school to assume its social role in order to produce for the masses.
“The needs of the people, not the need for luxury”. Meyer likes to say
As such, within the school, he creates a production cooperative. For Meyer, architecture should not be defined in a formal or aesthetic way. The architectural form is to be calculated with scientific logic in mind.
Some professors write a report sent to the Mayor of Dessau. They denounce Meyer’s ties with the Communist Party. This leeds to his dismissal in 1930.
After the success of his pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibit, Mies van der Rohe, then director of the Deutscher Werkbund, is recruited to calm relations within the school. He decides to refocus the Bauhaus teaching around architecture, depoliticizing its approach.
In 1931, the National Socialist Party won the elections of the Dessau region. On August 22, 1932, a Nazi resolution orders the dissolution of Bauhaus. The Bauhaus of Dessau closes its doors on October 1, 1932. Yet, in a very heavy political climate, Mies decided to install the Bauhaus in a Berlin former abandoned factory. Mies doesn’t have the time to give the school a new impetus by making it private. On January 30th, 1933 Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany. As soon as April, the political police carries out a search and seales the school. On July 19, Mies declares the Bauhaus dissolved.
Despite its closure, the Bauhaus still continues to influence the arts and modern architecture. Many of his teachers emigrated to the United States and have shaped our today’s world. The Bauhaus Design and Furnitures are always reissued over and over again..
An inspiration for FloatYourHomeBerlin
In designing the plans of my houseboat, I wanted simple lines tending to purity. As advocated by Marcel Breuer (first a student, then a professor at the Bauhaus), I work on functionalism as a real theoretical and aesthetic principle. Still following Mies’ doctrine – LESS IS MORE – I am committed to making FloatYourHomeBerlin a practical world, without the unnecessary.