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Bauhaus celebrates centennial

Stefan Dege eg/db
January 8, 2019

Founded 100 years ago, the German Bauhaus movement's architectural style and non-ornamental interior design are still iconic and relevant today.

Bauchaus letters spell: Utopia
Image: picture-alliance/akg-images

Architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus School in Weimar in 1919. The objective was to counter mass-produced goods and offer alternatives to industrial production that would nevertheless be modern, inexpensive and functional.

With the school, Gropius wanted to reunite arts and crafts. Collaborations between the arts and industry did not exist at the time.

In his manifesto, he appealed to "architects, sculptors, painters — we all have to return to the craft!"

Gropius, for his part, would probably have also liked the slogan used by the current German hardware and home improvement store that picked up the name of his school: "Bauhaus, when it has to be good!"

Walter Gropius
Bauhaus founder Walter GropiusImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Gropius understood construction as the "end goal of all artistic activity." That's why his students did not only work in university workshops. He also sent them to construction sites, where they explored the Bauhaus's typical design, color and material theory. The most important design principle: "form follows function."

It should be modern and simple

The students designed simple furniture and everyday items. What mattered was cool elegance rather than playful art. Many prototypes entered mass production, but not much was affordable, including the Bauhaus wallpaper produced by Hanover-based wallpaper manufacturer Rasch and the famous black desk lamp built by Kandem. Other companies eventually copied the latter, making it affordable for a broader range of customers.

Bauhaus style black workplace lamps
Black desk lamps, Bauhaus-styleImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J.-P. Kasper

Bauhaus architectural design also made the style more widely known, with the new houses alleviating rampant housing shortages in many cities. Gropius wanted to solve urban building problems by designing mass residential constructions, for instance housing estates in Dessau-Törten, Karlsruhe-Dammerstock and Berlin-Siemensstadt. The estates offered plenty of urgently needed housing, but their vast anonymity also created new social problems.

In 1925, a quarrel with the new conservative government in the state of Thuringia forced the school to relocate to Dessau, making its home a year later in a new building designed by Gropius. The workshops with their glass facades soon became the epitome of modernity.

The teachers lived and worked in four so-called masters' houses, erected in addition to an estate with 60 houses. After five years, an architect by the name of Mies van der Rohe took over as director before the Nazis closed the school of art in 1932. While they admired functionality in industrial buildings, the Nazis were wary of the Bauhaus movement, finally condemning it as "Jewish" and "Bolshevik." The school moved again, this time to Berlin, where it was closed for good in 1933. Many teachers and instructors went abroad.

Siemensstadt estate in Berlin
Modernist housing: Siemensstadt residential estate in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/ ZB

Bauhaus teachings and the works of Bauhaus students remain iconic to this day. Five of the seven Dessau masters' houses still exist, a college has found its home at the Bauhaus Weimar, the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin presents the school's history and the restored school in Dessau houses the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

Germany celebrates 100 years of Bauhaus

In 2019, Germany will be celebrating the centennial of the founding of Bauhaus. It may have existed for a mere 14 years, but the legendary school of design has lost none of its impact and is today regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century German culture exports. 

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