This year marks the centenary of the Bauhaus Design School. Founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, the school had a profound and lasting influence on design, architecture, and here I touch on a few highlights – the people and their design work.
The school brought together art and architecture, creativity and construction. Pursuing this combined design approach in its purest form, many of the results followed classical forms but without ornamentation of any kind. Gropius proclaimed “Let us conceive, consider and create together the new building of the future that will bring all into one simple integrated creation: architecture, painting and sculpture rising to heaven out of the hand of a million craftsmen, the crystal symbol of the new faith of the future.”
This ambition of simplicity and integration was often expressed as a sense of reduction in design, perfectly illustrated by Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair of 1925. Breuer led the cabinet-making workshop at the Bauhaus and was experimenting with the use of tubular steel. It may appear outlandish at first sight, but the Wassily chair is actually an ingenious distillation of the classic club chair into its most basic elements – the supporting frame and the contact points which hold the person sitting in it.
When the Bauhaus moved to a purpose-built home in Dessau in 1926, Gropius designed the new school – pictured above. A striking building with extensive glass facades, it embodied the aesthetic of industrial modernity that the school had become known for. Every element of the interior was also designed by the school, with the interior fittings even made in their own workshops.
One of the most renowned directors of the school is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, commonly referred to as Mies. Progressing the link of creativity with technology and manufacturing, Mies’ experiments with the same materials as Breuer – tubular steel and leather – led to the design of his MR side chair in 1927. Here the steel frame also provides an element of suspension, and enhances the comfort of the chair itself.
Mies’ most celebrated architectural design is probably the German Pavilion he created for the International Exposition of 1929 in Barcelona. Now more commonly known as the Barcelona Pavilion, the original building was only intended to be temporary and was actually demolished in 1930. A group of Spanish architects led its reconstruction in the early 1980s and it’s now one of the most famous and buildings in the world.
I visited back in 2004 – before I worked as a designer in fact – and was blown away. Not just by the apparent simplicity of the design and the extravagant materials, but most importantly by how each of these elements enhances the other. It’s an awe-inspiring creation, and visiting is an experience that pictures can only provide a hint of.
The Barcelona chair was also designed by Mies for the exhibition, and it’s ubiquity nowadays is testament to the appeal of the Bauhaus modernist design approach. For the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus it’s available as a limited edition in dark green glossed Sabrina leather, and can be pre-ordered here.
The Pavilion was a function and reception space of course, so it was never envisioned as a residential dwelling. There’s a clear lineage to his design for Farnsworth House in Illinois though. With the same simple aesthetic and a use of glass to unite the interior of the home and the exterior and the surroundings, it’s a stunning building that I would love to visit.
Which reminds me… it’s about time I built my Lego model of this Modernist masterpiece, which is as close as I can get for now!
Although only in existence for around 10 years, no other design school has had such a deep and lasting influence of design in the modern world as the Bauhaus. A special site for the centennial celebrations is here.
At London’s Conran Shop their entire window display is currently given over to a fabulous installation celebrating their designs, their style, and their influences.
It would be interesting to reflect on elements of our work, and some of the products we’ve used, that follow the ideas of the Bauhaus movement. I’ll write about this soon…