The Bauhaus was one of the most important and momentous cultural manifestations of the twentieth century. There is no doubt about it. It is more than ever a phenomenon of global dimensions. Today, the Bauhaus is embedded in the public consciousness; it is held in high esteem and, depending on one’s interests, occasionally glorified or denounced. But recognition and positive esteem are prevalent. The work of the Bauhaus artists enjoys universal admiration and interest in the great museums of the world. Their creative theories, if often taken out of their complex context, received and continue to receive attention in many renowned architectural and art education institutes, as well as in basic art lessons in education facilities. Bauhaus products – such as Marcel Breuer’s famous tubular steel furniture – proceeded to become highly-traded design classics. Bauhaus buildings, such as the sites in Weimar and Dessau, are considered pieces of architectural history, and today they are part of Germany’s cultural heritage. The Bauhaus went down in art history as the original modernist art school.
Now, almost a century after its foundation, it is still current. This is evident not only in the increased institutional interest in the school’s work, an exhibition boom that hasn’t worn off, and a multitude of new publications and unending media interest, but also in the area of theoretical architectural research, in which investigations into functionalism, a design concept closely connected to the Bauhaus, are on the increase. The creation of a new man for a new, more humane society was the Bauhaus’s true goal. It remains historically unfulfilled. Are we to understand the intervention by philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas regarding “modernism as an unfinished project” in this way, too?
This book limits itself to portraying the history of the Bauhaus in a more or less rough overview. The authors can thus make reference to a multitude of existing publications as well as to their own published writings on the subject. The claim is not to subject the Bauhaus to criticism on principle from a twenty-first century perspective but rather the intention simply to portray what was, in an objective argument of the most important points and with no claim to exhaustiveness, for this book is intended for the interested reader and not the knowledgeable expert. If this leads to the break up of unilateral ways of viewing the Bauhaus, that harmonious, consistent, conflict-free, “progressive” and non-traditional organisaton, the authors will consider themselves lucky.
The portrayal begins with references to the forerunners of the Bauhaus, places it in the context of the events of its time and describes the circumstances leading up to its foundation. In a brief overview, the authors present the internal structure of the school and its individual sites in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin, as well as the conceptions of its three directors, Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The following chapters inform the reader about the teaching and training structure of the Bauhaus and present the teaching concepts of its most important teachers. Attention is given to the Bauhaus workshops, their respective structures, the spectrum of achievements and the modifications by the different directors. These are followed by short chapters on general matters such as architecture, photography and visual arts in the Bauhaus, as well as on life and work at the school. A short overview of the effects and reception of the Bauhaus from its beginnings to the present forms the conclusion.
Forerunners, Roots and History
The artistic and pedagogical achievements of the Bauhaus were revolutionary in Germany as well as in Europe as a whole. Its intention to renovate art and architecture was in line with other similar efforts, from which it drew numerous ideas for its own work.
The conditions leading to the development of the Bauhaus are, indeed, complex and widely ramified. Its sources in humanistic and social history reach back into the nineteenth century. Furthermore, the issue addressed by the Bauhaus has its roots in the Industrial Revolution, that lasting cataclysm beginning in England in the middle of the eighteenth century and resulting in industrial manufacturing and industrial society. This modernisation process had led to tensions in almost all areas of life: a radical change occurred when mechanical tools replaced age-old tools of the trade. For lack of new concepts, art and architecture reverted to a historical vocabulary of shapes, which increasingly led to contradictions. The changed conditions for the production of articles for daily use required a new design, now aligned with machine production. It took until the middle of the nineteenth century for the attempts at solving this problem to take concrete shape.
The Bauhaus was part of a traditional line of initiatives and efforts called “modernism,” which issued from here and strove to re-establish unity between the areas of artistic and technical production, which had been separated by emerging industrial production. The resulting social separation of the artist, his isolation and the fragmentation as well as the segregation of different types of art, was to be reversed. This led to the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk (synthesis of the arts, unified work of art), a thought which, with different accentuation in earlier centuries, strove to synthesise in reality all the arts involved in construction and manual trades. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk was allied with the utopian claim that it could further the solution of society’s social and cultural problems on the basis of a unified aspiration.
Art School Reform
The Art School Reform, which was concerned with the transformation of art academies into unified art schools, based artistic training on the manual trades and a general artistic elementary education. Gropius himself eventually saw the Bauhaus as a part of “reform ideas typical of the time”, and as a new kind of school, whose fundamental pedagogical concept was based on reform ideas.
There were other attempts, before the Bauhaus and parallel to it, to implement in practise the goals of Art School Reform. Among these, the Art School in Frankfurt am Main must be mentioned, as well as the Obrist- Debschitz School in Munich, the Breslau Academy for Arts and Crafts, the Düsseldorf Arts and Crafts School, the Arts and Crafts School Burg Giebichenstein in Halle, the Reimann School and the Itten School in Berlin, the Folkwang School in Essen, the Arts and Crafts School in Bratislava, and finally the Higher Artistic-Technical Workshops (Vkhutemas) in Moscow.
Like the school in Moscow, the Bauhaus was an institution implementing the ideas of the Art School Reform in a unique way, consistently, imaginatively, completely, rigorously and in a sustained manner. According to Gropius, the Bauhaus was a matter of life for the people. In this comprehensive claim, which went far beyond architecture and design, lies inter alia its historical importance.
Architecture/Building Studies/ Building Department
The architecture of the Bauhaus buildings themselves is one of the main focuses of public knowledge about the Bauhaus until this day and has gained even more importance after being included in the UNESCO World Heritage list as The Bauhaus Sites in Weimar and Dessau in 1996 as well as the ensuing comprehensive historic preservation efforts. From the director’s office in Weimar to the Haus am Horn and the Bauhaus buildings, the Masters’ houses in Dessau, numerous structures in the Dessau-Törten development and the Federal School of the ADGB in Bernau near Berlin, the most important pieces of architectural evidence of the Bauhaus have been historically preserved and restored and been made accessible to the general public as unified works of art. This also includes the key works of the third Bauhaus director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, in the Weißenhof development in Stuttgart, the Barcelona Pavilion and the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, which all date from before his time at the Bauhaus but shape the image of Bauhaus architecture until this day…
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