Bauhaus movement (meaning the “house of building”) developed in three German cities – it began in Weimar between 1919 and 1925, then continued in Dessau, from 1925 to 1932, and finally ended in 1932-1933 in Berlin. Read the first part of Bauhaus here.
The Bauhaus’s worldwide effect and the reaction to it has touched the areas of design, architecture, fine arts and pedagogy from the time of its foundation until today. Even during the school’s existence, its ideas, principles and methods had effects beyond the Germany’s borders.
The radicalism with which Bauhaus raised pressing issues of the industrial society and provided exemplary solutions led to it becoming a synonym for the “modern.” Depending on the onlooker’s point of view, it became either a positive–often idealised–or negative–often demonised–point of reference. Even today, the spiritual as well as material reactions to Bauhaus achievements play a major role in discussions of the future of culture and society. Innumerable books, articles and exhibitions, as well as the continued commercial success of Bauhaus products, which have become “design classics”, have contributed to the dissemination of Bauhaus ideas. This also includes the creation of the simple term “Bauhaus style.”
Bauhaus and the Third Reich
The National Socialists attacked Bauhaus and denounced it as “un-German” and “Bolshevik.” They brought about the final closure of the school in 1933 and thus caused the end of a democratic development oriented on holistic education. Many former Bauhaus students were persecuted, incarcerated and annihilated due to their aesthetic and political convictions. While their abstract artistic work in particular was considered “degenerate”, many of their buildings with flat roofs were denounced as “un-German” and called “desert architecture.” Nevertheless, there was also a continuity of Bauhaus designs in the Third Reich. Depending on expediency, modern design approaches were integrated into the cultural concept of the National Socialists, and particularly in the areas of commercial art and industrial construction, some freedom remained. Not a few Bauhaus students were thus able to continue working in their profession. This chapter of Janus-faced modernisation split Bauhaus students remaining in Germany into victims, accomplices, “internal emigrants”, and resistance fighters.
…and the United States
Largely removed from all far-reaching social and cultural visions, The International Style Exhibition in 1932 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as well as the book of the same title by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, increased and broadened the international concept of “the modern” as a style. Continued work, especially in Bauhaus pedagogy, was possible with the emigration of many Bauhaus teachers and students to the U.S., where they found a favourable reception. Thoughts, methods and principles of Bauhaus were spread by individual strategies and attempts at integration with existing education systems. The interest in the establishment of a new Bauhaus-like education operation had already faded by 1938, since Bauhaus was by then considered antiquated, but there was interest in its teaching methods and their implementation.
…and the Soviet Union
Hannes Meyer and a group of his Bauhaus students tried to contribute to the establishment of a truly socialist society in the Soviet Union. They worked on city planning and architectural projects in Moscow and other regions until the mid of 1930s. They eventually fell victim to the increasingly powerful Stalinist repression machinery, which was able to suppress not only its own but also imported avant-garde concepts in favour of the doctrine of socialist realism, and at the same time push the political persecution of immigrants. Thus, members of the Hannes Meyer camp were displaced into Stalin’s camps and murdered. Meyer himself, who had also fallen into political disfavour, eventually returned to Switzerland in 1936.
The Bauhaus and the Federal Republic of Germany
In post-war Germany, Bauhaus initially enjoyed a growing reputation. This process continued in different ways with the split into the two new German states in 1949. In both East and West Germany, Bauhaus students exerted important influence on design, architecture and design pedagogy, working in art and architecture schools or practising their respective professions. While Bauhaus was initially reduced to its most important artists in the west and mystically transfigured, rather than fully examined, a process of differentiated examination began with the Ulm Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG, Ulm Academy for Design) founded at the beginning of the 1950s, in which the former Bauhaus student Max Bill played a great part. He became the first director of the Ulm school, which existed until 1968. Other Bauhaus students worked in the fields of architecture, product design, visual communication and information. Like Bauhaus, the HfG was led by a holistic concept, which contained democratic aims and focused in particular on the cultural, social and economic conditions of design. The pedagogic concept of the HfG, whose teaching ceased as a result of both controversial discussion about its orientation concerning content and cuts of financial subsidies, can still be seen as a model, especially in the education of designers.
Bauhaus: A Creative Method
Bauhaus was simultaneously marked by socio-utopian visions and manifold attempts to implement a school for design in practise. A series of issues and problems of the early 1920s are currently reappearing in discussions on reforms in the education and university systems.
Bauhaus pedagogy meant the opportunity for a training of all talents and the shaping of individual personalities. Along with the specialist training for designers or architects, the basics of fine and applied arts were also taught, as well as the performing arts. In this sense, the theatre workshop led by Oskar Schlemmer played a special role as a semi-professional cross-section workshop, Bauhaus celebrations also being a most significant training ground for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Bauhaus band became a well-known German jazz band. Playing, sports, dance and evening lectures completed the living and working community, which was also always a supportive society in times of trouble. The many marriages and lifelong friendships among Bauhaus students speak for the success of the social model.
In order to understand Bauhaus and its successes, it is recommended that the reader turns away from traditional concepts of style or the comprehension of Bauhaus style as an unintentional consequence, negating the creative methods of Bauhaus with its creativity training, teamwork and workshop work, with its internationalism and permanent discourse. Bauhaus was not characterised by preconceived schools of thought or style requirements, but by a high degree of individualism and pluralism…
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