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Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 1 (June-July, 1949)

What was the Bauhaus?

What was the Bauhaus?

Mention is so often made of the Bauhaus, and of the extent to which modern architecture and design is indebted to it, that a short description may be worth while.

The Founder

Its founder was an architect, Walter Gropius, who merits a short description. In 1907 the German Deutsche Werkbund made an effort to effect cooperation between the best artists and craftsmen on the one hand, and trade and industry on the other. They believed that mass production and division of labour must be made to produce quality. But architects and designers remained romantic individualists and no one had devised the means of absorbing, either practically or aesthetically, the spirit of engineering into art.

It was Gropius, the youngest of the Werkbund leaders, who began, by founding the Bauhaus, to solve the problem. His characteristic was the driving earnestness with which he attacked the problem of reconciling art and an industrialized society. Already in 1910 he had published a memorandum on the industrial prefabrication of houses on a unified artistic basis; he gave further examples of this “unified basis” in his designs for factory and office buildings.

The Foundation

In 1919 Gropius combined the Grand Ducal Saxon Academy for Pictorial Art and the Academy for Arts and Crafts, and united them into the Bauhaus. Its object was to coordinate all creative effort, to achieve—in a new architecture—the unification of all training in art and design. Its ultimate and distant goal was the collective work of art—the building—in which no barriers exist between the structural and the decorative arts.

Instruction was carried out on the principle that every student was taught by two masters, a craftsman and an artist working in close collaboration, and that instruction in crafts and in the theory of form are fundamental. Its instructors were carefully chosen and included Klee, Kandinsky, Marcel Breuer, Moholy-Nagy, Feininger. Its activities covered architecture, furniture and carpentry design, stained glass, pottery, weaving, metal, stage and theatre design, wall painting, commercial display, typography and lay-out, sculpture, applied photography, painting.

Story of a Long Battle

From its start the Bauhaus met with immense opposition and scurrilous attacks not only from the Press but from the old-fashioned academic institutions and from the short-sighted attitude of the craftsmen's organizations in Germany. Throughout its existence it found itself involved in the political convulsions of post-war Germany. It was founded under a Socialist Government and when that Government swung over to the “People's Party,” forerunners of the Nazis, the Bauhaus was attacked on the grounds that Socialists had started it. Menaced by an uncomprehending and antagonistic Government, and conscious of their solidarity and rights the Council decided in 1924 to dissolve the Bauhaus to forestall its destruction. Various cities opened negotiations for its transfer and the invitation of the Mayor was accepted for its re-establishment at Dessau. There it continued until Gropius left in 1928. After a few more checkered years, it came to an end in 1933 when the National Socialist. Party took over its quarters as a training ground for political leaders. Many of its instructors emigrated to the U.S.A. where they introduced Bauhaus training methods at Black Mountain College, North Carolina; the New Bauhaus, Chicago; the Department of Architecture at Harvard University; and the Armour Institute, Chicago; The Industrial School of Design, New York; and the Southern Californian School of Design.

Its Legacy

There are certain methods and ideas developed by the Bauhaus that we may still ponder:—


That teachers should face the fact that their future should be involved primarily with industry and mass production and not with individual craftsmanship.


That teachers of design should be in advance of their profession and not constitute a safe and academic rearguard.


That modern design should bring together the various arts of painting, theatre, architecture, etc., into a modern synthesis that disregards conventional distinctions of “fine” and “applied” arts.


That it is harder, but more useful, to design a first rate chair than paint a second rate painting.


That thorough manual experience of material is essential to the student of design.


That the student architect or designer should not be offered a refuge in the past but equipped to take his place in the modern world and function in society not as a decorator but as a vital participant.