The History of Bauhaus
Some ideas are so original they’re almost invisible. That’s the case with Bauhaus – the German art, design and architecture school that is celebrating its centennial this year.
Everything from public housing to lampshades, bookshelves to bookbindings has been influenced by a movement that, in its original form, only lasted from 1919-33. Established in the beautiful but very traditional city of Weimar, Bauhaus grew out of a German need to industrialise and mass produce and catch up with forward-thinking foreign creatives such as the UK’s Arts and Crafts movement.
The focus, from the start, was the public good and the art of making beautiful, useful things. In the words of founder Walter Gropius, “Architects, sculptors, painters—we all must return to craftsmanship! For there is no such thing as ‘art by profession’. There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan.”
The Influence and Style of Bauhaus
The Thirties were not the best of times to be doing anything modern or anti-establishment in Germany. Bauhaus moved to Dessau and finally to Berlin, but couldn’t resist the rise of Nazism.
But in its fourteen short years, it gave us the plain facades and whitewashed walls, metal trims, big windows, smooth lines and pared-down elegance we associate with what came to be known as Modernism and the International Style. Without its practical ideas about chairs and lighting, we would have no Habitat, no Ikea, no Scandi-style.
You can find examples of Bauhaus all over the world. But, for a quick, enjoyable lesson (mixed with a holiday), the best way to understand this world-changing phenomenon is to go right to the source. Using the excellent German high-speed autobahns, Kraftfahrstraßen (main roads) and quiet back roads, you can journey from Weimar to Ulm to Hamburg, and rediscover the art of building, creating and good living.
Ten stops on your Deutschland design drive
Berlin – The Walter-Gropius-Haus, part of the Hansviertel complex, is a 9-floor residential block built in the Fifties. Visitors should also check out Tempelhof airport, a modernist masterpiece, and ADGB Trade Union School in nearby Bernau. Berlin’s famous Bauhaus Archive will reopen in 1923, expanded and enhanced.
Hamburg – The Chilehaus in Hamburg, by Fritz Höger, is a fine example of Twenties’ Brick Expressionism, which shared the Bauhaus ideal that a building’s materials should be shown, indeed celebrated, and the lines kept simple and yet striking.
Krefeld –The austere-looking twin villas of Haus Lange and Haus Esters – built in 1927 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the last head of Bauhaus, are part of the Ruhr city’s museum collection.
Stuttgart – The Weissenhof Estate was built in 1927 by the “Deutscher Werkbund” (German Association of Craftsmen), directed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Stuttgart’s Weissenhof Museum offers a walk-through tour of two semi-detached houses designed by Le Corbusier – they were given Unesco World Heritage listing in 2016.
Ulm – The Ulm School of Design was founded in the mid-1950s by Inge Aicher-Scholl, Otl Aicher and Max Bill – the latter, a former Bauhaus student, became its first rector. The sober, functional style is a good example of the Bauhaus philosophy; life is a workshop and we are all artists!
Munich Olympic Stadium
Munich – Frei Otto’s Olympic Stadium, built for the 1972 Summer Games shows the enduring legacy of Bauhaus in German modernism, despite the war and the Berlin Wall.
Alfeld – The Fagus shoe-last factory, in Alfeld on the Leine, Lower Saxony, was constructed between 1911 and 1913, with additions and interiors completed in 1925. The designers were Adolf Meyer and a young, not especially talented drawer named Walter Gropius, who would go on to become the founder of Bauhaus.
Haus Hohe Pappeln
Weimar – The birthplace of Weimar has lots of sites, including the proto-modernist Haus Hohe Pappeln, the house where Belgian architect Henry van de Velde lived; the Haus am Horn, built in 1923 for the first-ever Bauhaus exhibition; the Bauhaus Campus, where it all began; and an impressive new museum, which opened in April.
Dresden – Hellerau Garden City was founded in 1909, shortly after the first garden city was established in England. Conceived by furniture manufacturer Karl Schmidt, it illustrates that Gropius and Bauhaus were not entirely alone in their vision of a well-designed life.
Bauhaus building in Dessau
Dessau – Arguably the epicentre of Bauhaus buildings, this otherwise oft-overlooked small city has the actual Bauhaus building, opened in 1926, and still teaching young designers; the Masters’ Houses, where teachers such as Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky resided; and a new museum, due to open in September 2019.
Map of the Bauhaus locations