The Bauhaus Studio
Mention Bauhaus to a contemporary designer and chances are a devotional glow will sweep gently across their expression. Bauhaus is to design what the wheel is to technology. Perhaps I exaggerate..but not much.
The Bauhaus was an avant garde design studio that operated in Germany between 1919 and 1933. Founded by architect Walter Gropius, the school incorporated art, architecture, and in particular, distinctive furniture that would become known as Bauhaus style. These early designers were revolutionary in their experimental designs, which had a simplicity, harmonious geometry and industrial-like practicality; the idea was that high design should be cheap enough to be uitilised by the masses. Mass production was the aim and the schools slogan and its core raison d'etre became Art into Industry.
The style had a tremendous impact on 20th Century furniture design and beyond, as into the 21st Century its influence is still strong among contemporary architects and designers; not to mention the number of Bauhaus furniture reproductions that continue to be manufactured in many parts of the world. Bauhaus is everywhere in modern design; it's hard to look at a piece of Ikea furniture for example, without noting how much the clean, simple lines are reminiscent of the Bauhaus style and indeed Ikea design strategist Mats Nilson, has made a point of saying that his company’s ideology is inspired by the Bauhaus Studio.
Bauhaus Style and Design
Although classic Bauhaus colours tended to be neutral - most often chromium, black and white, brown and grey; occasionally bright, primary colours would be used, such as in the tubular chairs at right and the baby cradle, (below right). Unlike traditional cabinet makers, the Baushaus designers were prepared to experiment with innovative materials - commonly their furniture included combinations of steel, wood, leather, plywood and woven textiles.
Design-wise, the studio artists turned away from anything overly fussy and pretentious - they wanted clean, modern lines uncluttered by stylistic affectations. The school was greatly influenced by Modernism, which had begun in the 1880's as a rejection of tradition and many of the values it encompassed.
They virtually reinvented furniture design and produced functional, clean-lined shapes that seemed impossibly modern. The idea was to break a chair down to its most minimal form and indeed Marcel Breuer predicted that eventually the chair would dissappear altogether:
"Breuer theorized that eventually chairs would become obsolete, replaced by supportive columns or air. Inspired by the extruded steel tubes of his bicycle, he experimented with metal furniture, ultimately creating lightweight, mass-producible metal chairs."
Alexander Griffith Winton
Source: The Bauhaus, 1919–1933 | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Who were the Bauhaus Designers?
Bauhaus was based on a medieval-style guild system of training under the tutelage of masters and many of the Bauhaus teachers were ground breaking, modernist artists and designers, such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Marcel Breue.
According to the Bauhaus philosophy, the crafts were equal to the traditional arts and crafted objects were not to be demeaned simply because they may be functional. On the contrary, when art and function meet, art takes on an extra significance as it becomes interwoven with living.
Walter Gropier had an idealistic vision of 'unity in all the arts'. It would be a "utopian craft guild combining architecture, sculpture, and painting into a single creative expression." (Proclamation of the Bauhaus, 1919). Gropier believed art could be integrated with technology and industrialisation to create a new way of liife.
Bauhaus students came from all stratas of society and after they were taught the schools philosophy, they would be separated into specialist workshops, one of the most popular of which was cabinet-making, under the direction of Marcel Breuer from 1924 to 1928. Together with the metal working workshop, these two were instrumental in developing design prototypes for mass production. Significant figures in the metal workshop included Wilhelm Wagenfel, Marianne Brandt and Christian Dell
With the disruption of the Second World War, many of the Bauhaus tutors travelled to Britain and America, where they continued to influence new generations of designers.
Functional and Funky
The ultra-modern, colourful baby cradle at right was designed by German artist Peter Keler in 1922. Modern reproductions are still available for a mere $3,000 or so.
It's hard to believe this cradle was designed almost ninety years ago, as it seems as fresh and modern as anything you would find in a contemporary design studio.
Bauhaus Studio Closure
In 1933 the Bauhaus doors were closed due to pressure from the National Socialists (Nazis) in Germany, who considered them decadent and subversive. What had been a vibrant, creative and innovative school of design came to an end in the Bauhaus building, however the school's philosophy continued through its tutors and the subsequent generations who were influenced by them. The Bauhaus style lives on in just about every modern piece of furniture, from chairs to door knobs...to lamps and a plethora of other familiar objects.