Bauhaus - Beginning of a design era
The German Bauhaus Movement had an important impact on the development of Design and Architecture in the twentieth century. It was truly avant-garde in its techniques and ideas. This famous German school of design had inestimable influence on modern architecture, the industrial and graphic arts, and theatre design. It was founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar as a merger of an art academy and an arts and crafts school. The Bauhaus was based on the principles of the 19th-century English designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement that art should meet the needs of society and that no distinction should be made between fine arts and practical crafts. It also depended on the more forward-looking principles that modern art and architecture must be responsive to the needs and influences of the modern industrial world and that good designs must pass the test of both aesthetic standards and sound engineering. Thus, classes were offered in crafts, typography, and commercial and industrial design, as well as in sculpture, painting, and architecture. The Bauhaus style, later also known as the International Style, was marked by the absence of ornament and ostentatious facades and by harmony between function and the artistic and technical means employed.
A new education
In 1925 the Bauhaus was moved into a group of starkly rectangular glass and concrete buildings in Dessau especially designed for it by Gropius. In Dessau the Bauhaus style became more strictly functional with greater emphasis on showing the beauty and suitability of basic, unadorned materials. The Bauhaus teachers were highly influential people. Artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Lászl Moholy-Nagy taught alongside architects and designers such as Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. They believed that students should be able to exercise different disciplines, from graphics to architecture. Every student needed a combined practical and theoretical education, which at the time was quite revolutionary. The aim was to produce work that unified intellectual, practical and aesthetic concerns through artistic endeavour and the exploitation of new technologies. All this should lead to a successful integration of design theory with the industrial process.
In 1930 the Bauhaus came under the direction of the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who moved it to Berlin in 1932. By 1933, when the school was closed by the Nazis, its principles and work were known worldwide. Many of its faculty immigrated to the United States, where the Bauhaus teachings came to dominate art and architecture for decades. The work of these architects and designers has had an impact far beyond the circles of the audience for whom it was intended. The furniture especially reveals this in a very clear and perceivable way, a design still influencing our perception of beauty and usability to this day.
The new way of living
The impact of the horrible experiences in the First World War, poverty and inflation created a new consciousness, which influenced strongly Design, Architecture and Art. The Bauhaus reacted to this social change by creating an aesthetic relevance to the requirements of the time. Bauhaus protagonists wanted to bridge the gap between the social idealism and the commercial reality and to promote a response to the emerging technological culture. The "New Man" became the ideal, a concept that also expressed itself in living. The Bauhaus Design showed simplicity with an emphasis on straight edges and smooth, slim forms. The rooms were sparsely furnished, but filled with hygienic freshness. Superfluous features were taboo. Shining steel was discovered as a material for furniture. The aim was to take advantage of the possibilities of mass production to achieve a style of design that was both functional and aesthetic. Objects were to be designed to have simplicity, multiplicity, economical use of space, material, time and money which looks as modern as anything in production today.
A principle of the Bauhaus was to development of contemporary housing, from the most basic household equipment to the complete house, technology was the key for Modernists. Followers of the Bauhaus School saw the machine as an extension of the hand. In fact, even though the early Bauhaus furniture was hand made, it was designed to suggest industrial production. Le Corbusier's ultimate aim was to allow man, machine and nature to co-exist in a state of equilibrium. The result was a kind of machine-age-classicism, where "the house is a machine for living" and "the chair is a machine for sitting in". Marcel Breuer is truly the pioneer in finding new ways to produce furniture. It is said, that he got the idea of making tubular metal furniture from the handle bar of his bicycle. For him tubular steel with leather or fabric were as comfortable as good upholstered furniture, but lighter, cheaper, less bulky and more hygienic. The idea behind this new aesthetics was to built cheap and beautiful homes, were the cool and durable materials of the furniture would create a new type of beauty.
Traces in the US
The Bauhaus school existed not even 15 years before it was shut down by Hitler. Most of the artists went to the US and there they had great success. Although the Bauhaus was a product of a social ideology, these aspects became in America less and less important and in the end the Bauhaus ideas became fully stripped of their ideological guise.
Walter Gropius taught in Harvard and many important architects went through his lectures, like Philip Johnson, later Director of the MOMA in New York. Mies van der Rohe became the head of the architecture department at the Illinois Institute of Technology and many other former Bauhaus disciples became quite successful as architects and designers in postwar America. Charles Eames is an example how strong the influence of the Bauhaus design and architecture was. On his honeymoon to Europe he saw in 1928 buildings by Mies v.d. Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. Later Eames described the effect as electrifying jolt to his sensibilities, like "having a cold hose turned on you."