Barron’s: Celebrating Bauhaus at 100
March 20, 2019
Widely acknowledged as the 20th century’s most influential school of architecture, art, and design, the Staatliches Bauhaus was founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius in 1919 and closed down in 1933, as the Nazis came to power. Despite its abrupt closure, the Bauhaus legacy continued to grow and expand its influence, leaving an indisputable mark on the art and architecture of Western Europe, America, and beyond.
The school—which, despite its name (“building house”) and the fact that its founder was an architect, did not have an architecture department during its early years—was established with the idea of creating a total work of art (gesamtkunstwerk) in which all disciplines would be brought together. Now, 100 years later, it’s remarkable how far the Bauhaus’ influence has extended into the worlds of industrial, graphic, and interior design.
As the CEO of the Goethe-Institut, the German cultural institute operating in more than 90 countries, Johannes Ebert has a unique perspective when it comes to the Bauhaus. “Whether you are in Tokyo, Los Angeles, São Paulo, or Lagos, Bauhaus is a cultural calling card for Germany,” Ebert says. “Many of its achievements are still highly topical and important today: the simplicity of design, the modernity, the wealth of ideas, and the precise structure of Bauhaus. So, it’s no surprise that the anniversary of the Bauhaus is currently being observed around the world.”
In honor of the Bauhaus centennial, myriad events, festivals, and exhibitions are taking place in 2019. The international opening festival was held in January at the Berlin Academy of the Arts, and enthusiasts will have numerous unique opportunities to engage with the Bauhaus legacy throughout the year.
“Many people from all over the world are coming to the three cities that were once home to the Bauhaus—Weimar (1919-25), Dessau (1925-32) and Berlin (1932-33)—in order to bask in the spirit of the famous art school,” Ebert says. “In Dessau, the public can see the famous school, visit its workshops, and even stay on the campus itself.”
As Germany’s culture capital, Berlin is offering a varied program of events and exhibitions—many affiliated with the city’s Bauhaus Archive—throughout the year.
Another must-visit destination among Bauhaus aficionados is Tel Aviv, whose White City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains more buildings—4,000-plus—in the Bauhaus style than any other city in the world. (The Bauhaus Center leads organized architectural tours around the city.)
In 1930, Harvard University hosted the first Bauhaus exhibition in the U.S., and soon became the unofficial center for the Bauhaus in America. (Gropius joined Harvard’s department of architecture in 1937.) Today, Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum houses the largest Bauhaus collection outside Germany, thanks to the efforts of Gropius and many former Bauhaus teachers and students who emigrated from Nazi Germany. Through July, the Harvard Art Museums are hosting The Bauhaus and Harvard, which features nearly 200 works by 74 artists.
“There is a very close relationship between the Bauhaus and America through architecture and teaching,” according to Claudia Perren, the director and CEO of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. “Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and László Moholy-Nagy all came to America and continued teaching, but also had a great influence on American architecture after World War II.”
“The influence of the Bauhaus masters on architecture, design, and the production process in America is enormous,” Ebert explains. “From the famous Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where several teachers once taught the principles of Bauhaus design, to the uncompromisingly simple design of the iPhone”—Steve Jobs acknowledged the Bauhaus influence on Apple’s approach to design—“Bauhaus has left a lasting impression on the United States.”
“‘Form follows function’ is one of the most well-known principles of the Bauhaus movement,” Ebert says. “Design should serve a purpose beyond superficial showmanship. This principle, which lives on through many high quality architectural designs and products, is associated with Bauhaus, and Germany, by designers all over the world.”
“What we see today is that people still relate to the Bauhaus in very different fields,” Perren says. “Some are really interested in architecture for obvious reasons, but others, for example, are very interested in performing arts. The Bauhaus had a huge program on performance, which was part of the curriculum for the architects and designer. Some are really interested in photography, others focus on the women associated with the Bauhaus, so there are various aspects to explore, and it’s a great field you can connect to.”
“For the creators of Bauhaus, it was important to make well-designed objects and homes affordable through the optimization and standardization of production processes. This principle lives on today and has an enduring impact on product design,” Ebert says. “Each time someone buys an elegantly designed, yet comparatively cheap, lamp from IKEA, they are also paying a small homage to the Bauhaus.”
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