Bauhaus founded 100 years ago
Founded in April 1, 1919 in Weimar by the German architect Walter Gropius, Bauhaus marked a profound break in the teaching and design of the living environment.
Struck by the destructive wave of the First World War and at the heart of the industrial changes of the time, its founding fathers have given birth to an absolutely innovative aesthetic radicalism in architecture, design, graphics, and even plastic arts: the search for pure form and the implementation of industrial materials, deeply renewing the typology of everyday objects, including furniture.
Bauhaus furniture was designed to be functional and its fundamental components like tabletops or legs were typically reduced to simple geometric forms.
A century after, Bauhaus continues to influence every aspect of our lives in ways we don’t even notice, from the fabric covering the seats of the tube to bookshelves, kitchenware, road signs, cutlery and fitted kitchens.
Conceived as “a new guild of craftsmen”, its students were assigned to workshops where they learned the skills of metalwork, cabinet-making, textiles, ceramics and photography in a hands-on, multidisciplinary environment. This model of education was the school’s most revolutionary aspect at the time.
From 1919, Johannes Itten headed the carpentry workshop at the Bauhaus as master of form until it was taken over by Walter Gropius in 1922. The first items of furniture, produced purely using traditional woodworking methods, were still strongly influenced by the expressionism of the early Weimar years.
Bauhaus products were incredibly labour-intensive, hand-crafted objects, but the pressure for commercial success was ever present.
Modern industrial techniques made certain materials more readily available, such as steel, glass, plywood and plastic. Such materials were seen as unconventional for use in furniture making at the time, but facilitated mass production and promoted the Bauhaus spirit of practicality.
The school moved to Dessau in 1925. Gropius’ complex for the Dessau location is today known as a key example of modern functionalist design, with steel framing, concrete bricks and a glass curtain wall.
Gropius remained at the helm until stepping down in 1928. Swiss architect Hannes Meyer succeeded him, and German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe succeeded Meyer.
As the political situation in Germany became increasingly unstable in the 1930s, the Dessau school began to suffer from both financial and ideological difficulties. In 1932, after the school moved to Berlin, local elections brought the Nazis to power, and the school was shuttered in 1933.
After its closure, students and faculty dispersed around the globe, disseminating the Bauhaus designs, techniques and ideas and guaranteed its lasting success.
In its centenary, its influence is more present around the world than ever before.