The Bauhaus School Celebrates 100 Years of Innovative Design

The translation of the German “Bauhaus” as “building house” speaks not only to the school’s associations with architecture but also to its principles of simplicity and functionality.  The Bauhaus School, an art and design program founded in Germany in 1919, celebrates 100 years of influencing art, design, teaching practices, and even hairdressing. 

One of its most important impacts has been on the world of architecture, ironic for a school that began without any formal architectural department.  Buildings influenced by the Bauhaus School range both geographically and culturally as far as the St. Laurence O’Toole Boys School in Dublin to the Poli House in Tel Aviv. 

Difficult Beginnings

In the aftermath of World War I writers and artists embraced a style of radical experimentation influenced in part by new concepts of simplicity and unity that emerged from the Russian Revolution.  Following the war, Germany established the Weimar Republic, which allowed for a spirit of creative experimentation that had been suppressed under the old system. 

The newfound artistic freedom led Walter Gropius to build the Bauhaus School on the hopes of remaking the world left shattered by war.  Heike Hanada, the designer of the new Bauhaus Museum, says of the school’s founding, they dreamed of “creating a better society by developing schools, to change the sensibility, to refine it, to bring the people to the point where they understand it more.”  They aimed to create a utopia. 

Influences and Influencers

Modernism had a particular influence on the Bauhaus aesthetic.  One of its core principles of simplifying and perfecting life through design developed into the school’s focus on a lack of ornamentation and the unity between function and design. 

Other characteristics that defined Bauhaus were the reconciliation between mass production and art and Gezamkunstwerk or “total work of art.” This principle envisioned elements of art and design uniting to create a whole environment.  Francis Hall of the National College of Art and Design Dublin describes it as a means of “looking at society as a system, and modeling it that way. It’s not about the individual expression, but collectivity.”

The Bauhaus School developed the group critique teaching method that continues to be a central practice of the art classroom and was home to such innovative art instructors as Swiss-born Expressionist, Cubist, and Surrealist Paul Klee, the Russian abstract artist and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, and German Constructivist Joseph Albers, best known for his Homage to the Square.

A Legacy Beyond Its Walls

Rising concern in an increasingly conservative and developing fascist movement in Germany brought pressure to bear on the Bauhaus School, which was seen as home for communist intellectualism and whose “degenerate art” was thought to harbor Jewish Modernist sentiment.  After only 14 years Bauhaus agreed to voluntarily close its doors under pressure from the Nazi regime. 

Its influence, however, would live on.  Hungarian painter Alexander Bortnyik created Miihely in Budapest, a school modeled after Bauhaus.  In 1937, Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus School in Chicago.  Walter Gropius went on to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. 

The lasting impact of the Bauhaus School can still be seen today in furniture design, in buildings around the world, and in the curricula of art classrooms.  Perhaps the levered door handle created by Gropius in 1923 and still in production today stands as testament to the longevity of the Bauhaus focus on the unity between function and design.