The German city of Dessau is marking the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus school of design with a new museum featuring exhibits that tie in with the movement’s iconic buildings. Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the Bauhaus Museum Dessau on Sunday, saying the school featured an avant-garde style that “we still really enjoy today.” Do you know what exactly is Bauhaus and what’s its impact on German architecture?
The German term Bauhaus literally means “building house.” The Bauhaus movement was born on 1 October 1919 in Weimar, Germany, when architect Walter Gropius founded a new kind of art school to bring arts and industry closer together. His goal was to create housing and functional objects that were accessible to as many people as possible. Flourishing between 1919 and 1933, the Bauhaus movement revolutionized architectural and aesthetic thinking and practice in the 20th century.
Bauhaus has many similarities with the Vkhutemas, the Russian state art and technical school founded in 1920 in Moscow. Founded a year after the Bauhaus school, Vkhutemas has close parallels to the German Bauhaus in its intent, organization and scope. The two schools were the first to train artist-designers in a modern manner. Both schools were state-sponsored initiatives to merge the craft tradition with modern technology, with a basic course in aesthetic principles, courses in color theory, industrial design, and architecture.
With all its good intentions and objectives apart, Bauhaus had laid too much emphasis on mass production and standardisation thus killing the design aspirations of the individuals. The Bauhaus was founded at a time when the German zeitgeist had turned from emotional Expressionism to the matter-of-fact New Objectivity. An entire group of working architects, including Erich Mendelsohn, Bruno Taut and Hans Poelzig, turned away from fanciful experimentation, and turned toward rational, functional, sometimes standardized building.
It should be noted that beyond the Bauhaus, many other significant German-speaking architects in the 1920s responded to the same aesthetic issues and material possibilities as the school. They also responded to the promise of a “minimal dwelling” written into the new Weimar Constitution. Ernst May, Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner, among others, built large housing blocks in Frankfurt and Berlin. The acceptance of modernist design into everyday life was the subject of publicity campaigns, well-attended public exhibitions like the Weissenhof Estate, films, and sometimes fierce public debate.