Some things last way longer than their lifetime. An outstanding public figure, a dear deceased member of a close community, a good wife or husband or a loving parent who has passed away; what they all have in common is their transcending existence. The German Bauhaus school may have been around for only fourteen years, but the impact that Bauhaus architecture has had on the 20th-century movements that it preceded are immense.
Here, we want to get to know the background of the 19th and early 20th century that built up to the school’s establishment by Walter Gropius in 1919 and the transformations of Bauhaus style characteristics and principles along its operational years till 1933.
Then we want to come to the realization of Bauhaus architecture’s fundamental impact on movements that followed the school’s philosophy along the century and has continued on to the recent history.
The Story of Bauhaus Architecture
Let’s roll back to the Industrial Revolution around the mid-19th century when speed and profusion were all artisans were looking for and all their standards diminished the quality of final products that were poorly made.
Architecture and its structural and finishing elements were not an exception.
So, unlike the community who were applauding the soulless and sketchy output of the industry, a remarkable group of architects were unhappy with the lacking aesthetics and the low design quota in the dim world the Industrial Revolution had made, and created new movements to reconcile the romantic values of the medieval world.
Arts and Crafts movement by William Morris that originated in Britain was the first major effort to seek a revitalization in fine arts by retreating back to intricate and decorative handmade pieces of art, furniture, and the like.
The same spirit ran through other movements like Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, and Vienna Secession.
But none had the boldness to accept the industry’s new production-line for a modern design that would have high-quality and be functional and at the same time and most importantly be a sight to behold.
Bauhaus architecture was a clear message to oppose both the fakeness of the late-century industrial products and Arts and Crafts movement’s stubborn denial and distaste for the former.
Bauhaus style architecture was simply trying to patch things up with fine arts while sticking to the applied arts’ of the modern day.
All the opposing slogans in place, it’s important to note that Bauhaus style characteristics were not as bold and conspicuously defiant at the beginning. They transformed greatly under the direction of the school’s three headmasters during its short lifetime.
Bauhaus architecture had a more conciliatory approach toward Romantic art at first under Walter Gropius, but it grew more into uniting the Rationality of the industrial design and the Romanticism of the fine arts, as Hans Meyer and Mies van der Rohe took the helm of the school.
Gropius invented a revolutionary teaching method that set a cornerstone for how architecture schools around the world were to be arranged and directed long after Bauhaus architecture would be gone; the school you’ve gone to has most likely been the same way.
He insisted on the study of essentials through a curriculum that included the study of craftsmanship and art through the design of different furniture pieces and unbuilt architectural projects.
They believed that an inclusive work of art ends up in an architecture as a whole. Architecture was something that included all forms of art.
That was why students would undertake a wide range of subjects and workshops before getting to be designated for the architecture course that ironically didn’t exist in the early years of Bauhaus style at the school.
Courses like material properties, human body analysis, color theory, proportion and composition, engineering, business economics, and human psychology.
One of the most important attributes among Bauhaus style characteristics was its focus on creativity. Teachers would encourage rationalism. Professors would favor using new functional responses to design problems that wouldn’t just copy the classic answers.
But from 1930 to 1933, Mies van der Rohe, parted ways with his predecessors and applied his own minimal take on design and propagated the idea of “Spatial implementation of intellectual decisions”.
That might not seem very different from Gropius or Meyer’s focus on functionality, but what made Mies’ period different was his insisting on the study of construction details rather than working at workshops and physical implementation of architecture.
Like the three deans Bauhaus architecture saw, it also moved to three different homes. It was first established in Weimar, Germany; then it moved to its most renowned location in Dessau in 1925, and eventually, it spent its last three years in Berlin where the Nazi’s close watch led to the school’s permanent closure.
But the Nazis’ imperial narrative on architecture that admired the might of the classic era was not an end to Bauhaus architecture’s principles and school of thought. In fact, its famous faculty and graduates broadcast their message and their ways across the world.
Mies van der Rohe’s migration to the United States and his endeavors at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago gave way to his pronouncements of minimalism and international styles.
The same styles that were rooted deeply in Bauhaus architecture characteristics, were the major inspiration for a group of German Jewish architects who were persecuted in their home country.
The ones that migrated the then-mandatory Palestine were in charge of four thousand houses in modern-day Tel Aviv; all in keeping with international and minimal styles.
But Bauhaus architecture’s reach was far beyond a bunch of specific buildings across the world. It changed the mainstream doctrine around architecture teaching, drove the traditional Beaux-Arts style to the curb, and created a discourse that groomed Modern movement and scores of other architectural narratives that were derived out of it in the 20th century and beyond.
The Principles of Bauhaus Architecture
Despite variations in the school’s thinking line, Bauhaus architecture’s message to create an industrial-oriented design that would also look aesthetically good made a series of clear principles.
Form Follows Function
The best example to portray Louis Sullivan’s famous quote in the post-Bauhaus era is the school’s own building in Dessau; designed by its founder, Walter Gropius.
The building’s cubic design is dominated by concrete and glass, with every one taking up entire fronts. The limitation in the number of modern materials he has used, prevails in the color palette of the building which includes a range of hues between black and white with occasional red stains at the entrance.
Complete absence of ornaments, simplicity, and minimalism in the building stresses the preferred role of functionality over decoration.
Through a simple yet sophisticated geometry and juxtaposition of volumes, Gropius has showcased the soul of Bauhaus style where forms strictly conform to the function.
The placement of classes, workshops, dormitories, faculty residences, and other utility and functional sections all perfectly show how deeply Gropius knew what he was talking about when he would proclaim “Form Follows Function”.
God is in the details
What is Bauhaus architecture?
If this question is to be answered with a single word, maybe one of the best replies would be “minimalism”; as Mies van der Rohe asserted.
But does minimal mean turning a blind eye on details? Absolutely not.
Getting back to the school building in Dessau, Germany, you can see how carefully all the elements of Bauhaus architecture add up to a whole that’s amazingly in keeping with its tiniest composing parts in scale, proportion, and detail. Here, the architecture as a whole is truly coherent in every sense.
That’s the same feature Bauhaus architecture hauls from its modern predecessors. You can see the same fractal consistency and harmony in scale and minimal design at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House. As you behold the house from the outside, approach it, or roam inside it, you are constantly engaged with the same level of detail and sophistication.
The ultimate form of this dedication to details was Mies van der Rohe’s minimal design in the high-rises, pavilions, and houses.
Honesty in geometry and material
What does “honesty” mean when it comes to the geometry and the use of limited material in the Bauhaus style architecture?
That meant showing all the integral parts of a building without covering anything to create a so-called fake visual beauty.
That’s why there’s no shame in displaying all the structural layers of the school building in Dessau.
The beams and utility elements are visually accessible when the design causes it and there’s no effort in denying it.
This sense of minimalism and honesty also reflected on the geometry of forms that Bauhaus architecture promoted.
The abstraction and simplicity of forms were adaptations of the recent movements in painting and other branches of art and were echoed through the curriculum at Bauhaus.
The Impact of Bauhaus Architecture
Although Bauhaus proclaimed its mission to be revolving around architecture (Bauhaus is German for “house building”), it transcended into other forms of art.
The school curriculum’s stress on typography, painting, graphic design, and composition echoed its message across different art majors; an influence that cascaded all throughout the end of the century.
Gropius started a tradition that has continued to this day. The groundbreaking teaching method he devised comprised a hierarchy of courses that would start with preliminary workshops to “study the essentials”.
Students would be encouraged to use their creativity and rational thinking to design different types of furniture, pottery, and interior finishes.
All three of the school’s deans involved the students in the design of actual projects across Europe; a practical way to implement Bauhaus architecture’s functional attitude to design.
Many of the school’s renowned faculty, long after its closing, promoted Bauhaus style through their subsequent practice around the world. Mies van der Rohe’s minimal and international style, or Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius buildings as some of the examples.
Bauhaus architecture is arguably the most influential school of thought in the twentieth century.
Its achievements and its game-changing principles might not seem very bold to us today cause we’re living in the world it has created in the twenty and the twenty-first century; just like a fish that doesn’t appreciate water unless it is taken out into the air.
We can’t breathe without the elements of the contemporary world that once was dictated in schools like Bauhaus style architecture.
It debuted revolutionary methods for teaching, conceded to the traditional romantic fine arts while complying with the modern day’s industrial design.
Tell us if you agree with the gravity of Bauhaus architecture characteristics and their effect on the modern day. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.