To celebrate the centenary celebration of the Bauhaus, we hear from 16 contemporary architects and designers on what it means to them
Daniel Libeskind Founder and principal, Studio Libeskind
The Bauhaus has a very profound place in my life and has had an effect on my creative practice. I was educated at the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York and at that time I had many teachers who were refugees from the Bauhaus. My two-dimensional design and colour teacher was Hannes Beckmann. He was a Bauhaus graduate and taught the course from his German notes, which had handwritten comments from people like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky in them — geniuses of the 20th century! That was the foundation of my education.
At that time, Cooper Union felt like an extension of the Bauhaus. It coloured what I then became aware of as a counterpoint. I started reacting against the square and perfect platonic forms, and that discipline that kind of marches in a singular direction. By being in love with the Bauhaus, it forced me to also ask the question, ‘What would people like Gropius and Mies be doing today?’, given that the Bauhaus was not only an aesthetic movement of forms, but also a social movement for recreating society. So I started discovering other possibilities of creating forms and colours. It sparked me to go and develop what I thought would now be the path of the Bauhaus, while questioning ‘What is a bad form? What is a bad colour? What is kitsch? What should never be designed? What should never be built?’
I also saw the Bauhaus as a movement for social justice, for a democratic architecture and the fact that every individual should have access to not just the utilitarian aspects of society, but also the pleasures and beauties of living. The Bauhaus was political and it went against the grain of the bourgeois establishment. This radicalised my thinking. I feel we can’t just be designing for the 1% — architecture isn’t just about doing nice forms, there has to be an underlying substance, that has to do with bettering the society in which we are building.
I think now that the Bauhaus has been betrayed by people who copy the forms of 1920 — the people who think doing what they did then is appropriate now. It’s a banal misinterpretation of the Bauhaus.
In my home, I am surrounded by Bauhaus objects. It defined a healthy way of living. It was not about minimalism, it was not some kind of reductionist movement. It was a philosophical approach to the world, with a belief in functionality, beauty and good design — marrying these and evolving them. I would say that I am an eternal student of the Bauhaus. It was progressive, it believed in the future and it believed in equality for the working people. It has an impact on everything I do.
Mohsen Mostafavi, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design
In our imagination, Walter Gropius will forever be linked with the ideals of high modernism: objectivity, precision, functionalism. The Bauhaus, the school he founded, brought together painters, sculptors, industrial designers, architects, planners, textile designers and jewellery makers who shared the same ethos about art and design in the modern age.
Gropius was joined by Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef and Anni Albers, Mies van der Rohe and others, most of them perhaps ultimately better known for the distinctness of their work than their role within the Bauhaus. But for Gropius it was the idea of collaboration, of working together, that transcended the singularity of a particular artistic field. He clearly believed that bringing together such a diverse range of talent would enhance the contribution of any individual faculty member of the school.
In this way the Bauhaus was deeply involved in the search for a mode of collaborative pedagogy and knowledge construction, deeply aware of the benefits of engaging in dialogue as well as sharing intellectual common ground. These conditions were vital for the Bauhaus to achieve its creative potential during its short life in 1920s and 30s Germany; it also meant its members were never far away from the realities and consequences of the political challenges during the period.
The inevitable ending of the Bauhaus with Hitler’s rise to power led to the departure of many of its members for the United States. Gropius eventually settled in Massachusetts, where he was appointed chair of the department of architecture at Harvard University’s new Graduate School of Design in 1937. The person who brought him to Harvard was Joseph Hudnut, the school’s first dean.
A 2019 Harvard GSD student performance entitled Space, Movement, and the Technological Body: A Tribute to the Bauhaus. Picture Courtesy Of Harvard Graduate School Of Design
Under the direction of Hudnut and Gropius the GSD also became synonymous with modernist ideals, although it was more specifically focused on the built environment than the Bauhaus, with programmes in architecture, landscape architecture and planning. Marcel Breuer taught at the school, as did Albers, albeit for a short time. Gropius and Breuer both built modernist homes in Lincoln and developed their respective professional careers in Cambridge, Massachusetts and New York City. The GSD also shared some interesting similarities with Black Mountain College, a small, short-lived, experimental school in Asheville, North Carolina, where prominent European emigres were instrumental in developing a collaborative art-based curriculum. A lot has happened at the GSD in the past 80 years, including the role played by Josep Lluís Sert, the Spanish architect who fled Franco’s regime and, as the dean of the school, created the US’ first urban design programme at Harvard.
I have been the dean at the GSD for over a decade, and during this time I have never lost sight of the importance of the original vision of the school as a place for collaboration across the disciplines. Despite our many important and well-known faculties, a situation with its own parallels to the Bauhaus, our focus has remained on the production of forms of knowledge that have the potential not only to enhance a specific field or discipline but also to play a productive role in the spatial and social transformation of the built environment. To achieve this goal has necessitated an understanding of the relationship between disciplinary knowledge and transdisciplinary practices — the way of doing things that lies at the intersection of the disciplines that inform our work.
The idealisation inherent in the project of modernism, and represented by the Bauhaus, has been supplanted by forms of plurality and contingency that pay as much attention to the situational conditions of a project or task as they do to its formation. I believe this has made the GSD more ‘wordly’ in terms of its audience and its approach. The students and faculty are engaged in research and projects with multiple communities across the globe, creating reciprocities between lessons learnt from distant locations and ideas developed at Harvard, where transdisciplinary practice does not mean solely working with colleagues from the GSD but also extends to collaborations with the schools of public health, medicine, engineering, law and humanities.
In some ways, the lineage of the Bauhaus goes back to the founding of London’s Royal College of Art — in its first incarnation, the Government School of Art — in 1837. It is important not to forget the debt that the GSD owes both to the Bauhaus and the longer tradition of art and design academies. At the same time, as a design school situated in the context of a world-class research university, it is imperative that we seek a wider platform where Gropius’ call for collaboration transcends the academy and seeks multiple ways of engaging with communities and conditions where design can make a difference.
Matthias Sauerbruch, partner and director, Sauerbruch Hutton
The Bauhaus inheritance is obviously so rich and varied that almost anything can be associated with some aspect of its teaching and practice. We feel very inspired by the cohabitation/collaboration/integration of art and architecture and the, at least partially, successful dissolution of the borders between the disciplines. The concomitance of such different personalities such as Paul Klee and Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy and the obvious cross-inspiration between them seems like a wonderful gift. We feel very inspired by someone like Josef Albers, who must have been a product of this extraordinary educational laboratory: he is a painter, his work and his writing is all about colour, yet his thinking is about space.
I spent my undergraduate years at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, on a course that was vaguely based on the Bauhaus curriculum. However, in the 1980s postmodernism was rampant in the universities; the Bauhaus was considered a bore as was modern architecture. In a funny way we came closer to the Bauhaus because we reacted against what we saw.
Decades later, we built the Federal Agency of the Environment in Dessau, a substantial building only about 800m away from Gropius’ school building. During design and construction we arrogantly compared our work with his, even though the buildings are very different in programme, size and context. At first we thought to be ‘the better moderns’ as we were obviously reacting to aspects (such as energy and other resources) which weren’t on the agenda in 1926. The longer we worked alongside this icon, the more we began to respect and be inspired by it. We started to see its general aura, its elegance and simple beauty. We even discovered that it is a very sustainable building even though its thermal performance is probably dismal. Over the years it has become an icon that helped to brand the city it is in. Dessau has an interesting and varied history. However, there is very little evidence of that left for it to distinguish itself. Thus the city was kept sane (in terms of its identity) and alive (in terms of its economy) in very difficult times, by this building.
In Germany the Bauhaus is largely held responsible for modern design, modern architecture, modern urbanism and everything else that went wrong… Even though it is currently being feted as though it were the achievement of the state (and not an initiative by a bunch of totally nonconformist individuals) the general public associates it with post-war mass housing, urbanism for automobiles, and things that are angular and uncomfortable. Furthermore, there was also a large group of very ideologically orthodox followers, particularly in the East, where Bauhaus philosophy (of the Hannes Meyer variety) ended up being something of a state policy, which might have been wellintended but lacked beauty and certainly all elements of humour and fun. Generally the architectural results of the Bauhaus are seen more critically in Germany, I think. Art and design are a different matter: everybody loves Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky; Marianne Brandt and Wilhelm Wagenfeld are lesser known figures although many of their designs somehow made it into the DNA of post-war ‘Germanness’. Art and architecture education is probably the field where it left the most significant traces.
Malin Zimm, research strategist and architect, White Arkitekter
On interdisciplinary practice: The Bauhaus school embraced a wide range of competences feeding each other, from architecture to arts and crafts. White is an interdisciplinary practice with the full range of the Bauhaus disciplines in house, converging to create environments that inspire sustainable ways of living. The words of Walter Gropius from the 1919 Bauhaus manifesto ring well with our practice — ‘the ultimate goal of all visual artistic activity is construction’ — yet transferred to a contemporary sustainable practice where bringing ideas to action is just as viable as bringing ideas to construction. We would like to think of our practice in social and cultural sustainability as a kind of social craft, creating the physical and social frameworks and spaces necessary for bringing people together in dialogue and collaboration. The anthropologists and social sustainability experts of our architectural practice are involved in a particular form of construction for the future, that can be seen as an immaterial extension of the Bauhaus ideas.
On tectonics and a contemporary take on craft: The particular Swedish form of modernism, ‘funktionalism’, was as closely knitted to the grand Swedish social engineering of the welfare society as it was related to Bauhaus aesthetics. But as we are leaving the uniformity of Bauhaus style, we enter a new era for the crafts, only now informed by computational design and automated building methods. The century that separates us from the early days of Bauhaus has brought new digital possibilities that stimulate a new relationship with tectonics and detailing and other workshop activities, bringing craftspeople together with computational tools and robotics. In Dsearch — one of the development networks at White Arkitekter — computational design is brought into workshop practice, working in various materials and scales.
A collective mindset: The essence of Bauhaus as a kind of matrix of the arts that form our physical environment, is most clearly reflected in the multitude of competences that are involved in every building — long before its actual construction. White Arkitekter has been a collective of architects, artists, planners, anthropologists, sustainability experts, researchers and engineers for almost 70 years, brought together in the passion for architecture for every aspect of a sustainable daily life.
Eva Marguerre and Marcel Besau, co-founders, Studio Besau Marguerre
The Bauhaus knew no boundaries. At that time, the artists were ahead of their time and mastered several disciplines. Walter Gropius, for example, was an important architect, but he actually designed everything from armchairs to coffee cups. Close to this approach of the Bauhaus, we also think holistically. We not only design a chair, but also the room in which it stands.
When working on Bauhaus classics for Thonet, it has been very important for us to deal with the original designs sensitively. It was essential to keep the peculiarities of the design and still give something of Besau Marguerre to the special Bauhaus anniversary versions of the S 533 F chair and MR 515 side table, which were both originally designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
We learned this holistic approach during our studies in Karlsruhe. The fact that it was borrowed from the Bauhaus was only apparent to us after our studies, but for us it is a very nice parallel. It is the view of the whole. Design does not stop at the boundaries of one discipline. It is always a dialogue between them. For us it is the mixture of product design, interior design, visual communication, visual merchandising, creative direction and consulting, in the context of the furniture industry.
Kenneth Grange, industrial designer
Bauhaus — THE design name to be conjured with and not lightly. As I write this, I’m very conscious that the peerless Fiona MacCarthy has just written a new, in-depth examination of Walter Gropius [Walter Groupius: visionary founder of the Bauhaus] and may have already committed some of these thoughts to paper more eloquently!
Twentieth-century modernism is the Bauhaus’ claim to fame and with some justification. This remarkable enterprise had a huge impact at the time and created a potent army of followers, that are still proud to identify with its triple cry of ‘simplfication, austerity and clarity’, particularly in the fields of architecture, products and communications. With hindsight, the rigours of simplification were paramount, leading to the creation of world-renowned ‘classics’, which have lasted almost a century and still feel as fresh today (and will do tomorrow) as they were in the year of their invention. A particular favourite of mine would be the bent tubular chair for Cesca by Marcel Breuer.
Indisputably, I, and many other practitioners, have benefitted from such great examples and leadership. But the claim that the Bauhaus is the custodian, even the owner of modernism’s birth, is worth questioning in my opinion. There are others worth considering and I particularly have in mind the role in modernism of the Scandinavians.
I had the life-changing experience of being the lowliest architectural assistant in two offices — Arcon and Jack Howe — both solid modernists. In Jack’s office, I, and the two other assistants, had to sit through his interminable slides of buildings that he had visited in Finland and Sweden, but I still remember the power of the concrete and stone in stark structures of Andolike rigour and geometric perfection. And, now much later, I see the significance in his descriptions that simplification extended into commonplace life in Scandinavia. They were totally unlike any homes that I knew. Eventually I did come to see rare examples of domestic modernism in the UK, but only ever in an architect’s home.
Yes, the Bauhaus has had an indisputably massive effect on what came afterwards. It was light years ahead of its time in looking to improve the common life. However, for me, the quieter, intelligent modernism started much further back in Scandinavia, pre-empting many of the life-changing initiatives attributed to the Bauhaus.
Francine Houben, founding partner and creative director, Mecanoo
The Bauhaus was defined on the open idea of a total work of art, on a strong multidisciplinary approach and experimental combination of different disciplines. I believe the pedagogy was crucial for the architectural world. I find it particularly interesting that Mies van der Rohe was associated with the Bauhaus movement during the final period, just before he moved to Chicago.
Currently we at Mecanoo are working on the renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library, a landmark building by Mies van der Rohe in Washington DC. For me it was very important to understand his background, his design choices, why he would take a certain design direction, and the core of his philosophy which is very much driven by form-follows-function.
Mecanoo follows this line in interventions that continue the idea of openness and flexibility in a non-hierarchical way. Mecanoo fosters a multidisciplinary approach integrating architecture, landscape, design and art in direct collaboration with different disciplines and professions operating in the built environment. Moreover, we pursued different programmes and activities inside the building in order to highlight its main social gathering purpose and its strong deep presence as a social landmark in the city.
It’s also essential to keep the same spirit in your office. Material studies, model making, experimenting — it’s an attitude. We have a model workshop where we use traditional timber work methods next to 2D and 3D techniques. The combination between traditional crafts and cutting-edge technology is essential to understand the world around us. Things are changing, you need to be aware of that. That’s why I always say to people in my office, not only architects but also students: keep on walking the streets, observe the society.
I believe rhythm and repetition are highly common and important in architecture. Rhythm is like music, which means a building can be jazzy. In the end it’s all about composition. I always say architecture should touch all the senses. Rhythm, repetition, light, shadow, the way you decide to build your composition will define the desired atmosphere which interacts with the most basic human emotions.
Kengo Kuma, founder, Kengo Kuma and Associates
Portrait: JC Carbonne
I recently realised that what I was trying to do as an architect was not to produce architectural works but to do experiments. Architects of the 20th century were desperate to keep their pride and authority, and survived by pretending to be artists. Living in an industrialised society, they feared that their ‘work’ might be quickly consumed as cheap ‘merchandise’, therefore they sought ways to be treated as artists. However, does our society want to evaluate and purchase ‘works’ of architecture at high values? Do people need artists working on such a business model?
I believe that in this rapidly changing society, we are in need of ‘experiments’, rather than works of art. And everyone would agree that most experiments end in failure. So they need to be supported by a different type of economy. Educational institutions such as universities exist to support experiments financially. I’ve designed architecture and taught at universities for three decades, and have always been keenly aware how precious it is to be given your lab at a university to continue your experiments, and conduct your architectural practice to produce works that are almost forms of your experiments.
The most important task for an institute of architectural education is to keep its experiments. It’s not about passing knowledge. I see the best example of it in the Bauhaus. Many of its attempts resulted in success, while there were numerous errors. But the fact it could afford to fail signifies that the Bauhaus was a real place for experiments, where mistakes were tolerated. It means that the institution had been run under a generous and flexible economic system that made its trials possible.
Paul Karakusevic, partner, Karakusevic Carson Architects
The impact of the Bauhaus on housing and our expectation of home are far-reaching. The clean lines, efficient layouts and rational organisation we expect in building typologies of all kinds today are a direct legacy of the explosion of ideas, creativity, research and collaboration that took hold a hundred years ago with Walter Gropius and his team of like-minded designers and visionaries.
The guiding principles of the institution of the Bauhaus and the work of so many of those involved promoted a coming together of art, craft and industry and of products and outcomes that responded to the possibilities and needs of their own time. For me, these tenets and that period of intense and fruitful collaboration are a potent reminder of the deficit we have in so much housing currently being built in the UK at present.
The three principles of artistic practice, craft and industrial innovation define the connections inherent in great architecture. When buildings work and spaces flow you don’t need to ask about collaboration, you just know it happened. If we are to see homes fit for the 21st century we need practice and industry to acknowledge and embrace the interdependency of residential design from methods of delivery, but also implementation and the trades and contractors that flow from that process.
The Bauhaus gained a reputation for radicalism. Its starkly functionalist and modern aesthetic gives little indication of the group’s intense interest in a set of working practices established in the 19th-century traditions that gave us the arts and crafts and English eclecticism. In such ways, while the Bauhaus revelled in the possibilities of new materials and engineering techniques, its ethos is a continuity. Gropius, Taut, Behrens and Breuer were aware of the important legacy of Morris and of Pugin and they made it their business to understand the capabilities of local crafts persons and the building practices, trades and manufacturing techniques in Germany. They succeeded in demonstrating how to evolve and apply their ideas through a constant dialogue that gave us a radically new approach to domestic architecture, arrangements and everyday use of space.
The Gropius-designed Bauhaus school at Dessau. T Franzen
From reappraising urban form, building types and considering future living patterns and emerging consumer societies as they were, they tested and retested plans and sectional drawings to optimise orientation, light and building technologies to develop housing types that were the basis for the modern movement. Their importance to architecture students every decade since the 1920s has been immense. As a student in the early 1990s at the RCA when figures like Neave Brown spoke to us, his main formative references were from this period and how the culture for intensive inquiry and research was promoted in order to refine what had been made before.
The Camden projects that made Neave Brown’s name and are today celebrated by a new generation, took Bauhaus and Corbusian principles and shaped them for the context of post-war London in order to create a series of projects instantly recognisable as processing shared DNA and vigorous process. Each explored massing, layout, access, dwelling types and dominant arrangements in different ways, but each was grounded in the principles of the Bauhaus and Corbusier.
With the dual emergency of urban housing affordability and climate change, the legacy of the Bauhaus could not be clearer. Housing design and housing production needs to get together and recognise the realities of our own times to let go of what is not working, recognise the qualities of the past and the possibilities of the future to evolve, improve and realise new standards of domestic design.
Annabelle Selldorf, founding principal, Selldorf Architects
Portrait: Brigitte Lacombe
When I think about if and how I am influenced by the Bauhaus, what comes to mind are some fairly general things that strictly speaking may actually not really be attributable to Bauhaus ideas. I think of the hopeful concept that design can permeate and improve all aspects of daily life and of the notion of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ — where art, architecture, design and craft complement and influence one another to ultimately form a whole, and in that, provide perhaps an attitude or outlook on life. In fact, by challenging the traditional hierarchies of the arts, the Bauhaus became emblematic of a more egalitarian democracy of the Weimar Republic. It was at once a school and is also thought of as a movement. We associate — somewhat inaccurately — the birth of modernism with the Bauhaus, leading the way in a new aesthetic fueled by ideas of truth and authenticity of making.
It is difficult to say how my own work is influenced by the Bauhaus. I think there are direct and indirect influences, not the least of which is cultural, as the Bauhaus is so very German in its unequivocal beliefs that the arts can lead to the betterment of society. Without being consciously aware of this being an inherited legacy from the Bauhaus, I believe it is the integration of other disciplines and craft in the thinking about building and architecture, that has always resonated for me and is one of the principle inspirations of our work in the office. And then of course there are the influences of individuals at the Bauhaus which have impacted my thinking and my work: from Mies van der Rohe, to Annie and Josef Albers, Paul Klee, Marianne Brandt and Man Ray to just name a few.
Terence Conran, designer and founder of Conran and Partners
As a young student growing up, at a time when my tastes, passions and ideas were first truly being formed, the Bauhaus was a huge inspiration and lit a creative spark in me. It was a dream for designers back then and a blueprint for a better way of living. I was lucky because when I was studying textiles at the Central School there were three female tutors who had actually been at the Bauhaus and they enchanted us with talks about how it worked, the creative environment and perhaps most importantly how art and design intermingled and dovetailed in to each other.
I literally absorbed the teaching of the Bauhaus. The use of colour, sense of optimism and innovative way of thinking is so uplifting that it will always raise the spirits. You can look at a piece of their work and instantly say — ‘that’s Bauhaus’.
Bauhaus oozed positivity and confidence despite much of the world around it suffering from conservatism and economic turmoil. It offered a radical and optimistic vision of a brighter future with an instantly recognisable, iconic identity. The school’s ethos incorporated craft, art, design, vision, experimentation and industry to develop a new approach to design that was both bold and honest. One hundred years on I think you can see how much Bauhaus means to the design and art world today.
There is a quite genuine, emotional reaction to the work and the principles are so relevant to the world we live in today. I wouldn’t even begin to compare our lives to that of pre-war Germany, but don’t you think in these times where we are worn down and wearied by Brexit and austerity that art, design and creativity have an incredible role to play in lifting our spirits, raising the quality of our lives and making us smile?
Perhaps most importantly of all, Bauhaus was mechanisation, taking command and teaching design for mass production. It laid the foundations for democratic design to make products widely available for all. It is incredible that the school was open for less than fifteen years but as its teachers and their disciples or students travelled the world far and wide they spread the school’s beliefs and ideals. The influence of the Bauhaus and its impact on art, design and architecture trends have endured for decades.
Christina Seilern, principal, Studio Seilern Architects
Portrait: Moon Ray
The Bauhaus has been technically closed for over 85 years, and yet there isn’t a year that goes by without a new book or publication being released on the school and its teachings. Like the Weimar Republic, the Bauhaus was short lived (1919–1933), and yet both had an enormous global impact… for better or for worse.
The Bauhaus aimed to conceptually change the nature and purpose of design. It aspired to revolutionise the mindset of a generation, and in the process transformed the physical and intellectual landscape globally. The approach aimed to be more pragmatic and dogmatic. Form could no longer be dissociated from function. The approach was anchored in logic, with the aim of establishing a universal language that would break down social and national boundaries.
The Bauhaus led to an intellectual international style that permeated from the written to the built world. It created a language that the intellectual elite developed into an acceptable style and pragmatic approach that could be adapted regardless of culture or nation. The advent of prefabricated industrialised materials also meant that the language could be homogenised without relying on local production facilities or craftsmanship. As I said, for better or for worse.
As a student at the Columbia GSAPP, I found myself in the midst of a discourse on parametricism, blob architecture, radical rethinking in search of a new architectural language. Like the Bauhaus, the thinking that we were exposed to offered a way to look at the world of design on a global level, with the ambition of applying a new theory that transcends culture or boundaries… and yet this didn’t quite convince me at the time.
Instead, the voice of architectural theorist Kenneth Frampton offered something that resonated at a much more visceral level for me, and I believe has deeply impacted the way we think about the work that we do. In his essay Towards a Critical Regionalism, an Architecture of Resistance, Frampton quotes Paul Ricoeur’s History and Truth, and argues against universalisation, which, while being part of the evolution of societies, represents at the same time a ‘subtle destruction… of the creative nucleus of great cultures’. He argues that this has led to the repetition of the same bad building or object, or worse, the advent of postmodernism that tried to package popular taste in a mediafrenzied society looking for mere gratuitous imagery.
And that brings us to today. In an age of quick 3D visualisation and increasingly global work for practices of any size (most of our work is abroad), how can one operate globally with a real sensitivity for the place that we will impact with our built structures? How can we respond with a personal creative hand in a cultural environment that has been touched by centuries of development, without bringing a universal solution that turns its back on the very culture it operates upon? And how can we do this without being pastiche, or mere image makers reminiscent of a past long gone… and remain determinately contemporary to our times?
Here is the paradox: ‘How to become modern and return to the sources’ — Paul Ricoeur again.
Enrique Sobejano and Fuensanta Nieto, co-founders, Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
The church and the school — trying to interpret the meaning of the Bauhaus with a few words is an almost impossible task. But as architects we cannot avoid associating the influence of the Bauhaus in our own work. This comment is, therefore, only a subjective and personal impression suggested by two images that are also thoughts — Denkbilder — and which nest in the core of one of our projects.
The first of these images is an engraving by Lyonel Feininger to illustrate the cover of the founding manifesto of the Bauhaus in 1919. The second is a photograph of the famous school built in 1925 by Walter Gropius in Dessau. The work that Feininger titled Cathedral represents a suggestive and powerful architectural vision, an expressionist invention of steep roofs and ascending angles. It is an architecture of memory, which celebrates craftsmanship evoking the guild formation of the Middle Ages. The building/manifesto of Gropius, conversely, reflects the other spirit of the Bauhaus: industrialisation, mass production, clarity and spaces without ornament: an image associated with a style.
Lyonel Feininger’s engraving on the cover of the founding manifesto of the Bauhaus in 1919. Atelier Schneider 2017 © Bauhaus- Archive Berlin / VG Bild-Kunst
Both Denkbilder, the emotional and artisanal Feininger and the rational and industrial Gropius paradoxically synthesise, in their apparent contradiction, the development of 20th-century architecture of which we are all heirs.
Unexpectedly, when some years ago we had the opportunity to design the transformation and extension of the Moritzburg castle in Halle (Saale), just 30km from Dessau, these two images crossed our path. In a rare coincidence, we learned that Feininger had moved his studio in the early 1930s to the Moritzburg castle, after the closure of the Bauhaus. At that time he painted, in addition to other buildings in Halle, the Marienkirche church, strikingly similar to the cathedral that illustrated the 1919 manifesto.
Sometimes projects seem to exist in our memory even before we have conceived them. It is the feeling we had when we realised that our design was an unconscious tribute to that double spirit of the Bauhaus: an expressive landscape of sloping and angular roofs in contrast to the white volumes that seem to float below. It is a strange sensation that invades us every time we return to the castle: in our imagination we see the church that Feininger painted and the school that Gropius built.
Simon Allford, co-founder and director, AHMM
In 1979, I made the commitment to escape London and study architecture. But first I wanted to escape education and England. I ended up working as a waiter in Vieux Roquebrune. A place that I then discovered was home to Le Corbusier’s Petit Cabanon, and his grave; down the hill was Eileen Grey’s E1027. But all this was not entirely serendipitous. I was offered a room in a house by a family friend from Berlin, an architect who knew of all this.
And anyway architecture and the Bauhaus was already part of my world. The ‘cottage’ my sisters and I escaped to at the weekends was in fact a very modern house my father designed. There, and in our London home, we sat on Bauhaus furniture, ate with Bauhaus cutlery and read by Bauhaus lights. That which was not of the Bauhaus was most likely by Eames and therefore a reaction to the lineage of the greatest 20th-century design school. I learned the ‘words’ Mies and Gropius before I discovered that they were in fact ‘names’ (and names of two of the architect heads of the Bauhaus). From when I could read I was familiar with the word ‘Bauhaus’ as it was in bold on the side of the super-sized box that carried a heavy book that I could never be bothered to pull down to read.
So I was schooled in the Bauhaus, its import and its ethos before I was schooled. Which begs the question: am I trapped in its orthodoxies? My visual language and critical thinking is certainly informed by the work and ideas of all the greats who worked at the school. By Klee, Kandinsky, Schlemmer, both Albers, Moholy-Nagy, Feininger, Itten and Van Doesburg; by Meyer, Beyer, Breuer, Gropius and Mies. And that is just my initial roll call. For me the Bauhaus is the story of 20th-century art and design. Everything else is a reaction to its influence.
In 1981, having purchased and finally opened my own copy of that great Bauhaus tome, I also received through the post a copy of Tom Wolfe’s controversial and highly critical From Bauhaus to Our House. Looking back now, I realise that this was sent to me by my father as a reminder of what for me is the Bauhaus’ greatest lesson: the purpose of any design is to seek to enhance the quality of human experience in the theatre of everyday life, and to do so you must remain open to ideas yet critical and beware of the dangers of design orthodoxies — including not just your own, but those of the Bauhaus.