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Comments Topics: Technology

Germany 2011 - Day 9

Germany 2011 - Day 9

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Bauhaus Tour

Dessau, Germany

A Visionary

The night before, in Berlin, I was able to find a T-Mobile store where I purchased a micro-SIM card and five days of prepaid access to the Telekom network in Germany for my iPad for 5 euros per day. I would finally be able to access maps and train schedules on the go! However, my elation was dampened by the news that the man who's vision put this design and technology in my hands, Steve Jobs, had died. I spent the next morning on the train to Dessau reading some of the Twitter posts and the New York Times front page article giving an account of the impact of this one visionary man on the computing, typographic, design, film, music and communications industries.

The Bauhaus Vision

It seemed fitting to be visiting the Bauhaus building in Dessau, the masterpiece of architecture by Walter Gropius. The Bauhaus had first opened its doors as the state school of arts and crafts in 1919. Gropius had a vision to unite art and technology through a unique educational philosophy focused on a sparse and minimalistic design aesthetic combined with a mastery of the technologies and techniques used in the design and mass production of objects. As materials were scarce in post-war Germany, students had to do as much as they could with as little as possible, with the goal of producing functional, affordable products and living spaces for everyday modern life. Architecture represented the ultimate work of art, combining craft, art and architecture into a unified whole, including painting, sculpture, typography, textiles, ceramics and furniture as well as stage design, music and dramatic productions.

However, the political climate in Weimar became increasingly conservative and unsympathetic to the Bauhaus approach. Right-wing political pressure significantly reduced the funding for the school, effectively forcing the school to close its doors in April of 1925.

The Bauhaus in Dessau

The industrial city of Dessau invited Walter Gropius to build new school buildings, including administration offices, workshops, cafeteria, student dormitories and houses for the directors and teachers of the school. Gropius designed the building and it was officially inaugurated on December 4, 1926.

The concrete, steel and glass building designed to house the Bauhaus was a physical symbol of a modern approach to architecture that turned away from traditional approaches, focused on the formalized symmetrical proportions and the intricate decoration of the façade and interiors of the building. The Bauhaus building instead focused on maximizing natural light and providing appropriate spaces for the various activities of a creative collective of individuals, and to accommodate a more holistic view of the life of a community of artists living together in a progressive and international intellectual environment.

The National Socialist German Workers Party were voted into power in the November 1931 elections for the municipal council of Dessau on a platform to cut funding to the Bauhaus and demolish its buildings. On 22 August 1932, the school was forced to close its doors in an attempt by the Nazis to squash the movement. The Bauhaus school attempted to reopen in Berlin in an abandoned telephone factory. However, faced with police raids, student arrests and a forced school closure, the school in Berlin was dissolved on 20 July 1933.

The Bauhaus Exodus

Ironically, however, the Bauhaus diaspora spread around the world, and along with these teachers and students of modernism, the ideas that influenced the now ubiquitous examples of modern typography, graphic design, industrial design and architecture. László Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937. In 1938, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented an exhibition of the work of the Bauhaus from 1919 to 1928 under the directorship of Gropius. Gropius went on to practice architecture in the U.S., to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and to found The Architects' Collaborative. In their talks with the sculptor, Max Bill, Otl Aicher and Inge Scholl were convinced to found the Ulm School of Design in the spirit of the Bauhaus.

Design Influences

Today, one can clearly see the influences of the Bauhaus in modern architecture and in contemporary product designs for such companies as Ikea and Apple in their sparse use of materials and clean, minimalistic forms. So, when we pay tribute to the vision of an individual who contributed to the sleek, modern, functional designs that we use every day, we may be considering the work of Walter Gropius and his colleagues at the Bauhaus as much as the work of Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple.