With the landscape sheathed in thick white snow, the red, yellow and blue of the signboard stood out like a beacon. It was the guidepost for the Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung (Bauhaus Archives/Museum for Design), which housed ideas and physical objects from the most influential German modernist art movement of the 20th century (see below).
The signboard embodied many aspects of the Bauhaus. Besides the bright primary colours, it sported a cubic form and lower-case Bauhaus typography, thus showcasing some of the movement’s underlying principles of geometry and simplification.
From the long walkway leading to the entrance, the building’s unique silhouette was striking. The silhouette was also almost impossible to describe, which was where its detailing in the Berlin Senate’s List of Monuments came in useful.
Basically, the structure comprised rows of conjoined end-sections of what would normally be industrial sheds. The whole was laid out in an uneven ‘H’ – impossible to figure out on the ground – and linked by walkways.
The effect was deliberately sculptural and the idea was also to create a harmonious whole with the neighbouring neo-rennaissance villa which was visible through the rows.
The building’s original designs were by the Bauhaus founder, architect Walter Gropius. But he died before construction commenced. Two architects revised and saw the completion of the current building, which opened in 1979: Alexander Cvijanovi, who had worked with Gropius, and Berliner Hans Bandel.
Inside the building, the exhibits exemplified the wide range of fields, expertise and exponents under the Bauhaus umbrella. Documents, photos and works focused on the ‘classics’ in furniture, graphics, ceramics, theatre, painting and textiles, among other fields.
The Bauhaus had its foundations as a school (formally the Staatliches Bauhaus), which moved to different buildings throughout its 14-year existence. A highlight of the archive/museum was a model of the second building complex in which the school was housed.
Considered a seminal example of Bauhaus architecture, the school complex was designed by Gropius. The model allowed for the appreciation from above and as a whole, of all the different forms Gropius employed to serve the different functions of the spaces.
The original in Dessau still stands and serves today as a Bauhaus research and teaching centre as well as experimental design workshop.
Another exhibit highlight was the Wassily chair. Its use of bent tubular steel and canvas was a then startling departure from the convention of clunky club chairs.
Designed in 1925 by furniture designer, architect and Gropius protégé, Marcel Breuer, it was produced in the Staatliches Bauhaus’ furniture workshop, “one of the first workshops to accept the need for standardisation for the purposes of industrial production”.
The chair has been in continuous production since the 1950s.
To accommodate increasing numbers of visitors and to showcase more of its collection, which is the world’s largest Bauhaus collection, the museum portion will move to a new building which is being constructed next to the current building. It will do this by 2019, the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus. The current building will serve as an archive and library. ω
Background: The Bauhaus
The Bauhaus was a design school (formally the Staatliches Bauhaus), which operated from 1919 to 1933. Founded by architect Walter Gropius in reaction to industrialisation, the goal was to educate young people to produce Gesamtkunstwerke (total works of art).
Students would do this by drawing from a wide range of disciplines in crafts, arts and technology. They would explore and produce work in workshops through a combination of the theoretical, practical and experimental. They would also be guided by the most talented Modern masters in their fields.
The model was medieval masons’ guilds.
There is no Bauhaus style per se as the school’s direction and outputs were influenced by Gropius and the school’s subsequent directors – Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Miles van der Rohe – as well as other influential faculty. But all remained true to the original manifesto.
Physically, the school was located first in Weimar, then moved to Dessau and finally to Berlin. When the Nazis denounced it for its ‘degenerate art’, it closed down. Many of its faculty emigrated, which saw the movement established in the US, Israel and other parts of Europe.
Post-war, the College of Design in Ulm, founded on Bauhaus principles, took over the leadership of German design for decades.
Today, Bauhaus ideas and methods, particularly in seeking solutions for problems pertinent to their time, underline tertiary education in design and applied arts world-over. Likewise, they continue to influence contemporary architecture and many other creative areas.
The homepage of the Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung (Bauhaus Archives/Museum for Design) has information about the archive/museum and selected document, photo and physical exhibits.
A detailed description of the archive/museum is on the Entry in the Monuments List of the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment (German).
The most comprehensive site on the movement is bauhaus-online.de, run by the Bauhaus Kooperation Berlin Dessau Weimar . With a creative layout and great navigability, it answers all questions about the Bauhaus, from history to daily life at the school, and the teachers to the works. An interactive global map shows the location of all Bauhaus-related organisations and buildings.