The style of architecture known as ‘Bauhaus’ originated in 1919 in Weimar, Germany from an art school of the same name. Founded by architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus literally meant ‘The School of Building’ and this was where the movement of modern design in Germany took hold.
The Bauhaus school gave students a chance to experiment with colour, shape and style according to Gropius’ distinct ideologies of form and functionality. Students explored the use of primary colours of red, yellow and blue, as well as simple shapes and unusual angles to create fresh, new designs. In the school’s early years students were encouraged to sculpt, make pottery, chairs and cabinets rather than buildings. In fact until 1927 it didn’t even have an architecture department, since Gropius’ architectural office handled the main build output.
The basic design premise of Bauhaus was that buildings should be practical but also have a design aesthetic. It celebrated geometric shapes, smooth facades and open floor plans. Whereas Baroque embraced ornamentation, Bauhaus was stripped back to almost dehumanisation, something it was critiqued for in later evaluations.
The Bauhaus movement gained momentum after World War I under the liberal Weimar Republic when cultural experimentation was the name of the day. Gropius saw the new era as a chance for a complete rethink of how buildings should look and to his mind it was streamlined, asymmetrical and functional. He wanted “an architecture adapted to our world of machines, radios and fast cars.”
Gropius had always sought to keep the Bauhaus school out of politics saying it was ‘apolitical’ but their decidedly non conservative design style eventually caught the attention of the Nazis who thought Bauhaus ‘un-German’ and ‘degenerate’. They closed the school down in 1931 after it relocated to Dessau.
Bauhaus reopened in Berlin in 1932 where it operated under director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe until it was forced to close in 1933 by the Gestapo. But the fleeing students emigrated and spread the ideology to Western Europe, the United States and Canada where it had a major impact and was dubbed The International Style.
The Bauhaus movement particularly took off in Tel Aviv in Israel due to the fact that many of the students of the school in Berlin were German Jewish. Today Tel Aviv is listed as a World Heritage Site for its White City which has over 4,000 historic Bauhaus buildings.
Art and architecture trends were significantly impacted by students of successive Bauhaus schools set up in America throughout the rest of the 1930s and into the 1960s. Students were taught to unify art, craft, and technology and experiment with a range of materials and processes. Bauhaus basic design principles underpinned many design school programmes around the world, including the Shillito Design School in Sydney which operated until 1980.
Although architecture of the 20th century was profoundly influenced by Bauhaus, the birth of the modern apartment block, for example, can be directly linked to it, Bauhaus also impacted on many other aspects, including furniture design, interior design and graphic design.