The Bauhaus school has had a huge influence on the history of design - and continues to do so today. Aaron Kitney explains why.
Among the first of design schools, The Bauhaus was focused on subjects including architecture, industrial design, graphic design, fine art, photography and new media, and became the centre of one of the most influential movements of design history.
The school was first opened in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, and over the years existed in three different German cities: Weimar (1919-1925), Dessau (1925-1932) and Berlin (1932-1933). The Bauhaus was unique at the time because it asked how the 'modernisation process could be mastered by means of design'.
Gropius realised machines offered a great opportunity to mass-produce appealing and practical products. The Bauhaus vision was to embrace the new technological developments unifying art, craft, and technology. It was primarily focused on clean geometric forms and balanced visual compositions.
The results were both both beautiful and simplistic, from the modern 'Barcelona Chair' designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich to abstracted line-form paintings by Wassily Kandinsky. Each practice was examined, explored and experimented further by both the students and encouraging tutors.
Futuristic designs for the real world were being considered with various mediums including wood, metal and glass. Graphic designers such as Moholy-Nagy, avid user of red and experimental layouts, set strong design trends. He was not shy to augment the typography by standing it vertically or diagonally on the page - as designers, we know this is a difficult technique to implement.
Another key designer in the Bauhaus movement was Herbert Bayer, known for developing the typeface Universal. This 'universal' alphabet was commissioned by Walter Gropius in 1925 for exclusive Bauhaus use, unfortunately it was never cut it as a typeface.
Below is a re-issue named called 'Architype Bayer'; It was drawn from Bauhaus Archiv sketches, based on his single-alphabet student thesis:
Political pressure and constant scrutiny by the Nazi movement (which strongly opposed modernism in favour of classicism) continued to cast a shadow over the school. In 1928 Gropius resigned and was then succeeded by Hannes Meyer. The school carried on with practice as usual.
In the 1930s the Bauhaus received criticism from the Nazi writers Wilhelm Frick and Alfred Rosenberg, labeling the Bauhaus 'un-German' - not agreeing with the modernistic styles the school was predominately based on. The writers characterised the Bauhaus as a front for Communists, Russians, and social liberals. Further pressure from the Nazi régime forced the Bauhaus to close on April 11, 1933.
With many design movements, the outcomes look out-dated over the years. In contrast, the Bauhaus philosophy has had a constant influence on all forms of design. Most major cities incorporate design elements from this 94-year-old theory 'form follows function' - such as white walls, clean lines and glass - which came from a school that only existed for fourteen years.
Where to find out more
If you are planning a trip to Berlin check out the The Bauhaus building known as Bauhaus Archiv, located in Tiergarten, it is well worth the visit. Today it functions as a documentation centre with exhibition spaces, including an introduction to the overall context of the times. The permanent exhibition features original artifacts such as furniture, ceramics, sculpture and photographs from the Bauhaus Workshop from the 1920s.
Words: Aaron Kitney
Aaron Kitney is a freelance graphic designer and art director based in London and Vancouver. He specialises in branding, identity, web design, publication design, packaging and book design. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronkitney.