Architecture + Design
Kinetics in the Bauhaus Movement
Historically, one observes that there aren’t too many movements in architecture which have won applaud and acceptance with spontaneity and enthusiasm – both nationally and internationally.
And therefore, arouses a salutation for such a movement which breathes fresh air even after hundred years of its initiation and is celebrated with aplomb by architects, professionals, society and even governments. Yes, I talk about the Bauhaus movement of modernism which had started in 1919 in Weimar, Thuringia, Germany, by the globally acclaimed architect Walter Gropius. The State of Thuringia considered to be a cradle of the Bauhaus, is an ideal zone to experience and understand how this movement evolved, inspired, polarized and then spread its wings in other cities of Germany and the world. On a recent visit here, courtesy the German Tourism Board, I realized the roots of this modernism pulse- full of hope for a change, a resolute to experiment and change with zeal, to argue, contradict while being prepared to accept rejection, expulsion. It was an urge to change from the different classic ‘ isms’ in architecture, art – moving
towards a social reform. Apparently, today it is called the “school of daring” by some.
The formal birth of the Bauhaus- this is how it is explained: The then restless, ambitious and young Berlin architect Walter Gropius in 1919, was wanting to combine energies to design “buildings of the future” and chose to start a progressive school of art and architecture in the then placid and small town of Weimar. He expressed his earnest desire for change and experimentation in his worldfamous founding manifesto, “Let us all together desire, conceive and create the new building of the future, which will be everything in one form: architecture and sculpture and painting that will one day rise upwards towards the sky from the millions of hands of the craftspeople, as a crystal symbol of a new belief yet to come.” However, urges for a radical change had well begun in art by Count Henry Kessler in 1903 with his exhibitions of modern art which were already shocking the Weimar cultural community. In
fact, Belgian designer and architect Henry van de Velde had well given directions for this break- away path a year earlier in 1902 with the founding of the Arts and Craft Seminar- in the building he had designed and to which the Bauhaus later moved in.
Walter Gropius like many of his colleagues had experienced as a soldier, the terror of World War 1. Post the war, the atmosphere was engulfed with a spirit of making a new radical beginning. Gropius thus got the opportunity, despite the uncertainties, to pursue the formulation of his study programs where he innovatively combined art and craftsmanship. The teachers in the Bauhaus were not ‘ Professors’ in the lecture halls but “Masters” in their respective crafts like pottery, wood and metal, weaving, etc.- the idea being to close the gap between theory and practice. There were ‘ harmonization studies’ where avantgarde art theoreticians and musicians were at the forefront. Apparently, it no doubt was a period of discovery- where materials were tested- form, movement and color were probed- in an atmosphere of arguing, contradicting and evolving with a bohemian spirit.
There is no denying the fact that this movement of challenging set existent patterns of thought and beliefs encountered strong resistance from the very beginningessentially from the right- wing conservative circles. With a fair number of students hailing from foreign countries and with participatory enthusiasm of architects and artists from other nations, the Bauhaus was dubbed as being ‘ internationalist, communist and infiltrated by Jews’. In 1924, the animosity grew to that an extent that created
circumstances forced the Bauhaus to leave Weimar and move on to the industrial town of Dessau.
It was here that Gropius set up the Design Academy in a new school building designed by him. It has won wide acclaim all around for its creative and diverse architectural nuances. The motto here was ‘ Art and Technology- a new unity’. The focus it seems was on collaboration with industry and the design of everyday products that, according to Gropius, “perfectly fulfil their purpose” and which “practically serve their function, and are inexpensive, durable and beautiful.” In the seven years of the movement in Dessau, this city saw the making of the largest number of Bauhaus buildings anywhere in the world. Some of them which have become modern architectonic prototypes are the Bauhaus school, historic employment office, the Masters’ houses and the Dessau- Torten Housing Estate. The utopian Bausauslers’ thoughts can be experienced here in full zeal. The city and its precincts became a laboratory. Some of the architecture here is now World Heritage. Dessau experienced a revolution in architecture and a bold out- of- the- box education approach of this school of thought. The heavy influence of this far- reaching vision was not limited only to architecture, but extensively extended to art, theatre, furniture, products, furnishings and décor. Nearby towns of Gera and Jena also felt the reverberations of the Bauhaus. Architect Henry van de Velde left strong impressions here.
In 1930, famous architect Mies van der Rohe had a brief stint to head this institution. However, in Dessau too, the Bauhaus met with a strong opposition from the conservatists and the Nazi who were on the up- rise with strength. Records show that in 1932, due to stressful political pressure, the Bauhaus was ousted from Dessau also and shifted to Berlin with limited and scaled down operations. But within a year the entire movement had to be wound- up - succumbing to the stifling pressures of the Nationalist Socialists. The Bauhaus Masters and their students left Germany, some of them being forced to flee the country. What was heartening for this movement was that they carried the ideas of the Bauhaus around the world and developed them, discarded them or rediscovered them- in Chicago, Tel Aviv, Moscow among other cities across.
Today, the German modernism urges of the yesteryears are being boosted with newer interpretations in design. Now, the Bauhaus University has a student strength of four thousand plus, many coming from over seventy countries.
The curriculum reflects the then pursued ideology and beliefs, redefining change and design methodologies in the contemporary idiom. Industry players such as Tecta are manufacturing furniture and products with the same basics pursued then while assimilating design elements relevant in the present context. The hundred years anniversary of the Bauhaus in 2019 is no doubt being visualized as a very important year in the German architectural history. It is being celebrated as one of the most significant cultural achievements of the twentieth century for them.
Weimar, the land of literary laureates such as Goethe and Schiller, great musicians like Bach and Liszt and above all- the bed of modernity and Bauhaus, stands apart for the rich grandeur of its past. It also is home to some fine classical architecture styles and is proud to have parks/ gardens, castles and homes that are UNESCO accredited heritage sites. The darkest memories of German history are also kept alive here. Statistics state that every year more than five hundred thousand visitors come to the former concentration camp of Buchenwald. The Weimar town has been rebuilt and restored sensitively – rekindling and bringing alive its earlier glory. It has seen dramatic efforts
in conservation in the last three decades.
2019 in Germany is no doubt going to be a very special and memorable year with the Bauhaus centenary celebrations in the major cities with exhibitions/ talks/ public displays/ walks - all being organized as if with vengeance to revive and condemn the historic misdeed of the past Nazi dictatorial slaughter of democratic norms and modern free thinking. Opening of new Bauhaus museums is scheduled for the coming year in Weimar and Dessau to preserve and bring it to the world the free spirited and futuristic ideology that was prevalent and suppressed in Germany in early twentieth century. It is no doubt commendable to observe how at all levels, with meticulous research and passion, architecture of the Bauhaus era that was either destroyed by the Nazis or the war, is being constructed again with zeal and the architecture that survived the onslaught is being restored.
The contemporary surge in architecture to explore and experiment with modern materials, technology, functionality, ideas, craft- is a continuation in a revised
context and timeframe. The rhythm evolved by the Bauhaus modernism flows further on. The architecture of the Bauhaus has no doubt carried forward its pungency in the twenty- first century and finds wide admiration for its contrasting aesthetics to the traditional outlook and the well- thought of straight- line imagery. The coming year would indeed be a great time to visit Germany - for the modernists in art and architecture, when the entire country would be in a wave of proudly showcasing the ethos of the Bauhaus and bringing forth the current thrust in further encouraging experimentation with a purpose.
Ar Suneet Paul is the Editor- in- chief of Architecture+ Design magazine.