bauhaus centenary…

I watched this excellent programme on iPlayer celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus School. Architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919 and determined that it should revolutionise the way art and design were taught. He gathered together teachers and students and established a framework in which all the disciplines would come together to create the buildings and products of the future, and define a new way of living in the modern world.
I started at the Oxford School of Architecture in 1967 and, thanks to art tutor Tom Porter (a hugely influential figure within the school), I was urged to see the Bauhaus Exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1968 – probably at a time when the Bauhaus and its influence had been more or less forgotten. I remember it as a brilliant, inspiring exhibition – and it was the first time I’d seen a Marcel Breuer chair (amongst other iconic pieces)!

I’d actually made a special study of the Bauhaus School as part of my Art A Level course (but, obviously, in a pretty superficial way!)… and I certainly remember sketches I made of two of Gropius’s new school buildings (when the school moved to Dessau).
Through political pressure, the school moved again, to Berlin, before it was finally closed in 1933 after the Nazis took control of Germany – although its influence continued to spread as teachers and students departed to foreign lands.

Gropius was clearly influenced by figures such as John Ruskin and William Morris, but his emphasis was thoroughly modernistic. Although I regard Gropius as something of a design hero, I’m not sure he was a particularly good architect (I’ve certainly read comments about his inability to draw – something I still regard, even with today’s computer technology, as a fundamental requirement!). But Gropius certainly DID excel in other areas: he was a philosopher; he was ‘good with people’; he was a true networker; he involved himself as a member or a leader in the myriad small groups of revolutionary artists of extraordinary talent, such as: Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, and Lázsló Moholy-Nagy.
It wasn’t all wonderful and inspirational stuff though. Gropius was a great theoretic champion of sexual equality within the Bauhaus workshops but, in practice, female students were directed to the weaving class (sounds ridiculous today!). Although the best of Bauhaus weaving is stunning (there’s this other excellent documentary focussing on Anni Albers), there were huge frustrations in a system in which only one exceptionally determined student, Marianne Brandt, entered the product design workshop.

What I did find hugely inspiring about Bauhaus, back in the 1960s, was the drawing together of art, design and technology… and I still think this has massively important relevance today. Sadly, the pitiful focus (don’t get me started!) on ‘core subjects’ (Maths, English and Sciences) in the UK education system – at the expense of the Arts, Humanities and Technology is utterly shameful in my view… and goes against virtually everything the Bauhaus was championing.
Oh for that time of bold and beautiful experiment in bringing creativity alive to be re-born!

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