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Thursday, May 31, 2012


As an extension of a recent discussion regarding German Bauhaus design influences, I've come to realize that there are a few misconceptions regarding what Bauhaus was and is. Though Hitler forced the school to close its doors in 1933, the Bauhaus didn't really cease to exist with its demise in Germany. Most of the school's faculty (and some of its students) emigrated to the U.S. where they (individually, if not as a group) continued the development of the International Style. They brought with them things such as lightweight, welded steel furniture and some of the more creative incarnations of reinforced concrete. Far from being unknown to Bauhaus designers, their designs would have been architecturally impossible without them. Keep in mind that Marcel Breuer's classic, chrome-plated, "Vasily chair" (named after his friend, Kandinsky) dates from as far back as 1928.

Schroder House, Utrecht, Germany, 1924, Gerrit Rietveldt
Many Bauhaus design principals were an outgrowth of Cubism. Mondrian, Klee, and of course, Gropius were all indebted to the latter stages of Picasso's genius. There was an element of simple, handmade, medieval craftsmanship as well, but some of it's earliest manifestations in domestic architecture, such as Gerrit Rietveldt's 1924 Schroeder House in Utrecht, Germany, for instance, while aesthetically pleasing even by current standards of modern art, is about as inviting to abide within as the stark, Mondrian lines and colored rectangles which inspired it. Inside, the decor is quite similar.  The rational was that the life of the inhabitants could be uplifted to a level of perfect harmony by the clean perfection of the art in which they lived, thus making life itself an art form and therefore, art a way of life. It was a nice idea, but human existence is way too sloppy for such high ideals.

Schroder House, Interior
But that didn't keep Bauhaus-trained designers from continuing such thoughts here in grabbing onto new materials like plastic, vinyl, neon, chrome, etc. which they pursued to their cold, logical conclusions. So lest anyone get a lot of warm fuzzies regarding Bauhaus design, while it did revolutionize both exterior and interior architectural spaces (and that which filled them), it did not manifest itself in the coziest environments ever created. In fact it was often criticized as being dehumanizing. It was inviting only as a relief from the cluttered, overstuffed, chintz of Victorian eclectic and the (not-unrelated) Art Nouveau curlicues prevalent before WW I. It was only in the 1960s and later that Americans (and others) began "warming it up" so to speak with a little padding here and there, plant life, and natural materials. The Bauhaus was, at its heart, as much an industrial school as art school; predicated on the design of of simple, clean, practical, and hence attractive items for economical mass production. It employed a new aesthetic, and one that attracted admirers only so long as it was new.  Thus, it has been only in its derivative formulations that most of us have come to know and love its beauty.
Bauhaus humanized, Pitsou Kedem, Haifa House, 2011

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