April 22, 2024

Architectural Concepts Guide

Elevating Home Design Standards

What Is Bauhaus Architecture? History and Legacy of the Modern Style

6 min read

If you’re drawn to pops of primary colors, captivated by the idea of windows as walls, find yourself mesmerized by the straight lines of modern architecture, or swoon at the idea of a perfectly arranged kitchen—you have Bauhaus style to thank. 

Pronounced “bow” (as in, take a bow) “house,” Bauhaus was an actual school founded in Germany by architect Walter Gropius in 1919. Although it was around for less than 15 years, the Bauhaus revolutionized how we think about design. Incorporating influences from art, technology, and science, Bauhaus ultimately created a new way of designing that embraced rationality and practically, launched modernism, and continues to be prevalent throughout many facets of design today.

For insight into Bauhaus, we connected with Summer Jensen of Hawk & Co Interior Design & Architecture, Kimberly Kerl of Kustom Home Design, and Jennifer Hyman of Hyman Home & Interiors. These design pros recently explored the home of Bauhaus design to better understand its development and lasting impact. 

Rose Seidler House in Australia.

Getty Images / Oliver Strewe


A History of Bauhaus 

“The Bauhaus School was born from the desire to unite a myriad of artistic disciplines not only under one roof but also under one objective: to create a building of the future,” says Kerl. Bauhaus emerged shortly after World War I ended as Europe looked to rebuild politically, socially, as well as physically. 

“The Bauhaus founders wanted to create better buildings that harnessed the newest building methods and technologies,” says Kerl. Rather than a quick rebuild, the instructors and students of the Bauhaus were “tasked with creating quality, enduring design for the masses based on efficiency, ergonomics, and beauty or art,” according to Jensen, who says the Bauhaus approach was based on a broader philosophical and design movement, Deutsch Werkbund. The results included purposefully designed architecture, furniture, and interior objects, as well as typography, arts, and graphic art. 

The Bauhaus school was based in Weimar from its founding in 1919 until 1925, when it moved to Dessau. There, they created a campus that is now an icon of modern design and a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1932 the school moved to Berlin, but it closed a few months later, in 1933, under pressure from the Nazi administration. Many of the students and instructors left the country, dispersing the Bauhaus approach around the globe. The United States was a popular destination, becoming home to many Bauhaus icons, including architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the school’s final director before it closed), designer Marcel Breuer, Bauhaus founder Gropius, and artists Josef and Anni Albers. Kerl notes that many of these figures became instructors in U.S. design and architecture schools; László Moholy-Nagy even established the New Bauhaus school in Chicago, known today as the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. 

In these new settings, Bauhaus evolved. “Midcentury modern and International architecture styles are direct descendants of the Bauhaus movement,” says Kerl. The International architectural style was especially prominent. According to Jensen, “the principals were still consistent with Werkbund and Bauhaus but looser in definition to include more non-rectilinear forms and shapes.”

The Edith Farnsworth House in the United States and the Rose Seidler House in Australia are examples of the residential evolution of Bauhaus. Even brutalist architecture, which emerged at the end of the Second World War, can trace its history back to Bauhaus solidifying the era of modern architecture. 

Bauhaus Kandinsky/Klee House in Germany.

Getty Images / ANTON ROLAND LAUB


Design Elements of the Bauhaus Style

Bauhaus is an aesthetic that is recognizable to many: a minimalist look structured with rectilinear forms. According to Kerl, the lack of ornamentation was both a response to historically ornate buildings popular prior to Bauhaus, as well as “an extension of avant-garde artistic movements that were occurring in the early 1900s—De Stijl, for example.”

Metal, concrete, and glass replaced wood and stone as building materials, says Kerl. “These materials could be mass produced and assembled for less money which made them better suited for quick construction.” Kerl notes these materials also allowed the designers to rethink traditional surfaces, resulting in previously uncommon designs like flat roofs and exterior walls of glass

Windows, or more specifically, natural light, are another key feature. According to Jensen, Gropius was a proponent of passive design. At the Bauhaus school, he used large expanses of windows to light workshop spaces and clerestories to light hallways; he even designed systems to operate upper windows to help with air circulation. 

“Of course, you cannot mention Bauhaus interiors without mentioning some of the most amazing chairs still in production today,” says Jensen, highlighting Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair and the Barcelona Chair by Mies Van De Rohe. According to Jensen, minimalist, modern seating not only merged technology with design by harnessing new industrial techniques to create modern forms, it also introduced steel as an interior finish. 

Neutral palettes with primary color accents are another signature of Bauhaus style. “Targeted use of primary colors accentuated a building’s form or function,” says Kerl, noting that these primary colors were often used to convey information. Color could be used to define doorways or indicate which part of a building you are in. The hallways of the Bauhaus Meisterhaus, like the Feininger House, are an example. “You see this all the time in current day, when the parking garage is color-coded to help you remember your floor,” adds Jensen.

Like the practical use of color mentioned above, functional design is the hallmark of Bauhaus. “The fundamental guiding principle of Bauhaus is common sense,” says Jensen. “The artisans and craftspeople worked alongside manufacturers with scientific-like deconstruction to study the relationship between ergonomics and function.” Jensen cites the Frankfurt Kitchen by Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky as an example, noting that current kitchen cabinets are still based on Schutte-Lihotzky’s designs, which grouped functions for an efficient and easy-to-use arrangement.

But it wasn’t just the functionality of a layout that Bauhaus considered. “Every object was reimagined,” says Kerl, citing a long list of everyday items that were designed along with the building, from cutlery, tools, appliances, and cleaning utensils, to lighting controls, vents, door hardware, and light fixtures. “Every element of a building was purposefully designed.”

Wassily chair and designer Marcel Breuer.

Left: Courtesy of Knoll. Right: Getty Images


Bauhaus Today

“Bauhaus shut down in the 1930s, not because it was no longer relevant or beloved, but because of politics,” says Hyman. “Fortunately for us, the concepts, practices, and design styles are still as interesting and active today.” When we want spaces that are simple and clean-lined but have a little fun and personality, Hyman says we’re looking for spaces based on Bauhaus concepts—even if we don’t realize it.

Sometimes the Bauhaus inspiration is aesthetic. “Using glass on the staircase to keep a space open and airy and using stained concrete on the countertop to provide durability and beauty are some examples of how Bauhaus concepts are still in use,” says Hyman.

Bauhaus-inspired interiors today often incorporate pops of primary colors through soft furnishings, fixtures, accent furniture, or graphic art. “I think it’s a lot of fun to go through the local Target store and see shelves full of towels, rugs, drapes, pillows with patterns that surely point to Bauhaus as the genesis for their inspiration,” says Hyman.

Hyman also sees Bauhaus roots in contemporary decorating styles. “I think the natural progression of the Bahaus movement is the adoption of ‘modern’ and ‘minimalism’ to all styles of interior design,” says Hyman, using modern farmhouse and Japandi as two common examples. “It’s interesting to see older and more classical or traditional interior design styles being re-invented through a Bauhaus lens and stripped of their ornamentation,” says Hyman. “Modern Rococo? Sure, why not?Minimal maximalism? Let’s give it a try! Take that bold color palette and soften it with some gray or make it moody with some black and you have a 21st-century sensibility.”

Other times, the Bauhaus influence is seen in the mentality of decorating—the creativity, problem-solving, and adaptation we engage in to make spaces our own. “Development of ideas and innovation are hallmarks of the Bauhaus school,” says Hyman. Consider the trend of “hacking” a furniture piece to act as something else or function in a way that it was not originally designed. “It’s great fun to see industrial metal plumber’s piping become a French return curtain rod or to see a 24-inch towel rod become a door handle. I think it would be Bauhaus-approved!”

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