Bauhaus: The Building Blocks of Modernism

How a 14 year old shaped a new world

Top Euro Germany WeimarLIFE Photo Collection

Weimar, Germany. Where the International Style began to find a more integrated manifestation with the founding of an educational institute in 1919.

The International Style or International Modernism had begun in Europe around 1910’s - One of the foremost examples of this style was the Fagus Shoelace Factory designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer in 1911.

It is believed the style was propagated through the works of three seminal contributors - Walter Gropius, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (later known as Le Corbusier), and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The school of building

Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919, by Architect Walter Gropius, as a school of art, design and architecture. Its early years were largely influenced by painter Johannes Itten, who was in charge of the foundation course, and whose beliefs centered around the value of art, spirituality and individual expression.The Bauhaus school building in Dessau, designed by Gropius, in 1925, is exemplary of the principles of the International Style of architecture.

Grand Central Skyscraper (1959-02) by Andreas FeiningerLIFE Photo Collection

By 1923, Gropius along with his new staff, restructured the institute to stress the value of art and technology - as he envisioned a more socially and technologically engaged artist.

Gropius designed the now iconic Bauhaus building in Dessau, which the school moved to in 1925. It moved again to Berlin in 1933, where it was headed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, until it was eventually closed down by Nazi authorities.

Mies Vanderrohe-Architect (1956-07) by Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Inspired by John Ruskin, William Morris, the Arts & Crafts movement and Art Nouveau; Bauhaus believed in the value of the human hand as well as that of science and technology.

The principles of Bauhaus found expression in clean lines, geometrical shapes, new materials like glass and steel and the use of exposed materials – like concrete and metal I-Beams.

Shaped eventually by its own evolution, Bauhaus became a way of thinking, which defined the relationship between art, design, technology and society, and had a major impact on the world, even after its closure in 1933.

By Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Bauhaus and the world

How then, did a movement of only 14 years, perpetuate exponentially, from one corner of Europe? One of the key contributors to the impact of ‘Bauhaus’ perhaps lay in its appropriateness (Auchityatya) to the demands of its times. It was a time of war, of uncertainty, of frugality and severity – and also the time of the Industrial Revolution, when Bauhaus ideologies found resonance with cautious re-building.

Kanvinde, Gropius and Pei (Late Forties) by AP KanvindeOriginal Source: Kanvinde Rai & Chowdhury

Another fundamental factor was that it principally existed, as a center of learning, with a faculty comprising of several progressive educators who widened their impact through their students and so forth, creating a cumulative effect of its teachings and philosophies.

Harvard, Massachusetts - Walter Gropius (c) with students A.P Kanvinde and I.M. Pei

Munich, Germany, Hitler and Hitler Jugend youth marching in front of the Brown House.Yad Vashem

A force majeure was its closure by Hitler and World War II compelling its excellent faculty and its former students to immigrate to far-flung countries, particularly the US – inadvertently multiplying its influence on the world stage.

Marcel Breuer (1950-08-08) by Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

Architect Walter Gropius and product designer Marcel Breuer emigrated and became professors at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

By Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the institute in Berlin – also emigrated to Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago.

van der Rohe, seen here with students in Chicago, in November 1956.

Professor Moholy-Nagy And Friend Sweeney (1937-09)LIFE Photo Collection

László Moholy-Nagy traveled to the Netherlands and the UK and then, in 1937, emigrated to the United States. Here he founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago, which continues to exist today as the IIT Institute of Design.

Josef Albers also emigrated to the United States and joined the Yale faculty, retiring in 1958 at the age of 70.

Mies Vanderrohe (1956-11) by Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Not only did these Bauhaus Masters continue to teach and impact a generation of designers, architects and artists from all over the world, their own practices found unprecedented favour and expansion in the US.

By Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Mies van der Rohe, for example, was not only involved with planning and building of IIT's campus until 1956, but received landmark commissions for the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1945-51), the Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago (1949-51) (On left), and the Seagram Building in New York (1954-58).

Mies Vanderrohe (1956-07) by Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

van der Rohe’s use of exposed steel beams (which came to be known as I–Beams) in the facade of the Seagram Building...

Office Bldgs. (1958) by Andreas FeiningerLIFE Photo Collection

...along with its use of bronze and glass made it a landmark skyscraper in New York, when it was completed in 1958.

Composition (1922) by László Moholy-NagyThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Bauhaus in art and design

The Bauhaus influence through abstracts, graphics, photography and typography can be seen in the work of several designers. Walter Allner, student of Bauhaus, who studied under Josef Albers, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Joost Schmidt, to name a few, left Dessau for Paris and worked as editor of influential Graphis magazine from 1945 – 48. He emigrated to the US, impacting tastes and trends as Art Director of Fortune magazine from 1963-74. 

Archer (1919) by Theo van DoesburgMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Theo Van Doesburg, Dutch painter and leader of the De Stijl movement, also taught at the Weimar Bauhaus from 1921 to 1923.

Untitled (1926) by László Moholy-NagyThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

László Moholy-Nagy, of Hungarian origin, was one of the youngest and most influential thinkers and instructors at the Bauhaus School who later founded what is now IIT Institute of Design in Chicago.

Cover of the magazine die neue linie, September 1929 (1929) by László Moholy-NagyKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Moholy-Nagy introduced multi-disciplinary art practices to revolutionize artistic media like fine art, photography, sculpture, graphic design and architecture, and is credited with early experiments with the photogram.

Light Grey Wall (1958) by Josef AlbersMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Josef Albers taught at Black Mountain College and Yale University. While he was best known for his studies on colour, his monochromatic works convey much of his experiments between perception and cognition and his mastery of optical illusion through perceived dimension.

Credits: Story

Read more about Bauhaus in India:
- The early years
- In Ahmedabad, Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi

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