form follows function!
At the beginning of the 20th Century, design and craft movements reacted against the effects of 19th Century industrialisation. The Arts & Crafts movement had a mistrust of the use of mechanisation, stating that it brought about a decline in the quality of goods being produced. Designers like William Morris wished for craftsmen to return to traditional production techniques believing that this would improve quality. However, many designers realised having goods produced by machine was inevitable and that Morris' ideas were no longer applicable. The Bauhaus was instrumental in developing a new style which reflected the values and processes of machine production. This style is often referred to as the “machine” or “industrial” aesthetic.
The Bauhaus was a German design school founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The name Bauhaus roughly translates as architecture or construction house. The school looked to the art world, where the Cubist artists – Picasso, Braque and Gris – were breaking down objects to their basic geometric shapes – cones, cubes, spheres, etc. Bauhaus designers started to view objects in the same way. They saw the reduction of objects to their essential components as a strategy for rapidly mass producing consumer goods. This was the Bauhaus solution for creating an uncluttered living environment in a technological age.
To allow Bauhaus designers to fabricate goods from basic units, they developed a clean, simple style using abstract, angular and geometric forms. These forms were inspired by modern machinery – wheels, pistons and other mechanical elements. This principle of applying industrial imagery to architecture and domestic design appeared severe in contrast to the curves and decoration of the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements. Bauhaus’ austere aesthetic symbolised and dominated avant-garde architecture and design and its partnership with technology.
Bauhaus encouraged the use of new materials, including tubular steel, concrete, glass and plywood. Designers allowed the structure and construction of their finished designs to dictate their outward appearance – to such an extent that they regarded their designs as “styleless”. This followed on from American architect Louis Sullivan’s ideas on form following function.
The teaching at Bauhaus was progressive and forward thinking. The school employed many leading European artists and architects – such as Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe – and its purpose was to train designers to work in industry. At that time, Germany did not have the access to the raw goods other western countries had and was in dire need of a skilled and innovative workforce which could export high quality goods. The designers which Bauhaus produced were economically very important to Germany.
This reform in design education meant that Bauhaus students’ time was split between education in the principles of basic design and time spent in the craft workshops where they gained skills in working with a particular material.
The Bauhaus was closed by the Nazis in 1933. It is famous today for not only its aesthetic but also for its approach to design and how it is taught. Many Bauhaus designs are still in production today and typify the modern movement for many people. The influence of Bauhaus can be seen in contemporary architecture and design.