To celebrate the upcoming 100 years of the iconic Bauhaus (1919-2019), we are going to do a three-piece article on the history of its foundation and its best designers.

Photos: (C) Wikimedia Commons

A different kind of school

The idea of the Staatlisches Bauhaus, later know just as Bauhaus (literally ‘building house’), started inside the mind of a designer that called Walter Gropius. An architect by profession, he was appointed head of the Grand Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in 1919 to replace Henry van der Velde, a Belgian architect and painter.

Mr. Walter Gropius judging you for not knowing anything about the Bauhaus.

Van der Velde was unable to continue his work because of his Belgian nationality, a sensible issue in post-WWI Germany. Gropius had a lot of interesting ideas that he could not put in practice for fear of political and artistic repression, so he took the chance at the Grand Ducal school to try and make them a reality.

These ideas mainly included a new approach to design and architecture, one that had to be more holistic and collaborative. Interestingly enough, the Bauhaus did not include an architecture school until much later in its foundation.

Much of the post-war appeal of the Bauhaus had to do with a newfound liberalism on the world of the arts, but Gropius stated that his particular intention for the house was completely apolitical and totally art-centered. The Bauhaus in Weimar was born on the joining of the Grand Ducal School and the adjacent Weimar Academy of Fine Art.

To come up with the name, Gropius became inspired by both the direct and explicit intention behind the two words mentioned above and the Bauhütte, and old association of craftsmen. Its first group teacher was comprised by painter Johannes Itten, painter Lyonel Feininger, and sculptor Gerhard Marcks.

First years on Weimar

The Main Building of the Weimar campus today.

Gropius explained his vision in a 1919 Proclamation of the Bauhaus, which read: “Architects, painters, and sculptors must recognize anew the composite character of a building as an entity… Art is not a ‘profession.’ There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman.”

The idea behind this manifesto permeated the first years at the Bauhaus first campus on Weimar. The idea that craftsmen and artists were virtually the same, and needed to help each other thrive in this new postwar era. The world had changed. Johannes Itten taught the first course for new students at the Bauhaus: an introductory collage of these ideas.

These ideas were, in turn, influenced by a group called Der Blaue Reiter: a conglomerate of dissatisfied artists that was looking to distance themselves from the official guilds of German artists that were prominent at the time. One of its core members was Wassily Kandinsky, who entered the Bauhaus in these early years, and Itten resigned shortly after in 1922.

Itten’s philosophy, though very much adhered to that of the Bauhaus, was a little more on ‘fine art’ side of the discussion between arts and craftsmanship. The Bauhaus intended to bring both sides together, but not everyone agreed to that completely. After he quit, he was replaced by Hungarian designer László Moholy-Nagy. He was a little more of the ‘applied arts’ side of the discussion, the side that favored craftsmanship, and he rewrote the introductory course to be a little more practical and objective.

Mr. Moholy-Nagy judging your art.

The Weimar school experienced a lot of political pressure from the conservative circles of 1920s German society, who wanted to bring things back to the way they were before the war. These political groups made life for the Bauhaus staff and students a little hard on the economic side, which led to the closing of the school in 1925.

The remaining buildings were christened Technical University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, and in 1996 it was renamed again to Bauhaus-University Weimar.