Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, creator of the iconic Barcelona collection of modernist furniture, took over the Bauhaus in its second campus (Dessau) in 1930. This was just one year after he had opened the famous Barcelona Pavilion. Check out Part One and Part Two.
As we wrote in the previous part, Hannes Meyer had resigned due to political pressure and because of his involvement with the suppression of left-wing student groups at the Bauhaus.
The Dessau government was not left-wing, but it’s possible that they saw the conflict as proof of Meyer’s inefficiency and unfitness to lead the Bauhaus. They were satisfied with Mies as his successor, and allowed him leeway to rebuild the Bauhaus in his image.
Mies introduced a new curriculum that focused heavily on the architectural side of design. He brought famous designer Lilly Reich with him, who assumed control of the interior design department.
The ‘new’ Bauhaus included a photography workshop as well as a fine arts and building departments. Germany was entering a very unstable political climate at that time, and a sudden lack of funds (probably the result of poor management), forced Mies to relocate the entire campus to a smaller school in the country’s capital, Berlin. The Dessau Bauhaus closed definitively in 1933.
World War II and the last modern Bauhaus
The Berlin campus was an abandoned factory space that Mies had purchased out of his own pocket. The faculty and student bodies helped with the refurnish and restoration of the whole space, painting the entirety of his interiors in white, and rehabilitating the building as a whole.
You might think, at this point, that they were untouched by the starting perils of the Nazi party, which had just seen the appointment of Adolf Hitler as High Chancellor on that same year, 1933. The Dessau Bauhaus was history already, and once Hitler attained full political power, the Gestapo (Secret Police) closed the nascent Berlin campus months before that.
Mies spoke to the Gestapo’s director, who eventually reversed the decision, and the school was allowed to operate briefly. Mies enjoyed great political status, but the strength of the Nazi party and its influence was much greater. After discussing it with the other members of the faculty, the Bauhaus closed its doors on its own, even though they had a permit.
There are many reasons for Mies’ decision to shut down the school. Some German scholars who supported the new political structure of Nazism had already labeled the Bauhaus un-German, too international, and too modern, which for them was a synonym of ‘devious.’
The communist connection that we’ve already mentioned was also decisive for the negative public perception of the Bauhaus, and that’s why the staff decided to close the school. Even if they kept offering classes, chances are their permit would’ve been revoked with the same ease as when it was granted.
The ‘fine art’ component of the Bauhaus, which included certain aspects of the Abstract movement, was already labeled as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis. Everything that was too ‘international’ and ‘experimental’ was seen by the Nazis as influenced by the Jews.
Interestingly enough, Walter Gropius resurfaced to try and avoid the shutdown of the Bauhaus, claiming that he (its founder) had been an outstanding German citizen, as well as a war veteran and patriot. The damage, however, was done.
The legacy of the Bauhaus
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe migrated to the United States in 1937, and became an integral part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, creating the influential Second Chicago School of architecture. Moholy-Nagy followed his steps and established the ‘New Bauhaus’ that same year in that same city.
The aftermath of the three European campuses, after 14 years of existence, did not include more than 1,500 graduates. In fact, it barely surpassed 1,000. These students, however, the overwhelming majority of them, became great designers in their own right. To name some names, we can mention Josef Albers, Arieh Sharon, Franz Ehrlich, Ernst Neufert, Iwao Yamawaki, and many others.
Its faculty, apart from the geniuses already mentioned, came to include Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Anni Albers, and many others. There is now a Bauhaus Museum in Weimar and Tel Aviv (Israel), and lots of dedicated art centers in other places of the world.
The Bauhaus probably was the most influential design school in Central Europe during the modernist period. We owe much of what we have know in terms of furniture manufacturing and industrial design to these people and their work. This isn’t the last you’ll be reading of the school, so stay tuned for more!