When Germany lost World War I, it also lost its monarchy. The constitution for the new postwar German state was written and adopted in the city of Weimar, giving it the unofficial name of the Weimar Republic. Free of monarchical censorship, the Weimar Republic saw, among other upheavals, the floodgates open for artistic experimentation in all areas of life. One of the most influential aesthetic movements of the era began in Weimar, where the Great Big Story short above opens. As the city gave birth to the Weimar Republic, it also gave birth to the Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus, literally “building house,” was a school in two senses, both a movement and an actual institution. The style it advocated, according to the video’s narrator, “looked to strip buildings from unnecessary ornament and build the foundation of what is called modern architecture.” It was at Weimar University in 1919 that architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus, and his office still stands there as a testament to the power of “clean, simple designs fit for the everyday life.” We also see the first official Bauhaus building, Georg Muche’s Haus am Horn of 1923, and Gropius’ Bauhaus Dessau of 1925, which “amazed the world with its steel-frame construction and asymmetrical plan.”
You can learn more about the Bauhaus’ principles in the video above, a chapter of an Open University series on design movements. As an educational institution, the Bauhaus “offered foundation training in many art and design disciplines,” including mass production, seeking to “develop students who could unify art with craft while embracing new technology.” Bauhaus thinkers believed that “good design required simplicity and geometric purity,” which led to works of graphic design, furniture, and especially architecture that looked then like radical, sometimes heretical departures from tradition — but which to their creators represented the future.
“Nothing dates faster than people’s fantasies about the future,” art critic Robert Hughes once said, but somehow the fruits of the Bauhaus still look as modern as they ever did. That holds true even now that the influence of the Bauhaus manifests in countless ways in various realms of art and design, though it had already made itself globally felt when the school moved to Berlin in 1932. By that time, of course, Germany had another regime change coming, one that would denounce the Bauhaus as a branch of “degenerate art” spreading the disease of “cosmopolitan modernism.” The Gestapo shut it down in 1933, but thanks to the efforts of emigrants like Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, each of whom once led the school, the Bauhaus would live on.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
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