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Bauhaus at 100

Towards the end of the First World War, a group of radical architects under Walter Gropius were pursuing plans for a socially conscious architecture which would play a part in the political revolution then occurring in Germany. With the establishment of a republic in November 1918 and the convening of the new assembly at Weimar, Gropius demanded the support of the newly formed state for their work. The Bauhaus was the first product of this government patronage.

Weimar already had an art academy (Kunstschule) and a school of arts and crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) designed by the Belgian architect Henry van de Velde from 1904-1911. He was also the director there from 1907-1914 where he had advocated for a closer alliance between artists and industry. During the First World War the schools were closed but in 1915 van de Velde put forward Walter Gropius (who had similar aims) as his successor. Negotiations took place and Gropius pressed his case for a school that fostered collaboration between art and industry yet avant-garde in its aims to produce a new style for a new society.

On 1 April 1919 Walter Gropius was appointed as director of the Academy of Fine Arts (Kunstschule) and the School of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule). On 12 April he merged the two institutions under the new name Bauhaus from ‘Bauhutte’ a stonemason’s lodge, making an analogy to the cathedral workshop where the craftsmen would learn their skills. Hence the image on the opening brochure was a woodcut of a Medieval cathedral which expressed the school’s collaborative approach.

From Weimar to Dessau

Initially the school was arts and crafts based, but from 1919-1925 Gropius attempted to forge much stronger links between design and industry. To this end in 1923 an Art and Technology exhibition was held which emphasised the shift to industrial design, partly influenced by ideas on standardisation and mass production, later encapsulated in Henry Ford’s autobiography, which became a bestseller in Germany in 1924. At Weimer the political climate was also changing, and the school had become unpopular. Dessau was an attractive option because it had a larger population (some 70,000) and it was politically more liberal than Weimar. But significantly it lay at the centre of a coal mining area and important industries, notably the Junkers aircraft and engineering factory and 25% of Germany's chemical production.

Bauhaus building at Dessau

Designed by Walter Gropius, building began in the summer of 1925 and was completed by October 1926. The construction was experimental, using a reinforced concrete skeleton, with floors made of hollow tiles resting on beams. It had a flat roof covered with a waterproof skin, which later proved inadequate. Considerably larger than the Weimar buildings, it comprised of a teaching and workshop area, theatre, canteen and gymnasium with twenty-eight studio flats for students above which was a roof garden. The outstanding visual features were a vast glass curtain wall on the workshop side and a glazed two-storey bridge spanning a road in which the administrative and Gropius’s office, and later the Department of Architecture, were housed.

The interior was fitted out by Bauhaus students and bristled with special features, the kitchens had a serving hatch with a food lift to every floor of the student flats including the roof garden. The stage was separated from the canteen and main hall by folding screens, but these could be operated so that the stage, canteen and hall could be combined into a theatre, with the audience seated on both sides of the stage.

Feature by Suzanne Waters