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Iconic creations of Bauhaus design, 100 years on

As Bauhaus, the most influential design school of the 20th century, marks its 100th birthday, examples of its keep-it-simple elegance can still be found across the globe.

Iconic creations of Bauhaus design, 100 years on
Photo: DPA

The movement, based on the “form follows function” principle, revolutionised the practices of artists and artisans during 14 short years of existence before Adolf Hitler ran it out of Germany.

In sending its disciples including Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer into exile abroad, the Nazis ironically ensured the school's ideas would germinate the world over.

Here are some of the best-known creations by Bauhaus's daring designers that have transformed the way we see the world:

'White City' of Tel Aviv


Photo:DPA

Bauhaus may be best known for its architecture and no city in the world has a larger collection of buildings in its style than Tel Aviv, where it is designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.

Designed from the 1930s by German Jewish architects fleeing the Nazis, the more than 4,000 remaining “White City” apartment buildings — named for their pearly facades — became affordable housing for new arrivals.

But unlike their predecessors built for the German climate, the Tel Aviv constructions used less glass and added balconies that could capture cool breezes off the Mediterranean to help their residents beat the heat.

Breuer chair


Photo: DPA

The iconic low-slung “Wassily Chair” was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1926 and seen as revolutionary at the time for its use of bent tubular steel and leather.

It is still a huge hit in the design world although it was not, as often thought, named for the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky, another Bauhaus acolyte and a friend of Breuer's.

It was only in the 1980s, when the chair was being copied by other designers, that it was dubbed the “Wassily Chair” for marketing reasons.

Brandt teapot


Photo: DPA

The Bauhaus was aesthetically radical but also had a reformist vision for society during its rocky tenure in Germany between the world wars.

It was one of the first technical schools to admit women and had rough gender parity among its student body in Weimar, where the university still teaches Bauhaus principles on the historic campus.

While Gropius tried to consign women to weaving and other traditionally “feminine” disciplines, a few trailblazers such as Marianne Brandt also worked in heavier materials.

Her 1924 metal teapot, with an intelligently placed spout for easier pouring, had a giant impact for its whimsically angular geometry exuding a sense of harmony.

A household object once stored in cupboards became a design milestone destined for modern art museums.

Wagenfeld lamp


Photo: DPA

The simple white hemispheric lamp on a glass cylinder and base is a prime example of the smooth, clean lines for which Bauhaus is known.

Created in the 1924 by Wilhelm Wagenfeld, the desktop masterpiece became a de rigueur bureau appointment, including in Gropius's own office in Weimar.

Bauhaus critics have noted that as time has passed, the school's streamlined, sometimes sterile look has strayed far from its egalitarian origins to become an elitist status symbol.

Even copies of the Wagenfeld lamp now run upwards of 400 euros.

READ ALSO: How Bauhaus designed the world as we know it

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NAZIS

Inside Weimar’s new politically charged Bauhaus museum

The Bauhaus design school, which transformed the way people around the world live, work and dream of the future, marks its centenary this week with the launch of a politically charged German museum.

Inside Weimar's new politically charged Bauhaus museum
The new Bauhaus museum in Weimar. Photo: DPA

Founded on April 1st, 1919 during the rocky period between the world wars and finally driven out by the Nazis, Bauhaus still has the power to inspire and divide in today's own turbulent era.

The sprawling museum in Bauhaus's birthplace of Weimar, a small city 250 kilometres southwest of Berlin, will open to the public Saturday and display the classics of its less-is-more, form-follows-function aesthetic.

SEE ALSO: Iconic creations of Bauhaus designs, 100 years on

The inauguration of the minimalist temple housing the world's oldest Bauhaus collection comes just weeks ahead of European elections and six months before a key poll in Weimar's state of Thuringia.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) looks poised to make strong gains in each vote.

“Of course you can't see this opening separate from its political context,” Wolfgang Holler, director of Weimar's museums, told AFP.

Inside the new museum. Photo: DPA

“Bauhaus was, from the very beginning, intensely political. And so it's a perfect place to start a conversation, especially with young people.”

Faces of camp survivors

Weimar selected a highly symbolic design and location for the building.

German architect Heike Hanada placed her concrete cube just outside the picturesque old town where literary giants Goethe and Schiller cemented the small city's elevated place in Germany's cultural landscape.

The €22.6 million museum is framed on one side by a recreational space created under the inter-war Weimar Republic, Germany's ill-fated first experiment with democracy.

SEE ALSO: How Bauhaus designed the world as we know it

On another side is a model housing block built under East Germany's communists.

Crucially, the Bauhaus Museum Weimar stands opposite the former Gauforum, a U-shaped colossus built by the Nazis to house, among other things, administrative offices for their slave labour programme.

“I was able to achieve my main goal, which was for the museum to be able to stand up to the Nazi architecture in the neighbourhood,” Hanada told the daily Thüringer Allgemeine.

“It becomes plain here what happens when you heedlessly run after certain ideologies,” Holler said. “These fascinating juxtapositions say so much about how this country sees itself.”

This week, Weimar hung larger-than-life contemporary photographs of survivors of the Nazis' former Buchenwald concentration camp, whose memorial can be seen in the distance through a specially-placed picture window on the museum's top floor.

The haunting images of the now elderly faces line the road from the main train station to the museum.

The photographer Thomas Müller with a portrait of a survivor of Buchenwald concentration camp. Photo: DPA

Photographer Thomas Müller said they were also meant to challenge the AfD, whose co-leader Alexander Gauland has called the Nazi era a “speck of bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history”.

“Especially in view of the Thuringia election, we have got to deal with our history responsibly,” Mueller told German radio.

'Ahead of their time'

The Bauhaus school, which counted Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky and Swiss-born surrealist Paul Klee among its proponents, had at its core the idea of making beautiful, practical design accessible to the masses.

The museum traces how founder Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, deemed subversive by the then ultra-right government in Weimar, were forced to move east to Dessau then to Berlin before the Nazis ran them out of Germany for good.

SEE ALSO: 'Rethinking the world': Bauhaus celebrates 100 years

Bauhaus's acolytes ended up sowing seeds wherever they landed, from Tel Aviv to Chicago. Today, everything from iPhones to Ikea furniture bear the mark of its keep-it-simple tenets.

Most observers have praised Hanada's boxy museum design as a worthy tribute to the Bauhaus look.

However some have criticized the elimination of a glass facade, which they say gives the building an unfortunate resemblance to a wartime bunker.

“Some have even compared it to the Wolf's Lair,” Hitler's Eastern Front headquarters, Holler admitted.

The museum is nearly ready to open to the public. Photo: DPA

“But we wanted something that would say, 'We aren't cowering away — we're making our presence felt'.”

The exhibition, expected to draw 100,000 visitors a year, includes icons such as Marcel Breuer's tubular steel and leather chairs, Marianne Brandt's whimsically angular teapots, and a multicoloured circles-and-triangles cradle by Peter Keller.

It ultimately aims to examine why Hitler saw such a dangerous enemy in Bauhaus, and how it became one of the few cherished German legacies from the early 20th century.

“You learn here how hard it can be for those who are ahead of their time,” Holler said.

By Deborah Cole

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