Bauhaus Lives On

 { 🔺◾} – Bauhaus: the seminal design school turns 100 this year

Bauhaus-inspired furniture. Photo by Kai Pilger.

On the year of its centennial, Bauhaus is more alive than ever. But what makes the ideas of this revolutionary design school still relevant to the creatives of today? We will have a look at the influential movement’s legacy in the occasion of its centennial and try to discover what’s at the core of its continued success.

Too Radical For Its Time?

Bauhaus was founded in 1919, right after the end of the first World War. Germany’s geopolitical landscape at the time was rapidly changing. The new German state which emerged at the end of the conflict, which existed in the interwar period and was commonly known as the Weimar Republic, was a breeding ground for art, design, architecture and science. It was during the rather short existence of this political entity that the term “modernism” really took on the meaning we still associate it with nowadays.

Unfortunately, things changed rather abruptly when the Nazis seized power. Overnight, Germany ceased to be a democracy and became a dictatorship. The Nazis were one of the main hurdles that the school had to face. Since the very beginning, Nazi authorities did not like the Bauhäuslers’ rejection of traditional aesthetics and were wary of their avant-gardism. Additionally, many of the movement’s members, such as its founder, Walter Gropius, were left-leaning, which made things even more difficult for the school. The movement was ultimately closed by Nazi authorities in 1933.

Bauhaus’ Continued Influence on Design 

The school’s closure in 1933 did not mean the end for Bauhaus. Quite the contrary, actually. The ideas which were born and developed in Weimer, Dessau and Berlin – the three cities which hosted the school – were destined to live on forever, and go on to influence a whole new generation of designers, architects and artists.

When people involved with the school emigrated to countries such as the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Israel, they brought the Bauhaus ideas with them. After the 1930s, the very concept of modernism was practically synonymous with Bauhaus.

Bauhaus’ legacy can be seen everywhere today. From minimalist home furniture to typography-based print design via web design, its influence is hard to miss. Indeed, an overall return to a more simple, organic and practical seems to be taking place worldwide.

Nowadays, Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden are undoubtedly leading the way in this new modernist revolution, with names such as the fashion label Acne and lifestyle brand HAY paving the way.

Bauhaus: 100 Years On

Bauhaus 1919-1933 by TASCHEN. Photo by Thanos Pal.

2019 is an important year for the school created by Walter Gropius in Weimar: it marks the 100th anniversary of its founding. To mark its hundredth birthday, the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin’s museum of modern art, has organised an exhibition called “original bauhaus – The centenary exhibition”.

The exhibition, which is set to last until January 2020, is a pleasant walk down the school’s history, and a truly once-in-a-lifetime to see many original artefacts from the school’s students and masters all in the same place. The event will also serve as an opportunity to reflect on whether the movement’s vision of art and design has been fulfilled by the school of thoughts which succeeded it and if Bauhaus has stood the test of time.

No doubt, most people would say that, yes, Bauhaus has indeed stood the test of time and, according to some, it is more modern than ever. 

But for how long?

The Movement’s Legacy

One concrete example of a contemporary trend, especially in visual identity design, which traces its roots to the seminal movement is that of lower case-formatted logos. The Bauhäuslers believed that it was necessary to remove upper case letters as they were inconsistent with the language we speak – in other words: we do not have “big sounds” and “small sounds” in our speech. Another reason behind their decision to get rid of upper case letters altogether is the belief that using two distinct writing systems simultaneously is visually inharmonious. Specifically, lower case was preferred to upper case because the latter isn’t legible in typesetting. In their words:

We write everything in small letters, as we save time. Also: why 2 alphabets, if one achieves the same? Why capitalise, if you can’t speak big?

Today, it is enough to look around us to realise how much of an impact this radical decision to drop upper case letters has had on our visual language – lower case logotypes are commonplace, and they fit perfectly in the general direction of today’s visual language, which privileges simplicity first and foremost.

It’s no easy task trying to anticipate trends, especially in a field like design. Yet, one can easily see that Bauhaus-inspired design isn’t just a fad. Still, it will be interesting to see where visual language will be at a decade from now. Will designers and architects of tomorrow still follow in the Bauhaus’ footsteps, or will there be a change in the opposite direction?

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.