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Session 5 : The Bauhaus and German Modernism

Aims and Philosophy of the School

The Bauhaus was one of the most influential institutions into art and design history; the worlds greatest art school. Though it only existed for 14 years, it had a huge impact on art and design education and what is produced today. The school sought to train a new generation of designers with all round skills, starting with design basics followed by training in workshops, aiming to unite art and technology.

The origins of the Bauhaus goes back to mid 19th century England, where the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris, inspired to counteract the cultural damage caused by industrialisation. This eventually reached Germany, where they were inspired to create their own art school system and art and craft manufacturing. The goal was to close the division between someone who made things and the artist. People of any background, gender or nationality were welcome to be a student.

Key Figures

Founded by the architect, Walter Gropius in 1919, theWeimar Academy of Arts and the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts was combined.Gropiuswrote a manifesto as a basis for the concept of the Bauhaus, based on experimentation through craft to create a new visual vocabulary for industrial manufacturing; not just to create one off objects but rather people who could design for mass production.

The first example of Bauhaus architecture was the 'Haus am Horn' which was part of the Bauhaus Exhibition in 1923. The building was designed by Georg Muche but many members of the school contributed various aspects to it, demonstrating ideas for modern living; a prototype of modern construction. It was considered to be a sort of testing ground for new materials, contraction methods and technologies, focusing more on functionality rather than ornamentation. The house was designed for a family without domestic staff, showing the schools political aspirations as they wanted people who were less fortunate to still have a nice place to live. It was the first building to feature a fitting kitchen, central heating, modern gas stove, washing machine, telephone system and Lino flooring. Everything inside was bespoke for the house.

In 1925, the school moved to Dessau due to political pressure causing cuts in funding, but this only resulted in motivating people more to produce work that was related to social change.

A lot of resentment from the general population in Dessau was caused by the libertarian lifestyle of those associated with the Bauhaus, and as a result in 1927 Gropius resigned as director. A new director was appointed, Hannes Meyer, a Swiss architect, and previous professor of the school, who philosophy was more about meeting the needs of the people, rather than making things that were luxurious and beautiful. However, he was thought to be a threat due to his communist associations and was then deposed and replaced by the last leader of the Bauhaus, Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe. Mies van Der Rohe tried to detach any associated political involvement but despite his attempts the city council of Dessau passed a resolution to close the Bauhaus in 1932.

The school was then moved again to Berlin in an abandoned telephone factory but financial backing had been severely cut, the building was raided and even some students were arrested and so it was decided that the Bauhaus was to be closed completely in 1933.

​Many of those who taught and studied at the school immigrated to avoid the political situation in Germany and so its ideas and ideals were spread across the world and other cultures. In 1937, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago in an attempt to continue the educational philosophy.

The Basic Course and the Workshops

in the beginning, Gropius appointed some of the leading figures in the arts to be the 'masters', including Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Klanindsky, Paul Klee, and Oscar Schlemmer.​ The tutors developed a new programme based on a 'preliminary course' which involved studying composition, colour, materials, collage, life drawing etc, as well as more practical based training in various specialist workshops to which students were allocated to according to their strengths and potential. These were also complimented by some non-artistic subjects such as ballet, singing, and drama.

Workshops included sculpture, ceramics, joinery, metal work, weaving, printing/advertising, graphic printshop, stagecraft, stained class, wall painting and photography. Most creations were made with the intention to be for mass production and taken to local factories and many design classics were produced that we still see today.

The Output of the Visual Communication/ Typography Workshop

There were various workshops devoted to graphic art, one of which was printing and advertising. The other workshop was the graphic printshop, which produced limited addition prints and portfolios by the Bauhaus masters.

One of the masters, Herbert Bayer, dedicated himself to designing new types of lettering and modern typefaces combined with very simple graphic elements.

Born April 5th 1900, the Austrian and American graphic designer began his studies as an apprentice under the architect Georg Schmidthammer and then later became a student of the Bauhaus studying wall painting under the Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky.

After graduating form the school, Bayer was appointed head of the printing and advertising workshop where he taught students about the potential of letters and layouts of type as a form of communication. He was responsible for innovations such as the 'Universal alphabet', a typeface which he created, commissioned by Gropius, that consisted of only lowercase letters. The font was made up of a simplistic geometric san-serif, and it became the schools signature font. Bayer also emphasised to his students the importance of design having a dynamic sense of composition, using geometric elements, often combined with primary colours, in order to be suitable for mass production.

Bayer designed many groundbreaking printed material and advertising graphics, containing elements such as type on its side, areas of white space, sense of alignment, abstract shapes, and photography combined with geometry, features that are so fundamental to how graphic designers work today. He also created designs for kiosks and small booths during the early 1920s, where he combined bold colours and typefaces with architecture and advertising techniques.

Whilst working at the Bauhaus, Bayer married the photographer Irene Angela Hecht who he met at the first large Bauhaus exhibit in Weimar, and in 1928, he left the school in order to become art director of Dorland advertising agency and Vogue magazine.

Bayer then left Germany in 1938 and during this time he created/directed various exhibitions such as the Deutscher Werkbund exhibition in Paris alongside Gropius and Laszlo Moholy-Nag. He then continued working as a commercial artist and graphic designer, designing the American propaganda exhibition Road to Victory in New York, consulting at the Aspen Cultural Centre and directing the design department of the Container Corporation of America until his death in 1985.

The incredible objects originally created by the Bauhaus are seen everywhere in art and design today. The word 'bauhaus' is even used as a word to describe a certain kind of functional, modern style, illustrating the major impact the school has on design today all over the world, throughout architecture, product design and graphic design.













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