The Unfamiliar History of an Expressionist, Crafty Bauhaus

Every famed design movement has an interesting story of how it managed to influence architecture and design through the years. Despite their impact, not all movements began with the same principles they managed to ultimately lead with, and Bauhaus is no exception. The clean-cut modernist archetype, which has pioneered modern architecture for a century now, was once an experimental design institution of expressionism, unbound creativity, and handcraft, bridging the styles of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts with Modernist designs.

Hoffmanneske Szene, Paul Klee, 1921. Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

Before Weimar was associated with Bauhaus, it housed the Grand Ducal Saxon Academy of Arts and Crafts, a distinct movement founded by designer Henry van de Velde. The Belgian-native was forced to go back to his hometown after the outbreak of World War I, but made sure to leave a personally-recommended successor after him, appointing none other than Walter Gropius. Gropius had his fair share of experience, having acquired design knowledge from the Deutscher Werkbund and Peter Behrens’ firm, along with appalling battle memories of the Western Front. Accordingly, his initial approach to design was a community-based renewal of society and humanity.

The industrialized warfare and the trauma it left behind compelled designers to go back to somewhat archaic means of production, leaning towards expressive, eclectic designs. Early Bauhaus designers such as Kandinsky and Wassily, even Gropius, delivered a distinct interest in abstract expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism, glamorizing culture and folk in their production techniques, material selections, and designs.

Auf Weiss I, Wassily Kandinsky, 1923. Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

It was only a couple of years later during Haus am Horn’s 1923 exhibition, that Gropius managed to “rebrand” the Bauhaus manifesto, and showcase the transformation of “a unification of the arts through craft to an explicit desire to reestablish the artist’s lost contact with the world of production”, generating the Bauhaus style known today.

Although the pieces were still handmade productions, but their designs and color palettes established the possibilities of prefabrication and mass production. Traditional designs were mixed with modern material and techniques in unprecedented ways, building a then avant-garde relationship between craft and functionalism, with an emphasis on consumer culture.

Table lamp, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, 1924. Image Courtesy of Creative Commons
Lattenstuhl, Marcel Breuer, 1922/24. Image © Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Vorlage © Unbekannt

A couple of years later, Weimar’s Bauhaus was shattered to the ground, forcing the students and masters to relocate to the refined, clean-cut industrial city of Dessau.

Discover more about the expressionist history of Bauhaus on Metropolis Magazine’s article, written by Akiva Blander.

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Cite: Dima Stouhi. "The Unfamiliar History of an Expressionist, Crafty Bauhaus" 16 Feb 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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