modernist art

late impressionism through surrealism

the bauhaus


people, terms, and concepts: Vorkurs, functionalism, rationalism, formalism, typisierung

The Bauhaus (1919-1933) was an art, design, and architecture school that has had an enormous influence on the types of products and architecture with which we are surrounded today, as well as on the basic curriculum of art and design education. Know the aim of the Vorkurs to teach students the basic elements, materials, and principles of design in the abstract, at first with no reference to practical application whatsoever. How did this emphasis on the properties of materials and on the basic elements and principles of design influence Bauhaus products and architecture such as the works below?

The early Bauhaus had a very expressionist orientation toward the hand crafts, individualism, and spirituality, but by about 1923 it changed its orientation to industrial mass production and its design philosophy to reflect the four principles for which it is known today:

functionalism -- the emphasis in design on making the object easy and practical to use. Pure functionalism implies that every aspect of the object is functional; there is no added decoration.

rationalism -- the design of objects using a limited repertory of basic elements throughout, usually geometric shapes and primary & secondary colors:  no complex or organic shapes, no sketchy lines, no subtle pastel colors, etc.

formalism -- both in the sense of truth to materials (never ‘disguising’ materials by using veneers, for example), and in the sense of using materials in ways that suit their nature (what does wood do well?  what does metal do well?).

typisierung (standardization/modularity) -- the design of objects using as few, simple, interchangeable parts as possible, because these are easiest and cheapest to mass produce with machines.

How do the products and buildings below exhibit these qualities?  In the ideal scenario, all these qualities will intersect (when, for example, a rational shape is also functional and easy to manufacture), but occasionally compromises need to be made, in which case functionalism usually trumps the others:  be able to analyze any of the works below along these lines.

The ultimate application of Bauhaus ideals was to building (Bau) -- conceived as the creation of total living and working environments, from the plan of the house or office to the design of the chairs, carpets, and soup spoons. The Haus am Horn, below, illustrates one experimental total Bauhaus domestic environment.  The building they created to house their new school in Dessau also clearly demonstrates the enormous influence that the Bauhaus had on corporate high-rise architecture, with its no-frills rectangularity and modularity and its undisguised use of the industrial materials steel, concrete, and glass.

Herbert Bayer, Bauhaus exhibition poster, 1923

Marianne Brandt, Tea Pot, 1924

Marcel Breuer, Armchair, 1929

(Various Bauhaus artists and designers), The Haus am Horn living room (L) and kitchen (R), 1923