The impact of the Bauhaus: reflections on a study visit
We had a great study visit last week at the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican. The whole group left the Barbican exhausted, full of insights and more excited about the Bauhaus than we could ever have expected to be. With a mix of Textiles, Graphic Design, Art and Photography students, Jim Cowan did a great job of introducing each section of this enormous and ambitious exhibition.With a brief break to enjoy the rare heat and sunshine at the Barbican lakeside, we spent several hours drinking in every aspect of the Bauhaus philosophy. Stephen Powell, OCA art student, reports, and also adds in a few of his drawings on the day.
‘This was a chance to begin to understand this very important art movement. Most publications seem to just look at the Bauhaus in a somewhat superficial way but it was a way of life, a philosophy for living and breathing art… As an institution it was founded on ‘romantic socialists and utopian aspirations’ but with a mission to jointly strike out new paths in the fields of art, architecture and design …. it was a union of artistic idealism and in this sense non-political although had to move from Weimar to Dessau and then to Berlin as it was perceived as a socialist (communist) threat.
On the OCA study visit Jim Cowan posed the question: the teaching of the Bauhaus developed into the International school of Architecture. In the social housing arena why has this proved to be disastrous?
In terms of an architectural style there is absolutely nothing wrong with the aesthetic, the spatial arrangements and relationships nor indeed the densities of the resultant housing. The problem that arose out of this are that the stripped down aesthetic proposed by the designers was regarded as stripped down building fabric by the building providers, the procurers and the paymasters … poor quality materials and poor quality building methods coinciding with economic austerity of the 1930’s, post-war austerity of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. However, the Bauhaus also promoted diversity, building housing, amenities and places of work side by side and far more importantly outdoor amenity spaces … all factors largely ignored in our own housing disasters.’
Andrew Howe also attended the study visit and reflected as follows:
‘I had done some advance reading and knew some of the background history, but nonetheless I was still struck by the diversity of work produced at the Bauhaus and how most of it still looks so fresh today. It is incredible that in only 14 years in the face of such political pressure, funding shortage, enforced moves and eventual closure that the quality and quantity of innovative work was so high. I loved the Moholy-Najy’s short film “Black White Grey” of his revolving metal sculpture. “Mesmerising” and “hypnotic” were the words on everyone’s lips on leaving, and just this one work alone seems to be far ahead of its time.’
Finally, Jim Cowan also asked the question ‘Should Form follow Function; Is Less More or is Less a Bore?’ Just travelling home after the exhibition and looking at the poster styles, the fonts used on the London underground, confirmed our feeling on that question. Form following function has led to universally adopted fonts and design styles that remain as contemporary today as they were in 1930.