Bauhaus, Black Mountain and the Invention of Modern Design

The Bauhaus In Dessau
A typical example for the Bauhaus Architecture. E. O. Hoppe / Kontributor-Hulton

One of the most influential art and design movements to ever come out of Germany is mostly simply called Bauhaus. Even if you have never heard of it, you will have been in contact with some of the design, furniture or architecture that has ties to the Bauhaus. The enormous legacy of this design tradition was established in the Bauhaus Art School.

The Building House – From Arts and Crafts to World famous Design

The name “Bauhaus” – simply translated “Building House” – refers to small workshops, e.g. those set close to churches during the middle ages, providing constant maintenance for the building. And the name isn’t the only reference Bauhaus made to medieval times. The founder of Bauhaus, Architect Walter Gropius, was heavily inspired by the medieval guild system. He wanted to unite the different fields of arts and crafts under one roof, believing, that the two are directly linked and that one cannot be an artist without having mastered the craft. Gropius was convinced that there should be no class distinction between painters or woodworkers.

The Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar in 1919, the same year the Weimar Republic was created. The unique mix of renowned artists and craftspeople, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, teaching you talents brought forth numerous influential Bauhaus disciples. The ideals of Bauhaus created a foundation that fostered legion of designs, furniture, and architecture that even today could count as modern. At the time of their publishing, many of the designs were well ahead of their time. But the Bauhaus ideology was not only about the design itself. The creations of the students and teachers were supposed to be practical, functional, affordable and easy to be manufactured. Some say, that is why IKEA could be viewed as the legitimate heir to Bauhaus.

From Bauhaus to Black Mountain – Arts and Crafts in Exile

What almost necessarily has to follow at this point, at least in an article about German history, is the huge “But,” that is the Third Reich. As you can imagine, the Nazis had their difficulties with the rather inclusive and social ideologies of Bauhaus. In fact, the precursors of the National Socialist Regime knew, that they would need the ingenious design and techniques of the Bauhaus associates, but their specific worldviews were not compatible with what the Bauhaus stood for (even though Walter Gropius had intended it to be apolitical). After the new National Socialist Government of Thuringia had cut the Bauhaus’ budget in half, it moved to Dessau in Saxony and later to Berlin. As many of the Jewish students, teachers and associates flew from Germany it became clear that the Bauhaus would not survive the Nazi rule. In 1933, the school was closed.

However, with the many fleeing Bauhaus disciples, its ideas, principles and designs were spread all across the globe. Like many German artists and intellectuals of the time, a large number of people linked to the Bauhaus sought refuge in the USA. A vibrant Bauhaus outpost was e.g. created at Yale University, but a, maybe even more, interesting one was set at Black Mountain, North Carolina. The experimental art school Black Mountain College was founded in 1933. In the same year, Bauhaus alumni Josef and Anni Albers became teachers at Black Mountain. The college was highly inspired by the Bauhaus and might even seem as another evolutionary state of Gropius’ idea. Students of all kinds of arts were living and working together with their professors – masters from all types of fields, including the likes of John Cage or Richard Buckminster Fuller. The work included sustaining life for everyone in the college. In the refuge of the Black Mountain College, the Bauhaus ideals would be advanced and applied to a more general art and a more embracing knowledge.