How One Remarkable German School Shaped Design
Bauhaus has become almost synonymous with modern design, and for good reason. Photography and written by Lee Mindel, FAIA
German architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus School in 1919 with the intention of uniting art, craft, and technology to reimagine the material world. The school’s influence is the throughline that connects all modern design.
Bauhaus has become almost synonymous with modern design, and for good reason. Founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany, the Bauhaus school, which was in operation for 14 years, was the most influential design school of the 20th century. Gropius’s intent was to reimagine the material world by integrating all the arts. The guiding principle of combining architecture, furniture design, and typography with new technologies was, in his words, “that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.”
Originally located in Weimar, in 1925 the Bauhaus moved to a new building in Dessau, designed by Gropius. His innovative use there of industrial sash, glass curtain walls, and an asymmetrical pinwheel design forged an unforgettable path in the development of what we now call modernism and the International Style.
Bauhaus’s famed faculty included (to name just a few) Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Marianne Brandt, Henry van de Velde, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was the school’s last director prior to its closure in 1933. Gropius, Albers, Bayer, and Mies van der Rohe would later move to the United States to practice and teach what they preached in celebrating the integration of all the disciplines of design.
As a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, I was always aware of the legacy of Walter Gropius (1883–1969), who was chair of the university’s Graduate School of Design in Architecture from 1938 to 1952. Gropius was known for the innovative use of a new industrial vocabulary in his residential and commercial projects and for the objects he created for them.
Located near Harvard in Lincoln, Massachusetts, the Gropius House incorporates construction materials common to the area— brick, clapboard, fieldstone—but its design is entirely original. Instead of following a prescribed historical “ism,” Gropius created his own, allowing the site and the materials to dictate his plan. Many of the ideas he explored are now familiar tropes of modern design, but the house still seems a marvel of invention.
“Gropius was known for the innovative use of a new industrial vocabulary in his residential and commercial projects.”
“Limitation makes the creative mind inventive.”