Written by Sheryl Burson
You may not have heard of the Bauhaus, but you’re likely to recognise the distinctive, modern style built on the principle of simplicity. Designs like the Barcelona Chair and Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair have become some of the most iconic design classics of the 20th century. Today, the influence of the Bauhaus stretches from the high street to the museum.
The German school of the arts was founded in the early 20th century by Walter Gropius. Despite its closure by the Nazi regime in 1933, the school morphed into a modern art movement encompassing a wide array of mediums, materials, and disciplines ranging from paintings and graphics to architecture and interiors. Bauhaus furniture was designed to be functional, aesthetically pleasing and to be available to everyone. Bridging the gap between art and industry, it had an enduring influence on modern design and contemporary art.
A visit to Berlin and the Bauhaus Museum had the same profound effect on me as seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time. I stood in front of posters, the original Wassily Chair and textiles that I had admired and studied in my university textbooks.
As a graphic design student in the late 80s and early 90s, I loved the cutting-edge layouts and typography of The Face and I.D., only later realising their origins were in the Typo photo works of Moholy Nagy from the Bauhaus. My whole concept of what was new design had been utterly turned on its head. The original designs that had inspired the layouts of those pages were, even then, nearly 70 years old. My appreciation of the Bauhaus has had an enduring influence on my aesthetic as a designer throughout my career.
I asked the director of a leading furniture store, an architect and an interior designer what influence they though the Bauhaus have had on modern design.
Valeria Carbonaro-Laws – Studio Italia – Co-founder and Director
“The Bauhaus movement had a significant influence on modern furniture; in fact, I think it’s when it all started it. Although the movement only lasted for 14 years, it changed the design landscape forever.
“Before that, furniture was designed and manufactured by artisans, totally bespoke, to the need of the customers. With the arrival of the Bauhaus movement, we notice more “designer”-oriented objects, especially furniture, and with this the arrival of mass-produced designer furniture for everyone.
“Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer have been luminary in the world of architecture and design. They created Modern classic furniture that is as relevant now as when they were designed at the beginning of the last century. The iconic Barcelona Chair designed for the king and queen of Germany in 1929 for the Barcelona Expo is now one of the most recognisable icons in furniture design. So is the Wassily Chair and the entire collection manufactured by Knoll.
The use of new materials was also a breakthrough, as these metals were new to the furniture industry. Chrome and leather were the status quo of this new era – more contemporary, and for that time pushing boundaries to the limits.
“Today we still sell these items for modern and contemporary homes. They have become pieces of history that we can own, cherish, and see become heirlooms.”
Richard Naish – Executive Director – RTA Studio
“I think the way that the Bauhaus School combined the multiple disciplines of architecture and applied arts – design, graphics, furniture, textile, pottery – together under one creative governance allowed a new freedom of creative thinking and cross-contamination of ideas amongst its students. Ironically, its influence on architecture refined and further evolved the modernist style, which led to a reductive style of pared-back decoration and focus of form evolving from function. This has had an incredibly strong influence on the evolution of architecture, which continues today.
“While RTA Studio’s work has its roots in this doctrine, our work likes to incorporate decorative elements into the contextual DNA of our buildings. We like to think of our use of decoration as ‘of’ the building rather than ‘on’ the building. MacKelvie Street shops are a good example of this, where the decorative perpetrations serve a purpose in the building’s passive systems of ventilation, sun shading and privacy. So, they are much more than applied and superfluous, they are a necessary part of the building’s systems while also providing an element of magic.”
Francine Smith – Interior Designer
“The Bauhaus movement (1919 - 1933) was initially created to bring together both the fine arts and functional craft, essentially creating a craftsman’s guild, thus breaking down the “elite” era of design and architecture. This then gave way to a merging together of industrial design and art with the ultimate dream of fusing all areas of design together.
“Form before function was the major principle of the Bauhaus period, with a design process of creating furniture, architecture and interiors that was honest, simple and practical. Interior design featured high ceilings and large windows. Living spaces were simple, clean and contemporary, definitely no clutter! Colour palettes comprised neutral shades of black, white, grey and beige with pops of yellow, blue or red.
“The influence of the Bauhaus movement, not only on today’s interiors but also in everyday life, cannot be overstated – from timeless, modernist creations designed during this time to open-plan living and flatpack furniture. Even our iPhones and tablets are influenced by Bauhaus design.”