Bauhaus Architecture: History & Characteristics

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  • 0:04 Founding of Bauhaus
  • 2:02 Classic Bauhaus Architecture
  • 3:51 Afterlife of Bauhaus
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

The architecture program at the famous Bauhaus school in Germany was relatively short-lived, but it had a huge impact on twentieth-century design. This lesson will describe how Bauhaus architecture developed, as well as the distinctive features of its style.

The Founding of Bauhaus

The Bauhaus school of art and design turned out to be one of the greatest influences on modern architecture despite not having an architecture program for the first eight of its fourteen-year existence. Walter Gropius, an architect, founded the school in 1919 to pursue the grand idea of uniting the instruction of the fine arts, like painting and sculpture, and practical design, like furniture making and textiles. The school's instructors included leading artists and designers, and it stressed boldness and innovation.

Although architectural instruction didn't officially begin at the Bauhaus until 1927, the field was very important to its design approach. The name of the school literally means 'construction house' in German. Bauhaus students were involved in some projects arranged by Gropius and other practicing architects at the school. One of these projects was the famous Sommerfeld House. The house was built in 1920 and 1921 in Berlin for the building contractor Adolf Sommerfeld, then destroyed during the Second World War, and only partially rebuilt. It was a collaborative effort of students and faculty from the Bauhaus. It featured lead glass windows by the artist Josef Albers and furniture designed by Marcel Breuer, who went on to create some of the most iconic Bauhaus pieces. The house was built from the wood of an old warship that Sommerfeld repurposed. The house somewhat resembles a log cabin, with bare beams and minimal ornamentation. With its low roof and wide entrance, it emphasizes simple rectangular forms.

The Sommerfeld House can be thought of as a transition work. The minimalist exterior of the house and its focus on simplified geometric forms foreshadows classic elements of Bauhaus design. However, its rustic wood construction shows influences of the Bauhaus' predecessors, like the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the Arts and Crafts movement popularized by designers like William Morris. Later Bauhaus works would emphasize modern materials like steel, concrete, and glass.

Classic Bauhaus Architecture

When the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1926, Gropius designed the new school building. That work shows how the Bauhaus style had developed in the meantime, and suggests the direction it was headed. The Bauhaus building at Dessau is a rectangular, flat-roofed structure built of concrete, with some exterior walls taken up almost entirely by windows. Its color scheme is limited but clean: gray, white, black, and just a touch of red on the doors. There is essentially no ornamentation on the building, other than the large white letters running vertically at the front, spelling out 'BAUHAUS.' This simple, straightforward design exemplifies the Bauhaus' move toward an industrial, minimalist aesthetic.

Student dormitories were attached to the main building, and these exemplify the Bauhaus style of architecture as well. With a rectangular pattern of unadorned windows and balconies on a white, rectangular building, the dormitories echo the simplified color schemes and geometric forms. The flat roof and lack of ornamentation are signs of the Bauhaus' principles of simplicity and directness. The style stresses function and utility above decoration.

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