Bauhaus School: Founder & History

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever tried to do something completely new? The founder and teachers of the Bauhaus did when they established a pioneering art school in Germany. In this lesson, explore the history of the Bauhaus School.

What was the Bauhaus School?

The Bauhaus was a school of art, architecture, and design established in Weimar, Germany in 1919 and founded by architect Walter Gropius. 'Bauhaus' means 'house of building' and the aim of the school was, literally, to build new ways to merge art, craft, and society. The Bauhaus school became very influential, establishing ideas that came to define modern architecture and design. We're going to explore the history of the Bauhaus, but first, let's start with some background on its founder.

Bauhaus Founder: Walter Gropius

German-born Walter Gropius (1883 - 1969) was the son and nephew of architects, so it seems inevitable that he would follow them into the profession. As a young man, he trained in a German architecture school and then joined the firm of architect Peter Behrens in Berlin. Behrens was also an industrial designer, a person who designs cars, appliances and other things that will be mass-produced. This combination proved influential to Gropius, and the synthesis of architecture and industrial design would impact his philosophies for the rest of his life.

Portrait of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus
Portrait of Walter Gropius

Gropius's interest in industrial design was important because the early 20th century experienced massive upheaval with growing mechanization and mass production of many things, as well as the development of new materials like concrete, plate glass, and steel. Some artists fought against these changes, wanting to look backward to traditional art practices. Others, like Gropius, wanted to look ahead, embracing the changes. He believed that mass production and mechanization were inevitable and could be tempered with art. Artists were needed to spark a sense of life and energy into machine-made things.

In 1919, Gropius got a chance to put his ideas into practice when he was chosen to lead two art and design schools in Weimar, Germany. He combined them into one institution he called the Bauhaus.

Founding of the Bauhaus

The Bauhaus focused on design, architecture and applied arts. Applied arts is the idea of creating designs and decoration for everyday objects. At the Bauhaus, this meant classes in subjects like weaving, metalworking, and ceramics. (It didn't actually offer classes in architecture until 1927). The Bauhaus had at its core one overriding philosophy, the unification of all the arts into a design for a new century.

Gropius structured the education program at the Bauhaus to combine creativity and craftsmanship. When it first opened, all students had to take the same introductory series of courses covering subjects like the nature of materials and color theory. The classes were taught by noted visual artists like Russian abstract painter Vasily Kandinsky and Swiss artist Paul Klee. After completing the core courses, students could go further in programs in a number of specialties, including metalworking, architecture, cabinet making, pottery and weaving.

In 1923, Gropius shifted the Bauhaus curriculum to focus on predominantly design for industrial methods of production, signified by the phrase 'Art into Industry.' In 1925, following political upheaval in Weimar, the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Germany, into buildings designed by Gropius, with spare and unadorned surfaces and banks of long windows. This minimalist style was in keeping with the Bauhaus ideal of modern design.

Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany. One of the structures designed by Walter Gropius
Bauhaus building in Dessau

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