...Much as with "Bauhaus", "Memphis" is all too often popularly reduced to a "style", something one can "recreate"... As with "Bauhaus" that it is not only disingenuous, and erroneous, but hinders development of understandings of the (hi)story of design, understandings of the path taken to our contemporary design that are important for considerations on where we are and how best to progress...
Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau
From 1919 to 1925 Bauhaus was based in Weimar where it emerged from the merger of the Großherzoglich-Sächsische Kunsthochschule and the Kunstgewerbeschule. Walter Gropius, the initiator and director, established Bauhaus with the intention of creating an institution which would marry art with industry, trade and crafts. In context of the practical training the Bauhaus workshops played a central role and existed as an equal party to the theoretical studies. Despite Gropius's aims Bauhaus didn't start cooperating with industry until 1922, and in 1923 an exhibition under title "Art and technology - A new unit" was staged, in which the Bauhaus furniture, lamps and accessories interspersed easily and openly into the rooms. The resonance of the exhibition was such that it established the international reputation of Bauhaus furniture, buildings and art: a reputation which remains undiminished to this day. In 1925 the right-wing conservative regional government forced the closure of Bauhaus Weimar, leading to the subsequent move to Dessau. In the course of the following seven years the most famous Bauhaus furniture was developed in cooperation with local industrial companies such as Junkers aircraft factory, Waggonfabrik AG and Berlin-Anhaltische Maschinenbau AG. In 1932 more political interference saw Bauhaus relocated to Berlin, before in 1933 it closed its doors for ever.
The credo "beauty should be combined with usefulness" became popular during the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, and a century later the idea that art, crafts and industry should be united was firmly established. One of the leading protagonists being the German architect Gottfried Semper who after visiting the London World Exposition in 1851 wrote that the connection between art and industry can best be established through teaching: a position most popularly realised through the Bauhaus. In terms of objects one of the most important of the period was Chair No. 14 by Michael Thonet, released in 1859 the chair with its reduction, functionality and innovative use of material made it very popular with the coming generation of architects and designers and in many respects served as a model for Bauhaus furniture. The start of the 20th century saw the crystallisation of many of these ideas in the formation of the Deutsche Werkbund - German Federation of Architects and Designers - an organisation to which Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius also belonged.
The technical context
During the Bauhaus a number of technical "miracles" appeared which radically altered the everyday social, economic and political realities: express trains, aeroplanes, affordable cars, street lighting, electrical lighting and telephones in the home and all manner of new household machines and appliances. These technical innovations allowed the establishment of an industrial culture, including the mass, series production of furniture, while the new means of communication and the new mobility promoted an unprecedented international dialogue amongst furniture designers.
The origins of Bauhaus furniture
The Dutch architect and furniture designer Mart Stam designed the first cantilevered steel tube chair in 1926, taking up from where the De Stijl movement had begun with steel tube furniture. At Bauhaus, artists, sculptors, architects, designers and craftsmen were able to work together in an unprecedented way, thus further developing the Bauhaus style in various directions. The designs of the Bauhaus design furniture were intended to meet the dual demands functionality as well as those of advanced industrial series production. The Bauhaus theory saw the arts and the architecture as inseparable, and this is reflected in the Bauhaus furniture design classics. Among the most fastidious Bauhaus protagonists was the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Among Mies van der Rohe's most famous furniture design classics is the Barcelona Chair and stool, which he designed for the German pavilion on the occasion of the 1929 World Exposition in Barcelona. The steel frame and the leather-covered and button-seated seat and back cushions characterize this chair as uncompromising, aristocratic and elegant.
Bauhaus furniture from Marcel Breuer
The furniture designer Marcel Breuer began his studies at Bauhaus in 1920 and acquired his Master title at the time of Bauhaus's move from Weimar to Dessau in 1925. From the very beginning Breuer was regarded as a pioneer in the innovative use of materials, for all wood and metal. In his text "Metal Furniture and Modern Spatiality" Breuer described the aim with his Bauhaus furniture as being to create objects which stand in space in such a way that they interfere with neither movement nor the view through the room. The famous Laccio Bauhaus tables, designed by Marcel Breuer around 1925, consist of a combination of chrome plated steel tubes and wooden surfaces, and today Knoll International still produce the Laccio Table. The Wassily steel tube armchair was also designed in 1925 and was designed for the Dessau studio apartment of his colleague Wassily Kandinsky, from whom the name for the Bauhaus classic was also derived. In 1928 Breuer added a steel tube chair following the typical Bauhaus design to his portfolio.
Style elements in Bauhaus furniture
The Bauhaus furniture designers refrained from using unnecessary decorations and colour, and instead used simple but strikingly chrome plated surfaces complemented by the regular use of black. Steel tubes offering as it does numerous benefits, such as high load bearing capacity, low raw material costs, low weight and good formability, greatly contributed to the resulting exceptional design and ease of transportability. The plywood used for Bauhaus tables and chairs consisted of several thin wood layers glued together, which ensured an ease of moulding. However, the typical curved shapes were also created because the welding work could thus be minimized. The use of glass in table tops formed a direct link to the architecture of the time, which focused on the use of glass and steel in the construction of new buildings. Reduction in Bauhaus design is particularly present in the case of the cantilever chairs, where the traditional 4 leg frame was dispensed with. The combination of tubular steel with a wicker mesh makes Thonet furniture the very epitome of Bauhaus furniture design.
100 Years of Bauhaus
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, numerous theme-specific exhibitions and celebrations will take place in 2019. As part of the "100 Years of Bauhaus" anniversary programme and under the motto "Thinking the World anew", Bauhaus Verbund, together with regional and international partners, is inviting visitors to discover the extensive history of the art school, which still has an impact on living and coexistence in society today.
More about 'Bauhaus' in our blog
The Early Years. Mart Stam, the Institute and the Collection of Industrial Design at the Werkbundarchiv - Museum der Dinge, Berlin
...Much more, on account of institutions such as, for example, Bauhaus or Burg Giebichenstein Halle and also through the innumerable industrial enterprises based in the region who concerned themselves with contemporary materials, contemporary technology, contemporary realities, et al, early 20th century eastern Germany, was one of the principle European motors in the development of production processes, formal expressions, design positions, etc throughout the first third of the 20th century, and thereby an important centre of the early, early years of industrial design as we understand it today... For shortly after his arrival in Berlin the so-called Formalism Debate erupted, a debate which, as previously discussed in these dispatches, and as ever generalising more than is advisable, saw East Germany's ruling SED position itself in favour of what it considered the continuation of a perceived cultural heritage based on the decorative and the handcrafted rather than the reduced and the industrial, and for all saw the SED position itself firmly against "so-called avant-gardists (expressionism, constructivism, abstract art, Bauhaus style, surrealism, etc...
...Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau - Frauenklasse?... For all that Bauhaus is often held up as something thoroughly revolutionary, it was also very, very much of its time...
...113 from 1924 and which sees the wall mounted concertina mechanism replaced with a desk mounted clamp and the adjustable lamp head attached to a long, positionable, bent tubular steel support, and an object which was key in the growth and establishment of the company; and also through discussions on parallel subjects including spring balanced lighting as perhaps most popularly exemplified by George Carwardine's Anglepoise, on Christian Dell, a not unimportant figure in the development of positionable lighting in the inter-War years, and also on Bauhaus: both Bauhaus's (hi)story with positionable lighting and Bauhaus's (hi)story with and to Midgard... The latter illustrated and discussed through, for example, photos of Midgard lamps in projects by Bauhäusler, including the ADGB Bundesschule in Bernau, one of the few external architecture projects realised at Bauhaus, or a letter from Walter Gropius to Curt Fischer in which Gropius organises promotional photos of Midgard lamps, and a discussion which for all helps contribute to the deconstruction of the primacy of Bauhaus in popular understandings of all things inter-War design, helps further underscore that Bauhaus wasn't alone in inter-War Germany, far less inter-war Thüringen...
..."I assure you that you and your work are the model case for what the Bauhaus has been after" wrote Walter Gropius to Wilhelm Wagenfeld in April 1965... Just how Wilhelm Wagenfeld developed that "model case" "after" Bauhaus is explored, at least in terms of one design genre, in that genre for which Wilhelm Wagenfeld is most popularly known as a Bauhaus model, in the exhibition Wilhelm Wagenfeld: Lamps at the Wilhelm Wagenfeld Haus Bremen...
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