Bauhaus: Functional Design For People
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Bauhaus: Functional Design For People

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The Bauhaus school was a German art institution that combined crafts and fine arts. The Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known as the Bauhaus, was founded in 1919 in the German city of Weimar by Walter Gropius. The school was the result of a merger between the Academy of Fine Arts and the Weimar School of Applied Arts.

After Weimar, the Bauhaus established its headquarters in two more cities: Dessau and Berlin. The changes happened mainly due to the persecution the institution suffered from the Nazi party.

In 1933, the school was officially closed, accused of spreading anti-German principles and for its "degenerate art."

Despite its brief history, the influence of the Bauhaus school remains to this day, and it is often considered the first school of design in the world. Keep reading to learn more about Bauhaus architecture and style and how it relates to UX Design!

Bauhaus school: a brief history

We can divide the history of the school into 3 major moments:

  1. Weimar;
  2. Dessau;
  3. Berlin.

Each of these phases represents a physical shift in the school between these three cities in Germany.

Weimar (1919 – 1925)

Walter Gropius created the Bauhaus school in Weimar, merging the Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Applied Arts.

Walter Gropius | Source: Creative Commons

Gropius was thinking in a different direction, going against the traditions and conservative mindsets of the time. This characteristic was passed on to the school's foundations and values.

Because of this, the Bauhaus was always in conflict between the different political parties that existed in Germany in the first decades of the 20th century.

Until 1923 the government favored Gropius' and the Bauhaus' ideas regarding the arts and industrialization. In this sense, the school received incentives and a good budget.

However, in the 1924 elections, the right-wing party gained a majority in the State Legislative Assembly, and with this, the Bauhaus budget was instantly cut in half.

In addition, the teachers' contracts were canceled, and in an act of protest, Gropius and other masters of the school resigned from their positions at the end of 1924.

From this, several other cities were interested in becoming the school's headquarters, and the city of Dessau was chosen to host the Bauhaus in the new phase that was beginning.

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Dessau (1925 – 1932)

The school moved to the city of Dessau in 1925, but only effectively opened its doors in its new location in 1926, with the inauguration of the famous Bauhaus Building, designed by Gropius himself.

Bauhaus Dessau, 1926 | Fonte: Creative Commons

The Bauhaus period in Dessau was the largest and most productive in its entire history. Many of the movement's world-renowned products and architecture were created during this period.

Only one year after the opening of the school, in 1927, Walter Gropius was forced to make decisions based on the political context of the time in order to ensure the survival of the institution.

That year, Gropius handed over the director's post to Hannes Meyer, who definitely grew industrial design concepts at the Bauhaus.

Despite this change of direction, the Bauhaus did not become less politicized; quite the contrary. During Meyer's direction, the students became more radical and communist.

In this scenario, Hannes Meyer was fired, and the director position went to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Under the new direction, the Bauhaus workshop work diminished and gave way to the growth of architecture, constructivism, and spatial freedom.

Unfortunately, the right-wing party formed a majority in the city assembly, and the school's closure was approved in September 1932.

Berlim (1932-1933)

The school's move to Berlin was only the harbinger of its closure.

The Bauhaus was established in an old telephone factory in Berlin but remained there until July 1933, when it was finally forced to close its doors, accused by the Nazis of propagating degenerate and anti-Germanic art.

After its closure, students and teachers who were part of the Bauhaus school in Germany emigrated to other countries, contributing to spreading the movement's concepts and values to other places in the world.

Many artists, including Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, went to the USA, and these two became influential architects in America.

The Bauhaus essence

What distinguishes the Bauhaus from other artistic styles is precisely the fact that the Bauhaus is not a style but a movement, a method.

But to understand the goals and ideas of this school, it is important first to understand the historical context in which it emerged.

Industrialization and the post-war period

Before the Bauhaus was born, the arts were already suffering impacts due to the Industrial Revolution that was happening in several European countries at the beginning of the 20th century.

Indústrias Basf, Alemanha, 1881 | Fonte: Creative Commons

Industrialization and urbanization separated the artisan arts from the economy; scale production was faster and cheaper for clientele than ordering for artisans.

However, scale production was far from producing products of the quality that artisan people made in their workshops. There was a lot of production at competitive prices, but the product quality dropped significantly.

In addition, it is worth noting that the artisan arts were the last to remain connected to the population and the economy. The other arts, by and large, had been on a different spectrum since the Renaissance.

Art such as painting and literature were considered fine arts that were only within the reach of the elite and the wealthiest people.

Therefore, at this time, the arts were totally separated from economic and political discussions; and they had lost their practical function in society.

This whole scenario worsened with the post-World War I era.

In Germany, the working class was desolate because of the defeat in the war. The workers had used their labor to help the country during the conflict, and now they were in a worse situation. This awareness caused the working class to begin to organize and gain strength.

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The Bauhaus as a movement for the arts

In this context of dissatisfaction, detachment of the arts from the people, and of economic crisis is that the Bauhaus school and with it the movement of the same name emerged.

The idea of the Bauhaus was to bring back the artistic class – including artisans – to the social, economic, and political debate.

Its founder, Gropius, wrote in the school's manifesto that there is no difference between the craftsman and the artist but that the artist must necessarily possess technical competence. The idea was to eliminate the barriers that existed between craftsmen and artists, establishing single concepts between the arts.

Alunos e alunas da Bauhaus | Fonte: Toda Matéria

In addition, the movement was worried about producing on a large scale while maintaining quality to create functional and affordable products without giving up aesthetics.

This way, the masters of the movement, mainly architects, proposed, for example, simple, functional, and efficient houses for the working class. The materials should be standardized to reduce costs while meeting the needs of the people living in them.

In addition, the Bauhaus pioneered other aspects as well, teaching several new techniques that would change the arts, such as:

  • Photography;
  • Collage;
  • Typography
  • Ergonomics;
  • Decoration;
  • Painting;
  • Cinema and theater;
  • Ballet;
  • Industrial Design;
  • Ceramics;
  • Metallurgy;
  • Advertising;
  • Textile Creations.

To achieve this, the Bauhaus teaching method was based on learning technical knowledge and art concepts, considering social and human elements.

It was precisely for teaching such a broad vision, uniting arts, industrial production, politics, and social vision that the Nazis persecuted the school.

Bauhaus: main characteristics

Bauhaus intended to modernize art production and proposed the creation of functional, accessible, minimalist, and aesthetically pleasing products.

For this, the Bauhaus relied on a multidisciplinary approach and aimed to design simple, linear, and geometrical forms combined with basic industrial colors like white, gray, and beige or, in interior design, primary colors like red, blue, or yellow.

  • Scale production: simplicity to give way to low-cost mass production, so products could be accessible to the greatest number of people;
  • Ideation: the school encouraged artists to idealize and plan the entire production process;
  • Integration: craftsmanship should become part of the production as a tool to achieve the products' functions and objectives;
  • Aesthetics: despite the strong functional appeal, aesthetics was still important, and artists were encouraged to create pieces that surprised others;
  • Innovation: using new and innovative materials for the time, such as wood, steel, and glass.

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Bauhaus architecture was and still is recognized as having a modern style.

The idea was to build structures that were both functional and easy to produce on a large scale. For this, it considered the combination of architecture and urbanism, giving emphasis and consideration to features such as:

  • Functional and practical shapes: like straight lines and simple geometric shapes;
  • Buildings and facades with many windows;
  • Valuing large and open areas;
  • Simplified color schemes;
  • Use of steel, glass, concrete, and other modern materials: materials that were true to their original form and not altered in any way;
  • Flat roofs: polished, smooth lines are key since the aesthetics are meant to be as simple as possible.
  • Mass production and functional buildings that were intended for everyone.
Bauhaus architecture | Source: Toda Matéria

The Bauhaus influence on product design

While the Bauhaus is notorious for its architecture, the Bauhaus-style design and décor like furniture, objects, graphic art, and interiors became quite famous as well.

Wassily chair, by Marcel Breuer

Wassily chair, by Marcel Breuer | Source: Creative Commons

Tea infusor, by Marianne Brandt

By Marianne Brandt | Source: Creative Commons

Colorful tables, by Marcel Breuer

By Marcel Breuer | Source: Toda Matéria

Architecture in Tel Aviv

Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, Israel | Fonte: Creative Commons
Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, Israel | Fonte: Creative Commons

In the 1930s, many Jewish families migrated to Israel, taking with them the values and concepts of the Bauhaus school. Quickly, the movement began to gain momentum in the country's largest city, Tel Aviv.

Bauhaus architecture became so famous in the city that many projects were created based on these concepts.

Tel Aviv has so many buildings with the Bauhaus concept that in 2003 part of the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This location became known as the White City, precisely because of the enormous amount of white buildings there.

Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, Israel | Source: Creative Commons

Bauhaus and UX Design

We can see how the Bauhaus was important for spreading concepts such as functionalism and the integration of arts in our daily lives.

One of the ideals that the movement followed is present in the phrase of the American architect Louis Sullivan, who said: form follows function.

It was a rational movement that invited artists, designers, and architects to reflect on the purpose of their projects and, based on this, elaborate on the aesthetics that would serve this purpose.

Functionality and Arts

Functionality is also a fundamental pillar of UX Design. Concepts like User-Centered Design are important for designers to understand how to create products that meet user needs. UX designers must combine the functions of a product with aesthetic features that improve the user experience.

Furthermore, it is interesting to see how the Bauhaus also worked with concepts such as standardization to facilitate their production processes. This is also an important aspect of design and user experience.

We can't say that UX Design exists because of the Bauhaus. But the movement certainly opened doors for new concepts and ideas that culminated in design practices that are still used today.

Getting to know the Bauhaus movement can be inspiring and also helps us understand how the arts can be functional and help people. It's also a way to see how artists can impact society, going beyond their professional roles and including social, economic, and political discussions.

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