Bauhaus Design Principles

Why did the Bauhuas succeed in Weimar and Dessau, while the New Bauhaus,  founded in Chicago in 1937 (which became Illinois Institute of Design) did not succeed? Laszlo Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus. A painter, photographer, filmmaker and teacher, he saw the artist as a visionary and said: “We need Utopians of genius to foreshadow the existence of the man of the future, who, in the instinctive and simple, as well as in the complicated relationships of his life, will work in harmony with the basic laws of his being.” [] In his book Vision in Motion Moholy wrote that ‘art’ is the result of an inner drive. However, he qualified the usefulness of this inner drive by saying “only by translating an intuitive grasp of the unadulterated problems of his time into imagery, can a coherent expression be ‘best’.” 

Although the curriculum at the New Bauhaus was reputed to be the same as the basic or founding course developed by Walter Gropius for the Bauhaus in Germany, the Bauhaus in Chicago never reached the same heights of design innovation. The Chicago Bauhaus is recognised today for advancing the art of photography. In terms of design, the School is credited with changing the stylistic direction, resulting in a reduction in the then dominant ‘Beaux Arts’ tradition in America.  []

Modernism, in one sense,  became America’s post-war style. Designers in the UK and Australia looked to the United States for the new direction. Perhaps this is the legacy of the Bauhaus? Yet, one of IIT’s (the New Bauhaus) famous sons is Charles Owen. He is known for the customer-centric process called ‘Structured Planning’:  “Structured Planning is a methodology that generates and optimises the insights and information necessary for planning customer-centric service systems, and has the added advantage of enabling traceability of decision-making, a feature that is particularly relevant in an accountability-focused government environment.” Owen’s philosophy of the customer-centric process is clearly different (if not in opposition to) the idea of the crafts-based artist expressing an inner drive which is representative of his historical time. Or is it so different?

The diagram ( ) is from the 1939 brochure of the New Bauhaus School of Design. It has Architecture and Engineering at its heart and Nature Study near the periphery. Garden design and landscape architecture do not appear on the diagram.

4 thoughts on “Bauhaus Design Principles

  1. ID alumni

    I think it’s a little harsh to say that the Institute of Design did not succeed.
    do a little more homework, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
    Located in the basement of Crown Hall, one of Mies’ finest buildings ever, the ID was an incredible place to go to school. Where the opposite constraints of art and business did tangle and often find resolution. Sometimes in very beautiful well thought out ways.
    The school , its faculty and alumni, their work and influence cry out for for some true scholarly treatment.
    Long Live Moholy!

  2. Christine

    Would love to hear about your experiences at the ID and in particular resonances with the Bauhaus foundation! Please tell us more!

  3. Christine

    A little on the founding of the ID which was an amalgamation of the Armour Institue and the Lewis Institute:

    “German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe joined the then Armour Institute of Technology to head both Armour’s and the Art Institute of Chicago’s architecture program. The Art Institute would later separate and form its own program. Mies was given the task of designing a completely new campus, and the result was a spacious, open, 120-acre (0.49 km2) campus set in contrast to the busy, crowded urban neighborhood around it. The first Mies-designed buildings were completed in the mid-1940s, and construction on what is considered the “Mies Campus” continued until the early 1970s.” [See wiki].

    Most famously in 1956 Mies designed the SR Crown Hall. [ ]. See also interior colour photographs [ ] and [ ].

    It is said of the Bauhaus founded in Germany “the question they dared to ask led to new definitions of beauty in the unadorned and practical aspects of the functional”.

    Mies aimed at this purity in his design for SR Crown Hall.

    A summary of the Bauhaus principles by Alfred Barr (Bauhaus) is as follows:

    * most student should face the fact that their future should be involved primarily with industry and mass production rather than with individual craftsmanship.

    * teachers in schools of design should be men who are in advance of their profession rather than safely and academically in the rearguard.

    * the schools of design should, as the Bauhaus did, bring together the various arts of painting, architechture, theatre, photography, weaving, typography, etc., into a modern synthesis which disregards conventional distinctions between the “fine” and “applied” arts.

    * it is harder to design a first rate chair than to paint a second rate painting-and much more useful.

    * a school of design should have on its faculty the purely creative and disinterested artist such as the easel painter as a spiritual counterpoint to the practical technician in order that they may work and teach side by side for the benefit of the student.

    * manual experience of materials is essential to the student of design- experience at first confined to free experiment and then extended to the practical workshop.

    * the study of rational design in terms of techniques and materials should be only the first step in the development of a new and modern sense of beauty

    * because we live in the 20th century, the student architect or designer should be offered no refuge in the past but should be equipped for the modern world in its various aspects, artistic, technical, social, economic, spiritual, so that he may function in society not as a decorator but as a vital participant.


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