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The Bauhaus

Established in Weimar, Germany with Walter Gropius as its head in 1919. It was a new school that combined the teaching of fine arts with the teaching of arts and crafts. Gropius named the school Das Staatliche Bauhaus, which translates to the “State Home for Building.” Gropius based the teaching on a workshop environment modeled after William Morris’ Arts & Crafts workshops. The belief that hands-on learning was necessary for learning. To follow with the workshop idea, Gropius called his teacher’s masters, and the student’s apprentices, to signal that the school was within the real world. This school became very influential with many noted artists from around Europe teaching there.

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This diagram, which Gropius published in 1922, illustrated the structure of the school curriculum. Training started with the six-month preliminary course. The two middle rings represent the three-year period of workshop training together with form theory. 'Bau' (Building) – was the final stage of education – which at this point was not yet offered.

For the first four years that the school was open there wasn’t an evident graphic style, there were influences from Expressionism, Dada, Constructivism and De Stijl. This is the way Gropius wanted the school to be. In 1923 because of conflicts between the Bauhaus and the local government the school was told to put on an exhibition to demonstrate its accomplishments. This exhibition was attended by 15,000 people and was internationally acclaimed. The artwork showed a move from an expressionist emphasis to a more applied-design emphasis; Gropius was encouraged to move in the direction of the more avante-garde.  Gropius modified the curriculum, also changing the original slogan for the school from, “A Unity of Art and Handicraft,” to “Art and Technology, a New Unity.

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Also in 1923 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy replaced Johannes Itten. Moholy-Nagy was from Hungary, and studied law before he turned to art. In the field of art he constantly experimented in the areas of painting, film, sculpture, and graphic design. Moholy-Nagy had a significant impact on the teaching and philosophy at the Bauhaus right from the start of his teaching and became Gropius’s “prime minister.”

Moholy-Nagy made an important statement about typography, he described it as a “tool of communication,” and with this statement emphasized that type must be clear, legible, and communicate its message. Moholy-Nagy succeeded in creating an asymmetrical typography that was both clear and convincing.

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Because of the mounting tension between the Bauhaus and the Weimar government, the Bauhaus moved to Dessua in 1925. During the years in Dessau (1925-1932) the Bauhaus’ visual identity and philosophy matured into what we know today.

With the move to Dessau and the modified curriculum, Gropius established a typography workshop, first under former student Herbert Bayer and then under another former student Joost Schmidt, who changed the course’s name to Commercial Art. Bayer rejected historical forms and individual 'old-style and fancy types,' Her sought to create an internationally valid and legible style of lettering with this type. "Like modern machines, architecture and the cinema, so too must type be an expression of our exact times." His typeface “Universal Alphabet,” omitted all capital letters and became the typeface of the Bauhaus.

In the years to follow the 1925 move to Dessau, the Bauhaus became well to the general public and associated with a style of; anything geometric, functional or modern. Characteristics of the Bauhuas publications included; order, asymmetry, with a grid structure. Decoration was limited to heavy rules, and geometric shapes. Illustration was replaced with photography and photomontage the use of sans serif type was considered essential, with the adoption of Bayer’s Universal type being used after 1925.

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In 1928, Gropius resigned as director of the Bauhaus. He left to pursue his own architecture, but also due to the mounting Nazi pressure on the school at Dessau, Gropius thought it would benefit the school if he were no longer involved. Moholy-Nagy and Bayer also left the school at this time to pursue graphic design and typography in Berlin.  The Swiss architect Hannes Meyer replaced Gropius, but by 1930 conflicts with government authorities forced Mayer to resign. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe replaced Meyer. Mies van der Rohe was a prominent architect from Berlin, whose design dictum “less is more” has become a major tenet of twentieth-century design.

By 1931 the Nazi party dominated the Dessau city council, and in 1932 cancelled all Bauhaus faculty contracts. Mies van der Rohe again moved the school to an empty factory in Berlin, but continued Nazi harassment made the continuance impossible. The Bauhaus closed on August 10, 1933.

The growing Nazi persecution led many Bauhaus faculty to flee to America. Gropius and Breuer taught architecture at Harvard, Moholy-Nagy established the New Bauhaus (now the Institute of Design) in Chicago, and Bayer becoming a prominent designer here in the Sates. This exodus to the States has dramatically changed American design since World War II.

The Bauhaus was open for 14 years, had 33 faculty members and approximately 1,250 students. The school’s teaching methods has influenced how art is taught today. The Bauhaus tried to bring art closer together with everyday life by way of design.

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