During our recent trip to the Bauhaus in Dessau, Curating Contemporary Design course Director Catherine McDermott was reminded of one of her old friends who had been to Harvard. Curious to know what he remembered about Gropius’ legacy there, Catherine sent him the following letter…

12 October 2011

Dear David,

I am here at the Bauhaus Dessau, a former East German city, 20 years into the new Germany.

The Bauhaus came to Dessau in 1926 sponsored in part by the Junkers factory which manufactured central heating systems (some of the most modern in Europe) alongside airplanes, their WW2 German fighter plane, became the target for Allied bombing raids that destroyed the city in 1945.

The Bauhaus school lasted only 6 years in Dessau, but its output was phenomenal and remains complex and fascinating. In 2012, now a World Heritage location the Bauhaus is also a fiercely ‘contested’ site not only in design but also in the context of German history and heritage.  Built in only a year, the School caused an immediate sensation with  its buildings, education and industrial partnership projects. Every aspect of the Bauhaus was a kind of brilliant prototype, including Gropius’ marketing plans, a communication strategy which was pretty much unrivalled.  The projects are really interesting, including one of our Workshop site visits to the Torten Estate, Gropius’ famous experimental low-cost housing on the outskirts of Dessau.  In 1926 visitors to the first Bauhaus exhibition were given a free tram ride to the show house at Torten.  Here visitors could see the complete Bauhaus approach/Breuer kitchen/Marianne Brandt lights/the first sunbathing terrace for low-cost housing and gardens for the indoor/outdoor life.  It would be hard to think of a UK example to compare, maybe the apartments built in Leeds in the 1930s.

New ways of living as well as learning at the Bauhaus were required elements for both the students and the teachers.  A kind of relaxed ‘social’ life was encouraged which we assumed meant lots of affairs between the students and students and staff. The Masters were offered Gropius designed villas but they were expected to offer tours of the houses to allow people to ‘learn’ how to live and experience new lifestyles.

We are staying in the restored student studio residences, 28 apartments for the original Bauhaus students, which set the agenda for how the school would work.  They were luxurious in terms of space, facilities included washbasins, showers, and kitchens all with central heating from the Junkers radiators.  The spirit was international and communal and the interior flows from the entrance hall into the canteen (chairs by Breuer) to the famous School Hall.  In this hall showed the theatrical sets from Oskar Schlemmer (my vote for the most innovative work coming out of the Bauhaus) and the famous parties devised by Gropius to create the community spirit he really thought was so important.  Gropius designed the parties as carefully as the space itself, paying, for example, for a Berlin teacher to teach the students the era’s Modernist dance; the Charleston and photographs in the archive show the Metallisches Fest (the metallic party) that invited women students to come as a ‘radioactive substance’.  They looked amazing – sparkling dresses like something from a sci-fi movie.

Politically the Bauhaus was interesting for the old and divided East & West Germanies.  It worked for both sides.  For the West it was a positive story of German 20th century history, a moment of enlightenment, in the short lived Weimar Republic that expressed modernity and creativity.   For the old GDR, the Bauhaus was a beacon of communist idealism, especially the figure of the second Bauhaus Director, Hannes Meyer.  Those old communist party members used to party in the Bauhaus as the place to celebrate the tradition of German socialism that flourished before the Nazis came to power.

Yours, Catherine  


14 October 2011

Dear Catherine,

Harvard not only has the Gropius chair, but as we were constantly reminded, the Gropius cafeteria trays!  I daresay the same ones are in use since the 1930s.   Anyway, his name is revered by undergrads staggering back to the tables bearing a third helping of… well, many of the culinary traditions of this august institution cannot even be described, much less named. Gropius’ innovation was to whack off the top corners of a standard cafeteria tray, giving it five sides (a hexagon), four of which are your standard vertical/horizontal quadrangle sides connecting at two 90º on bottom, the two additional sides joining the vertical sides with the top at roughly 45º angles.  The theory, I suppose, is that the trays were easily aligned, linearly, up or down a standard square or quadrangle table; while the chopped-off corners would permit an efficient circular arrangement of trays (the 45º angle sides touching) to seat more people around a round table.  Harvard’s dining tables for the most part were your standard ultra-long style tables.  But the trays were cool.

I think Walter Gropius was a professor, and then chairman, of the architecture department (now Harvard Graduate School of Design, I believe), from 1937 to 1952.

And here’s a Harvard building that he designed (pictured).

Harkness Commons.  I can’t recall ever seeing it, although I must have many times.  Have you ever seen his Village College at Impington, Cambridgeshire (w/Maxwell Fry, 1936)?  I should simply like to see any place named “Impington.”

Sincerely, David

We are very pleased to have been given a sneak preview of the upcoming Barbican exhibition  ‘Bauhaus: Art as Life’. Barbican curator Catherine Ince has generously contributed the following article, which will feature in issue two of the Bauhaus Dessau magazine.  

In May 2012, Barbican Art Gallery will present the first major UK exhibition devoted to the Bauhaus in over forty years. Celebrating life as the driving force of the school and its artistic activities, Bauhaus: Art as Life will explore everything from the Bauhaus’s radical model of education and its utopian desire to transform society through pioneering art and design, to the complex personal relationships and communal festivities that underpinned the daily life of masters and students alike.

Charting the turbulent fourteen-year history of the Bauhaus, the exhibition will first focus on the lesser-known early period when, in the difficult immediate after-math of the First World War, artistic practice and theory were dominated by craft and Expressionism. Progressing through widely recognised Bauhaus works which embraced new technologies and theories of the period, Bauhaus: Art as Life will explore how the school developed influential graphic ‘instruments of communication’, pioneering designs for new ways of living and sought to realise Gropius’s ambition to unite architecture, sculpture and painting through the creation of the ‘total work of art’. The exhibition will also examine the Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe years, contrasting their different approaches to design and building against the backdrop of the rise of National Socialism.

Throughout the exhibition newly-commissioned film and audio interviews will offer critical insights into the political, social and cultural context of Weimar Germany, as well as the Bauhaus itself.

As one of Europe’s leading cross-arts centres the Barbican will embrace the spectrum and vitality of the arts at the Bauhaus through a complementary public programme. A host of workshops, talks, films and performances will accompany a major Barbican Creative Learning initiative, the Bauhaus Summer School, which will examine the role of the art school in the 21st century and will present an intensive two-week experimental programme led by leading practitioners from a wide range of artistic backgrounds.

London-based architects Carmody Groarke and designers A Practice for Everyday Life (APFEL) will create the unique setting for this eagerly anticipated celebration of the Bauhaus and its groundbreaking legacy. 

Bauhaus: Art as Life is produced in co-operation with Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / Museum für Gestaltung, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and Klassik Stiftung Weimar.

For more information about the exhibition and its dedicated public programme, please visit www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery

Contemporary Bauhaus: Why we don’t need a new School

 An Enduring legacy

There is much that design historians will never agree on. Yet the influence and seminal legacy of the Bauhaus is a fact agreed by almost all. Yet at the same time, there are few who question the continuing challenges and problems that this legacy also present.

Victor Papanek was one of the few who has, writing in 1985, he described Bauhaus methodology and teaching patterns as irrelevant to a contemporary context. Why, Papanek asked, should an American design student imitate the connectivity between tool and material, so important in the 1920’s in an era of emerging computer sciences, electronics, and cybernetics and post-fordist technological advancement?[1]

Despite Papanek’s protests, Bauhaus style and iconography retains respect and presence in design platforms the world over. Furthermore, there are those who argue for its return. Christopher Frayling is a recent exponent who sees a resurrection of the school as a catalyst for bringing out the distilling the hybridity, inter-connectivity and plurality of contemporary design into positive forms and contents. Frayling has acknowledged the importance of the original version and has proposed a convergence of the head, hand and the heart in a ‘think and do’ tank well primed to thrive in a postmodern era[2]

Yet despite this, it is clear that we do not need a new Bauhaus because this has been tried before with varying success. Victor Margorin has pointed out that whilst the New Bauhaus founded at the Institute of Design in Chicago in the 1930’s enjoyed a favourable public image and made great advances in photography and graphic design, it was never really able to form significant programs in industrial design.[3]

Furthermore, it is clear that Bauhaus thinking and ideas continue to demonstrate an astonishing synergy with those of contemporary designers. Since an emancipated 21st century designer is free to borrow and assemble styles within their designs as they please, Bauhaus ideals will often sit at the core of their practice, almost like a reflex action directing the design process. We can examine this in three key areas which are form and ideas, function and philosophy and aesthetics.

Form and ideas

Visitations on the interplay between Bauhaus form and ideas have been recycled in countless examples of contemporary design today. Max Lamb’s ‘Woodware’ collection, premiered at the recent London Design Festival, is an example which incorporates a distinct aesthetic reminiscent of Marcel Breuer’s famous Wassily Chair in terms of its overall proportions. There are obviously clear differences in function and materials but what is particularly fascinating about this example are the direct parallels in terms of the overall aims of each chair.  When Breuer’s chair first appeared in 1926, it was revolutionary because of its uncompromising faith in new technology evidenced by its innovative use of tubular steel and it’s conduciveness with mass production.[4] Such ideas, utopian in nature, stood at the forefront of Bauhaus ideals. With ‘Woodware’ Lamb has envisioned this new range becoming incorporated by other artisans outside the studio.[5] In this context, Lamb is channelling a utopian design statement through deference to localism; sustainability and utilitarianism which in our post-industrial age are challenging faith in mass production and technology as ways of meeting human needs.

Function and philosophy

One of the core tenants of Bauhaus teaching was the integration of all of the arts within an overall functional paradigm. In a remarkable study, Juliet Koss has documented how Bauhaus theatre stood at the forefront of this inter-disciplinary approach. Through choreographed performances and experiments, Bauhaus theatre abstracted both the human body and the cultural context of Weimar Germany in unique, unsettling and often explicit ways.

Bauhaus dolls echoed the radical transformation of the human subject in early twentieth century Germany, when an emphasis on sachlichkeit, or objectivity, joined the potentially universal “urge to abstraction”[6]

This trenchant dialectical approach is continually continues to be mirrored through performative design projects today which take the body as their starting point.

One can draw a direct line of reference from EPFL+ECAL Lab’s ‘Give me More’, a project of several augmented reality works. Premiered at Berlin DMY in 2010, the mission of the lab is to foster innovation at a crossroads between technology, design and architecture. The installations range from ironic, to poetic and fun and utilise augmented reality technology. Examples include drawing books which morph according to the visitor’s use, mirrors which reveal immaterial clouds around them and cushions that highlight dreams. The effect of such technology when combined with spatial and audio distortion techniques is truly immersive.

Such abstraction bears direct comparison with Bauhaus theatre. Oskar Schlemmer’s ‘Triadic Ballet’ included twelve dance sequences ranging from the cheerful to mystical. With his production, Schlemmer sought to ‘bring basic elements of form and harmony into harmony with man and space’.[7] Meanwhile, the stated aim of EPFL+ECAL is bringing the immaterial and the material into co-existence with the stated aim of ‘allowing visitors insight into objects and their own bodies.’[8] The similarities in terminology here are startling and demonstrate how the Bauhaus’s unique inter-disciplinary approach continues to provide the basis for explorative design projects that push the boundaries of perception, reality and space.


Bauhaus aesthetics were grounded upon clear and well defined principles determined by form and colour. Form has already been touched upon here but Bauhaus colour theory continues to wield so much currency today.

Its enduring appeal can be directly seen in the work of contemporary artist Sophie Smallhorn, an artist whose compositions continually question what can be expressed through the medium of experimentation with volume, space and colour. What is perhaps most striking about Smallhorn’s profile of work is her record of both public and private consultancy. To date, Smallhorn has received commissions for Goodwood Sculpture Park, Nottingham City Academy and Comme des Garçons in Tokyo as well as a number of architectural projects for installations in City of London offices.[9] Smallhorn’s success in this area on the one hand represents a fulfillment of Bauhaus desires for synergy with industry (largely not recognised during its lifecycle) and the enduring appeal of Bauhaus aesthetics.

Furthermore, many of Smallhorn’s pieces bear direct comparison with students working over eighty years ago. One can point to Peter Keler’s literal renditions Kandinsky’s colour theory as forerunner to Smallhorn’s experiments. In this particular comparison shown below, primary colours and basic shapes are emphasised whilst the use of acrylic paint on wood are also similar. In both examples, colour is the vehicle of expression framed within simple yet abstract geometry. Smallhorn’s composition is perhaps more realized owing to a freedom to experiment not afforded to Keler who willingly worked within Kandinsky’s theory when design his cradle.[10] Nevertheless, the visual impact of both works owes much to the striking reds, blues and yellows that dominate the space but at the same time hang harmoniously together.

The Bauahus lives on

These brief examples only highlight fragments of how ingrained Bauhaus thinking continues to be today. What can be chiefly discerned here is how lateral and synthesised it is within design practice. Its manifestations range from amorphous traces of utopian thinking right through to the nuts and bolts of how a thing looks and functions. Whether these ideals need questioning again as Papanek did, for future generations perhaps fails to grasp the extent of this.

This fact brings the idea of resurrecting the school into question for many reasons. Bauhaus commanded both strong philosophy and strong representations in practice. Furthermore, it’s short and turbulent existence have radicalised it from a historical perspective and kept it young. Its swift end enshrines it as an almost incomplete project and as a result the Bauhaus will never be institutionalised and designers will continue to internalise its lessons and carry on its forward thinking idealism. This process will thus continue to ensure that the Bauhaus lives on.



Droste, Magdalena, Bauhaus Archiv: 1919-1933 (Berlin, Bauhaus-Archiv, 1993)

Frayling, Christopher, On Craftsmanship: Towards a New Bauhaus (London, Oberon Masters, 2011)

Margolin, Victor The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy: 1917-1946 (University of Chicago Press, 1997)

Papanek, Victor, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (London, Thames and Hudson, 1985)


Koss, Juliet, ‘Bauhaus Theater of Human Dolls’ The Art Bulletin, Vol. 85, No.4 (New York, College Art Association, Dec. 2003) pp. 724 – 745.


Bauhaus Online, ‘Cradle’<URL http://bauhaus-online.de/en/atlas/werke/cradle > [accessed 25 September 2011]

London Design Festival, ‘EPFL+ECAL Lab’s award-winning exploration on augmented reality, Give Me More, reveals new dimensions at RCA, in London’ <URL htp:// www.londondesignfestival.com/events/give-me-more> [accessed 27 September 2011]

The Coolist, ‘History of Design : Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer’ <URL http://www.thecoolist.com/wassily-chair-by-marcel-breuer/ > [accessed 1 October 2011]

Sophie Smallhorn, ‘Private and Public Consultancy’ <URL http://www.sophiesmallhorn.co.uk/&gt; [accessed 27 September 2011]

[1] Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (London, Thames and Hudson, 1985), p.31

[2] Christopher Frayling, On Craftsmanship: Towards a New Bauhaus (London, Oberon Masters, 2011), pp. 133 – 143

[3] Victor Margolin, The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy: 1917-1946 (University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 216.

[4] The Coolist, ‘History of Design : Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer’ <URL http://www.thecoolist.com/wassily-chair-by-marcel-breuer/ > [accessed 1 October 2011}

[5] Juliet Koss, ‘Bauhaus Theater of Human Dolls’ The Art Bulletin, Vol. 85, No.4 (New York, College Art Association, Dec. 2003) pp. 730-732

[6] Ibid

[7] Magdalena Droste, Bauhaus Archiv: 1919-1933 (Berlin, Bauhaus-Archiv, 1993), p. 101

[8] London Design Festival, ‘EPFL+ECAL Lab’s award-winning exploration on augmented reality, Give Me More, reveals new dimensions at RCA, in London’ <URL htp:// www.londondesignfestival.com/events/give-me-more> [accessed 27 September 2011]

[9] Sophie Smallhorn, ‘Private and Public Consultancy’ <URL http://www.sophiesmallhorn.co.uk/&gt; [accessed 27 September 2011]

[10] Bauhaus Online, ‘Cradle’<URL http://bauhaus-online.de/en/atlas/werke/cradle > [accessed 25 September 2011]

By Dr. Anja Baumhoff

Herbert Bayer, design for a multimedia trade fair stand for a toothpaste producer, 1924, opaque paint, charcoal, colored ink, pencil and collage on paper, 54.6 x 46.8 cm, Harvard University Art Museums, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, MA, gift from the artist

In 1924, the young Bauhaus student Herbert Bayer designed a trade fair stand for a toothpaste producer. The kiosk advertised the “Regina” brand. Bayer symbolized the multimedia aspect of advertising, a highly progressive concept at the time, in the form of a loudspeaker on the left-hand side of the picture positioned near the entrance to the building. The loudspeaker’s broadcast message is identified by the word “Regina.” Smoke rising from a chimney on the roof forms the word “Regina” and below it on the right, the image of a young woman’s face displays her beautiful, perfectly clean teeth.

Born in Haag, Austria, in 1900, Herbert Bayer began his training at the architect’s firm of Georg Schmidthammer in Linz in 1919–20. His first typographic designs were realized during that period. In 1921, he worked for architect Emanuel Josef Margold at the Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt before moving on to the Bauhaus to study mural painting under Wassily Kandinsky in October of the same year. Two years later, following several months of travel in Italy, he set up his own mural painting studio in Berchtesgaden but then decided to return to the Bauhaus to complete his studies in mural painting and take the journeyman’s examination. His change of heart proved worthwhile, for Walter Gropius appointed him to a position as junior master in the new print and advertising workshop, which was renamed as the advertising workshop in 1927.

Bayer’s decision to interrupt his studies in July 1923 and travel through Italy with a friend was by no means unusual. Following his return in October 1924, he realized an entire series of designs in rapid succession, among them this proposal for the trade fair pavilion. The style of the design clearly suggests that, after roughly a year and a half in the South, he had re-embraced the stylistic tendencies of the years preceding his travels. The influence of the Dutch De Stijl movement is impossible to overlook. During this period, he realized several other designs in addition to the “Regina” toothpaste design, including a cigarette pavilion and a newspaper stand. An open waiting room with a kiosk rendered in the same style is indicative of Bayer’s interest in architecture.

Bayer positioned the “Regina” pavilion at an angle in the room, with its corners pointing in the four cardinal directions. In contrast to the many frontal views of buildings, this cube is rotated, as if pointing at the viewer like an arrow. One precursor of this approach is the isometric drawing of Walter Gropius’s office executed by Bayer in 1923. Here as well, the object is set in a honeycomb configuration and thus evokes an impression that is unusually dynamic for a drawing. Evident in all of these designs is the influence of the Dutch De Stijl movement, whose concepts were propagated in Weimar for the most part by the artist, provocateur, and theorist Theo van Doesburg between 1921 and 1923. Bayer made use of the interplay of strong color contrasts and of symmetry and asymmetry that was typical of De Stijl in an almost playful manner. He took no pains to minimize or individualize this influence. He had not yet focused on the goal of developing his own visual language. Yet ever since the Hungarian Constructivist László Moholy-Nagy had begun teaching at the State Bauhaus, the star of De Stijl had ceased to shine so brightly in Weimar. Thus Bayer embraced a visual concept that was practically out of date.

Not only do these designs from 1924 exhibit the same style, they are also oriented toward architecture. The subjects are small buildings, pavilions, and kiosks. Bayer continued to do variations on these designs throughout his life, although we may reasonably assume that this particular reproduction corresponds very closely to the original. The proportions are quite remarkable. The oversized roof with its vertical surfaces was conceived for advertising purposes, and we might well regard it as a form of advertising architecture. Human figures appear very small in these ink drawings and are dwarfed by the dominant building structures. The viewer sees the construction from above, as if he were sitting in an aircraft manufactured by Junkers and looking down from the air at a quasi-objective total overview of the structure.

The proportions of these four designs are extreme, which was not unusual. Bayer’s references were the monumental trade fair stands that were common at the time. The most harmonious of the group is the toothpaste advertising pavilion. It is quite obvious in all of these designs that the will to advertise overpowers everything else—including sensible architectural proportions. Modernity is symbolized here by the right angle, by the absence of ornamentation and decoration, by the typography, and by the obvious tendency toward asymmetry. It almost seems as if symmetry and asymmetry are competing with each other for right angles. We might refer to what the student Bayer was experimenting with as “advertising with extremes.”

The “Regina” design contains much of what later made Bayer famous—not only the montage technique, but also the early and still somewhat unusual use of photography, although it is only vaguely suggested here. Bayer did not incorporate photography into his art until 1925. That was the year in which he began working on the standard Universal typeface, which we can still admire today on the outside wall of the Bauhaus building in Dessau, as it is particularly well suited for logos. Bayer also introduced the DIN standard at the Bauhaus and designed all of the school’s printed matter accordingly. This new commercial graphic art represented the Bauhaus effectively and advertised its goals and ideas. Bayer also deserves credit for establishing lower-case print as the standard that is still associated with the Bauhaus today.

Bayer regarded himself primarily as an “advertising specialist” until about 1927–28, after which he adopted a freer, more artistic approach. His career gained appreciable momentum when he began working on his own in 1928. As art director at the Dorland Agency in Berlin, he developed a unique visual language that combined advertising and art in an unprecedented manner. He used montage techniques, new spray paint methods, and Surrealist motifs. By this time, Bayer had outgrown the Bauhaus, where rational design still took precedence. “What had been an appeal for the creative combination of all conceivable media and methods in Moholy’s article entitled ‘Photographie in der Reklame’ (Photography in Advertising) of September 1927 was transformed in Bayer’s hands into a method of subtle, fascinating seduction” (Ute Brüning). Bayer confidently steered the viewer through new, unfamiliar visual worlds, whose clear composition and surprising associative effects exerted a fascinating appeal. He juxtaposed completely unrelated motifs in space and with unaccustomed logic, inspired by Moholy-Nagy’s notion of a seemingly organic sur-reality. This method encourages the consumer to believe that he himself has thought of the idea suggested by the advertiser, which significantly heightens the impact of the advertising. These sophisticated tricks were not available to Bayer when he designed the “Regina” pavilion, however. The early developments described here merely hint at his great potential. These early works bear witness to a long learning process that preceded his rise to success as one of the most distinctive and internationally renowned commercial artists of the twentieth century.

Literature: Brüning 1995. – Droste 1982. – Wahl 2001. – Weber 1999.

Text published as:  ‘The Will to Advertise. An Early Design by Herbert Bayer, in: Modell Bauhaus. Exhibition catalogue. Edited by  Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Klassik Stiftung Weimar. Publisher Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2009.

After the Bauhaus was closed callously in 1933, alongside much political turmoil, its legacy of modern design continued. Despite there being only a few industrial models thrown into production progressively, these products did include pottery for the State Porcelain Factory in Berlin, designs such as Marguerite Friedländer-Wildenhain (1896- 1985) studied pottery at the Bauhaus from 1919 to 1925 under master potter Max Krehan and the sculptor Gerhard Marcks. Unfortunately she was excluded from the Bauhaus owed to her Jewish origins, however continued her pottery studio in the Netherlands with her husband.

Her teapot design reflected a new age in ceramic production that was adapting to industrial manufacturing and Bauhaus style.  The elegant form of the spout that is designed not to drip, the handle, designed for easy pouring and the lid that is sunk into a soft clean glaze. This particular design is representative of a modern aesthetic that has presence in contemporary ceramic design.

Further designers such as Arik Levy’s ‘WellOfLife’ lamp borrow the Bauhaus style that is simplicity of function and combination of being both true to raw and poetic material yet accept technological advances in manufacturing. It is cylindrical in shape and the core coloured as bright as a kandinsky painting, a sign of a modern industrial ceramic design.