At Motley, we talk a lot about Bauhaus.
Bauhaus was a design movement that redefined the process of creation. It changed how the world created fine art, furniture and buildings, and who these became available for. “How is a movement, started over 100 years ago in Germany, still relevant to the Motley Crew?” you might ask. Bauhaus revolutionised the creative process, producing innovative designs for future generations with exciting new materials. It sits at the core of our values. Essentially, Bauhaus brought design to the masses. Read on to discover more about this revolutionary movement.
The School of Bauhaus was created in the city of Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius, who merged a local fine art school with a craft school. When it first opened, posters of musty old furniture appeared pasted on city walls, slashed with red paint crosses. Ornate, outdated design began to look ridiculous. These posters revealed the school’s desire for brash, modern structures.
Bauhaus laughed in the face of classist taste and sought function over form in everything it did.
The school was groundbreaking for it’s time. It challenged the idea that fine art, design, and craftsmanship should exist in separate spheres. It encouraged cooperation between artist and craftsman, painter and maker. Bauhaus began to reimagine the world we live in, seeking to make it a place that reflected the unity of all the arts, and covered many areas of design in it’s curriculum. From textiles to typography, the school trained students to collaborate across all areas of creativity. Students could sketch a building, turn to friends for interior textile designs and ask teachers about furniture to fill the rooms. As Gropius put it, design should touch everything from “a teaspoon to a city.” The distinctive Helvetica typeface was created here, along with the formulation of colour handbooks that are still used in the graphic design world today.
Bauhaus took complex things – like typography and colour – and simplified them into their purest form.
Following turbulent war years, the school provided a new, exciting attitude towards the future for many. It prized inclusivity, stating that anyone “without regard to age or sex” would be considered for admission. As a result, lots of young Germans came to Weimar. Women wore their hair freely down and men shaved their heads, often painting swirly patterns onto their scalps. They took old Russian military uniforms, left by prisoners of war, and dyed them in deep reds, blues and greens, making systemic uniforms wearable for the everyday.
Embracing change, the school utilised modern materials in architecture like concrete, steel and glass. Concrete and steel provided strength, while glass allowed for natural light to illuminate rooms. Buildings from this time are often described as sterile, looking slightly clinical in design. However, these absent white spaces were due to design being dictated by practicality; Bauhaus architects considered human psychology, cleanliness and space, leading to affordable housing blocks rich in light and strength.
Many of the greatest Bauhaus designers witnessed horrors in the First World War. However, they came to the school and didn’t inject personal trauma into their work. Wartime experiences influenced a lot of 1920s artwork, but not Bauhaus. It marked design for functionality, for future generations, rather than a reflection of their own past.
It bravely marked a new type of modernism, one that created objects and buildings to be used in a new world.
Bauhaus rejected old musty armchairs heavy with memories. Instead, it embraced basic geometric shapes and cheap materials, leading to designs that looked almost dystopian, like they had skipped over the 20th century into the next. Chairs boiled down to a basic metal frame appeared in classroom corners, challenging the stigma of mass production and cheap prices, working to make products available to a wider market. Bauhaus made design accessible and therefore, in many ways, Bauhaus made design political.
The school faced challenges. In the face of Nazism in the 1930s, Bauhaus buildings were stormed and forced to shut down. Many teachers fled abroad and took their modern teachings with them, disseminating the Bauhaus philosophy into the wider world. Students like Anni Albers, Bauhaus-trained textile designer, took their learnings to America, giving the western world a lick of Bauhaus paint.
It became an iconic, international style the moment it was broken up in Germany.
So – what does Bauhaus teach us? The movement teaches us the power of collaboration. How pulling together artist, designer and maker can lead to incredible innovation. If we practice this idea, it’s possible to push the barriers of design in industries like the jewellery industry, by making seemingly impossible design possible by bringing production in-house.
Bauhaus also teaches us the importance of democracy in design. That all design should be available to everyone, encouraging us to question when it is not. When it comes to jewellery, if we continue to work with exciting materials like gold vermeil, the reality of turning world-class designer sketches into original one-off pieces becomes more and more possible.
Bauhaus leaves a legacy spotlighting the power of collaboration and the importance of making design for the masses. That’s why we love it.