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Definition: Bauhaus from Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable

The 20th century's most important movement in art and design opened in 1919 when the German architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) established the school of this name in Weimar. His aim was to return to first principles in every form and so end the 19th-century division into 'art' on the one hand and 'craft' on the other. The name itself means literally 'house of building'.

Summary Article: BAUHAUS
From The Edinburgh Dictionary of Modernism

The Bauhaus was an art school that spread the ideas of modern, CONSTRUCTIVIST design among the young generation of Western Europe. The school had three different directors: Walter Gropius (1919–28), Hannes Meyer (1928–30) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1930–3). It went through three different phases in three German cities: Weimar (1919–25), Dessau (1925–32) and Berlin (1932–3). In the fourteen years of its existence, the Bauhaus taught some 1,250 students, many of whom made major contributions to artistic developments in the twentieth century.

The school was founded in March 1919 by a group of like-minded artists and craftsmen, as a bold EXPERIMENT that united the former Grand-Ducal School of Arts and Craft in Weimar (which had been closed during World WAR I) with the Saxon Academy of Art. Their aim was to reform art education by bringing together different artistic disciplines and to overcome the divide that traditionally separated the arts from the crafts (see ARTS AND CRAFTS). The name ‘Bauhaus’ created an associative link to the medieval ‘Bauhütte’, a cooperative association between the various crafts required for the construction of major edifices such as cathedrals and castles.

The principal aims of the Bauhaus were: to overcome the divide between artist and craftsman, between fine arts and applied arts; to reunite the artistic disciplines in a ‘Total Work of Art’ (GESAMTKUNST-WERK); to close the divide between teacher and pupil through collective working methods in workshops; and to reform society through a new concept of artistic creation. During its first phase in Weimar, the Bauhaus was led by a group of artists who had been politically active in the REVOLUTIONARY uprising of November 1918 and who pursued a programme of renewal and social reform based on EXPRESSIONIST principles. However, with the rappel à l'ordre and the emerging trend towards a New Sobriety, the artistic and political orientation of the school's founding fathers became an anachronism and made them lose their appeal to young students. When, in September 1922, the Constructivist International (KI) met in Weimar, the group's attitude towards the Bauhaus was derogatory and they considered the institution ‘an hotel for invalid artists’.

The year 1922 was in many ways a transition period for the Bauhaus. A group of some fifteen loosely organised Constructivists (the KURI group under the direction of Farkas Molnár) had been founded in December 1921 and was given reinforcement by Van Doesburg's DE STIJL course held in Weimar from 8 March to 8 July 1922. In October 1922, Johannes Itten handed in his resignation and was replaced, in March 1923, by László Moholy-Nagy. In the stage workshop, Oskar Schlemmer succeeded Lothar Schreyer. At the summer exhibition of 1923, the theme of ‘Art and TECHNOLOGY – A New Unity’ indicated that the transformation of the Expressionist art school into a Constructivist institution was taking shape.

Between 1922 and 1925, the Bauhaus remodelled its curriculum and began to offer courses that combined theoretical enquiry with practical experimentation. After deconstructing a work of art and stripping it down to its basic components, these constituent parts were then reassembled according to the principles of elementary design and material aesthetics. Initial instruction was carried out in a foundation course where students were trained to analyse the basic components of all art forms, to understand their material characteristics and to investigate how the material affected the artistic forms derived from it. Successful completion of the six-month probation period (twelve months as of 1925) in the foundation course allowed them to enroll for training with a chosen master in one of the workshop disciplines, where they received both theoretical tuition (art history, composition, structural analysis, material science, anatomy, chemistry, optics) and practical training (mural painting, woodcarving, stonemasonry, metalwork, cabinet making, weaving, printing and bookbinding).

In 1933, under pressure from the Nazi regime, the school was closed and many teachers and students emigrated. Mies van der Rohe re-settled in Chicago, where in 1937 he founded the New Bauhaus, later to become the Institute of Design, part of the Illinois Institute of Technology. After the Nazi period, the Ulm School of Design, founded by Max Bill in 1953, continued the Bauhaus tradition and influenced international design education.

  • Whitford, Frank (1984) Bauhaus. Thames & Hudson London.
  • Wingler, Hans Maria (ed.) (1976) The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, 2nd edn. MIT Press Cambridge MA.
  • Günter Berghaus
    © in this edition Edinburgh University Press, 2018; © in the individual contributions is retained by the authors

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