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Bauhaus and Modernism as Art & Design Movements

Bauhaus was a school of art in Germany that was started in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius to address some of the challenges being faced in design. During this time, traditional building techniques relying heavily on materials such as wood, stone, and bricks were being by novel construction approaches using glass, steel, and concrete. With the foundation of the Bauhaus school, Gropius created an innovative curriculum inspired by the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, which means creating total work of art, whereby all various forms of art would be combined and integrated into one. However, the school was shut in 1933 under political pressure from the Nazis in Weimer, but this development allowed its staff members to move around the world and spread the underlying concepts of the Bauhaus. The underlying concepts of Bauhaus permeated almost every design area including the construction and fashion industries together with typography among other related sectors. This paper argues that Bauhaus contributed significantly to the modernism movement in art and design. The paper begins with a brief historical background of Bauhaus before discussing how this concept led to modernism.

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Bauhaus was born out of necessity with several historical factors converging to facilitate the emergence of this concept. Industrialization led to the emergence of mass production and with the rising urban working and middle classes, there was an overriding desire for beautification as material progress was overtaking livability. Therefore, there was an overarching need for designers to come up with novel ideas to address these needs. At the same time, World War I happened and when it ended in 1919, Europe was in ruins and designers were ready to explore radical theories in design, art, and materials. Therefore, in 1919, against the backdrop of these circumstances, architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus School of Art in Weimar.

Gropius had a unique utopian vision for Bauhaus to overhaul the traditional thinking in design and define modern life. In explaining his vision and philosophy in his founding manifesto for Bauhaus, Gropius famously said:

Let us together desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future, which will combine everything – architecture and sculpture and painting, in a single form which will one day rise towards the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith (Saletnik and Schuldenfrei 16).

As such, the Bauhaus doctrine hinged on the belief that form and function could be integrated and fused with all other branches of art and design to make a holistic, harmonious, and seamless whole (Findeli “The Bauhaus Project” 39). However, at the time, before the foundation of the school, Gropius could not find an institution that could execute his vision, and thus he started the Bauhaus school. In executing his design philosophy, Gropius wrote a curriculum that could be easily taught to students, gathered a team of willing teachers, and opened the course to anyone who was willing to study a basic course in introduction to materials. No academic requirements were needed for a student to enroll in this basic course. This strategy worked as hundreds of students joined the school and the Bauhaus movement started in earnest.

The Bauhaus was the most authoritative and influential school in art, design, and architecture in the 20th century. In its formative years, the school majored on individual handmade craft, but it evolved to adopt an industrial approach whereby art would be merged with technology to facilitate the mass production of products (Bartram et al. 73). The underlying principle of the Bauhaus was uniting people and ideas to create a new way of life touching all aspects of human living. By the end of the 1920s, Bauhaus had become a symbol of progressiveness in modern design.

However, Nazi Germany was concerned with Bauhaus philosophy and ideologies. It was classified in the same category as Expressionist paintings and atonal music, which was closely associated with Jews, and thus the Nazis sought to eliminate this school. The concept of uniting all various forms of art, design, and architecture and applying all areas of human living for social regeneration was highly radical for the Nazis (Watson and von Osten 27). The school was initially state-funded, but in 1932, the local authorities in Dessau voted unanimously to close the school (Hochman and Ashton 259). It was reopened as a private entity, but it could not survive the overwhelming influence of Nazism in Germany at the time. Therefore, in 1933, the Bauhaus was closed indefinitely which marked its dissolution. However, the unwarranted closure of the school precipitated the birth and spread of an enduring Bauhaus legacy and philosophy around the world, which marked the age of modernism.

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Bauhaus and Modernism

Modernism is a global movement that emerged in the early decades of the 20th century seeking to align societal values and culture with values of modern industrial life. Therefore, the underlying principle of the Bauhaus could be termed as modernist in nature. Gropius sought to break away from the conventional practices in design, architecture, and art by introducing what would become avant-garde ideologies in this area (Friedewald 44). The idea was to incorporate all other areas of human life in design to address some of the societal challenges being faced at the time. At the same time, Gropius believed that anyone could be trained in the area of design and use those skills in different professions, even in typography. This assertion underscores the sentiments held in Gropius’ founding manifesto and the dream to create the building of the future, whereby “everything” would be put together including painting, sculpture, and architecture.

Therefore, in the quest to accomplish this dream, Gropius hired people with radical ideas and willing to change art and design. One such individual was a former elementary teacher, Johannes Itten, who worked as the first instructor in the school’s innovative preliminary course, which was multidisciplinary in nature. Itten introduced gymnastics, breathing exercises, and meditation in teaching design (Friedewald 108). This approach was revolutionary, but it carried the vision of Gropius and the Bauhaus ideology. In this case, students were allowed to play around with wood, stone, glass, clay, and cloth among other materials that were being used in design classrooms. The objective was to allow learners to transform and assemble materials and in the process discover their individual properties and how they related to one another. In addition, students were taught about the principles of color and form to identify the specific media to which they would be adapted the best. In other words, the work of teachers was to transmit concepts to students while at the same time encouraging them to develop individual creativity and expression.

In other words, in the Bauhaus, ideas were allowed to flow freely with students being given basic concepts about design before being allowed to apply their creativity and inventiveness. This approach formed the idiosyncratic extremes in design education and the advancement of a personal vision that defined the Bauhaus ideology. Students were re-grounded in new perceptions about the basics of making objects. Ultimately, Itten was replaced by László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian painter and photographer, who shared Gropius’ vision of incorporating technology with art for the creation of desired and revolutionary future in design and human life (Hochman and Ashton 265). At the center of learning at Bauhaus was the novel idea of integrating properties and uses of materials, which was a major aspect of modernism in art, design, and architecture at the time. However, the Bauhaus was primarily based in Germany and it could not have influenced modernism around the world without moving beyond this country. Therefore, one might wonder why and how the Bauhaus ideology found its way into making a global impact.

Therefore, this is how the Bauhaus, whether by design or coincidence, moved beyond Germany and into the world. The Bauhaus school attracted people from various places around the world, and thus it could be argued that this scenario created a global presence of this school of thought. However, this argument is partly true as the reasons for the spread of the Bauhaus ideology were mainly political. After the closure of the school in Germany in 1932, the underlying political pressures and forces could not allow its former students and teachers to continue living in the country. Therefore, the majority of them escaped to other countries for fear of political persecution as they were being accused of promoting communism. As such, these former students and teachers sought asylum in other territories, especially in Europe and the US.

The Bauhaus founder, Gropius, moved to London on October 18, 1934 (Powers 3) before proceeding to the US where he became a long-serving professor at Harvard University. While at the institution, in collaboration with other individuals, such as the then dean and founder of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Joseph Hudnut, Gropius initiated changes in curriculum and teaching methodology to promote the concept of modernism (Pearlman 13). Additionally, after leaving Germany, Moholy-Nagy went to the Netherlands and later moved to the UK spreading the Bauhaus philosophy. He later migrated to the US and settled in Chicago where he founded the Chicago Institute of Design. Another influential figure, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who once headed the Bauhaus School of Art in Germany, moved to New York where he introduced modernist architecture and took part in the building of various skyscrapers around the city at the time (Hochman and Ashton 240). Therefore, the Bauhaus became a movement and it spread all over the world, starting with major cities in Europe, the US, and Asia.

The Bauhaus ideology became popular due to the various movements that it embraced at the time. It should be remembered that the underlying principle about the Bauhaus concept was the idea of unity and bringing together people from different walks of life by allowing them to infuse their ideas in design. Therefore, the Bauhaus movement invited other movements such as expressionism and functionalism. In the various places where former students and teachers moved to after leaving Germany, the Bauhaus ideology was exposed to other concepts and contexts in design, art, and architecture (Hochman and Ashton 132). In the process, modernism spread widely allowing people to be creative with their ideas in various areas whether in construction, fashion, architecture, interior design, or typography.

In architecture, the Bauhaus made a lasting impact by revolutionizing the way buildings were designed and constructed. First, Europe was in an urgent need to house millions of people after the destruction caused by World War I. The concept of mass production of houses was thus the only viable option in addressing this problem. Architects turned to the Bauhaus ideology to design taller buildings using the latest technologies at the time. By bringing together different professionals in the creation of building designs, the Bauhaus style was characterized by proportionately balanced geometric shapes with an emphasis on functionality.

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In interior design, the new tall buildings required modernized furniture and interiors to match the avant-garde designs. Therefore, interior designers started embracing the Bauhaus philosophy of openness and simplicity. Minimalism in interior design was embraced as the guiding principle in the attempt to appreciate space. In art, the Bauhaus ideology made lasting impacts (Lupton and Miller 87). Artists started emphasizing functionality to achieve dimensionality in their works. Ultimately, the Bauhaus influenced every aspect of human living including home set-ups, fashion designs, writing, and hairdressing. In fashion, designers started applying the concept of less is more attitude associated with the Bauhaus, whereby the focus was on creating strong geometric forms using contrastive colors. In hairdressing, professionals would focus on eliminating the superfluous by adopting aureate geometric styles. Even in writing, the Bauhaus had a significant influence. It introduced the concept of sans-serif typography, which was an internationalist style of writing with easy to read fonts devoid of the gothic distractions associated with the then-popular “blackletter” fonts. The commonly used fonts in modern times, such as Calibri and Helvetica are products of Bauhaus typography.

The Bauhaus also influenced the way teaching and learning design takes place. Initially, students would be given specific instructions on what was expected of them. In other words, learners were being taught what to think instead of how to think, which severely affected creativity. However, with the entry of the Bauhaus and teachers like Itten, learners were given the room to exercise their creativity (Findeli “Bauhaus Education” 33). They only needed to be introduced to the basics of design before being allowed to personalize their designs based on their ideas. This form of learning would later form the basis of curriculum development during the modernism era.


The Bauhaus school of thought started when Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus School of Art in Weimer, Germany, in 1919. After World War I, Europe lay in ruins and there was a need to come up with a novel idea in design, art, and architecture to help solve the many societal problems, especially in the construction industry. Gropius seized this opportunity and introduced his revolutionary idea of creating a building whereby painting, sculpture, and architecture would be combined in design to form a single unified unit. This ideology played a central role in the emergence and spread of modernism across the world starting from the early decades of the 20th century. The closure of the Bauhaus school in 1932 forced its former students and teachers to migrate to other countries in Europe and the US, where they spread the Bauhaus philosophy and ideas. Therefore, it suffices to say that the Bauhaus ideology shaped almost all areas of modernism in areas of art, design, and architecture as explained in this paper.


Bartram, Alan, et al. Bauhaus, Modernism and the Illustrated Book. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

FFandel Alain. “Bauhaus Education and After: Some Critical Reflections.” The Structurist, 31 (1991): 32-43.

Fandel, Alain. “The Bauhaus Project: An Archetype for Design Education in the New Millennium.” The Structurist, 39 (1999): 36-43.

Friedewald, Boris, et al. Bauhaus. Munich: Prestel, 2009.

Hochman, Elaine, and Dore Ashton. Bauhaus: Crucible of Modernism. New York: Fromm International, 1997.

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Lupton, Ellen, and Abbott Miller, eds. ABC’s of the Bauhaus: The Bauhaus and Design Theory. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1991.

Pearlman, Jill. Inventing American Modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus Legacy at Harvard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007.

Powers, Alan. Bauhaus Goes West: Modern Art and Design in Britain and America. London: Thames & Hudson, 2019.

Saletnik, Jeffrey, and Robin Schuldenfrei, eds. Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse ,and Modernism. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Watson, Grant, and Marion von Osten. Bauhaus Imaginista: A School in the World. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Annotated Bibliography

Bartram, Alan, et al. Bauhaus, Modernism and the Illustrated Book. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

In this definitive book, Bartram et al. discuss how Bauhaus and modernism shaped the course of typography and book design. Bartram is an accomplished author and book designer and he explores the works of prominent individuals, such as Paul Rand, Jan Tschichold, F.T. Marinetti, and Max Bill, to highlight how Bauhaus and modernism revolutionized the field of graphic design. In the introduction, Bartram explores Bauhaus – the famous German art and design school, which changed design in various areas including architecture. According to this book, the main objective of Bauhaus was to revolutionize visual expression by integrating architecture, art, design, and industry by merging practical, theoretical, and academic fields into one – a feat that had not hitherto been attempted. Bartram observes that despite Bauhaus being in existence for only 14 years from 1920 to 1934, its philosophy shaped the visual appearance of virtually every modernist artifact from then untie modern times. This book is written engagingly with in-depth illustrations, and thus I find it a valuable resource, especially for my work.

Fandel, Alain. “Bauhaus Education and After: Some Critical Reflections.” The Structurist, 31 (1991): 32-43.

In this journal article, Findeli, a distinguished professor of industrial design, discusses the influence of Bauhaus in education and the surrounding criticisms concerning this school in Germany. One of the main critics of this school of design, Victor Papanek, holds that the majority of ideas associated with this school, especially in workshops on the welding gun, circular saw, and drill press should be modified to be in tandem with emerging technologies in modern-day schools. FFidelityargues that Bauhaus and the entire modernist movement has been a target for critics who question the underlying theoretical and methodological corpus of this school of thought, but some of the criticisms are based on prejudices and assumptions. While discussing and deconstructing these criticisms, the author highlights the central role that Bauhaus education has shaped art and design starting from the early twentieth century to modern times. Even though the author focuses on criticism towards Bauhaus education, I find this source informative as in the process, Findeli underscores the important role that Bauhaus has played in informing art and design education.

Fandel, Alain. “The Bauhaus Project: An Archetype for Design Education in the New Millennium.” The Structurist, 39 (1999): 36-43.

FFandelextensively discusses the architectural ideals of Walter Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus school. The author argues that the Bauhaus project is still unfinished and if its original objectives were pursued impartially, it could centrally inform the future of design education. The article examines and discusses the central features of the original Bauhaus project and how they remain applicable in the 21st century. The author focuses on Bauhaus as a project by zeroing on its original intentions as opposed to the achievement of its founders, such as Walter Gropius. This approach gives the article some objectivity, which is needed in the quest to understand the underlying Bauhaus principles. Findeli argues that at the core of Bauhaus’ intentions is the desire to shape and revolutionize design education, and thus the Bauhaus project is not just a mere art historical composition but a premise to challenge the future of design education. I liked the objectivity of this article as it offers important information concerning the Bauhaus philosophy and how it could be applied in modern-day design education.

Friedewald, Boris, et al. Bauhaus. Munich: Prestel, 2009.

In this book, Friedewald et al. discuss Bauhaus, what it was, and how it purposefully contributed toward modernism. According to the authors, the underlying principle of Bauhaus is the idea of novel unity whereby appearances, styles, and art are gathered and integrated to form an indivisible unit. Such a unit is holistic and complete by itself and in the end, it generates its own meaning via animated life. According to the authors, the adherents of Bauhaus practiced an anti-academic education and through a concept of utopia, they sought to design for the mankind of the future. Friedewald et al. argue that Bauhaus took deliberate actions to envision a future that did not exist and make it a reality. In the third chapter, this book discusses how Bauhaus school was a laboratory of modernism by breaking away from the conventions of the time, which were widely used in design education. I found this book resourceful to my work because it extensively explores how Bauhaus influenced modernism.

Hochman, Elaine, and Dore Ashton. Bauhaus: Crucible of Modernism. New York: Fromm International, 1997.

In this authoritative book, Hochman and Ashton explore how Bauhaus influenced and contributed centrally to modernism even though it lasted only for 14 years. The authors argue that Bauhaus school is the most illustrious artistic institution of contemporary times. According to this book, the ideas that were forged within the Bauhaus school literally changed the design education and practice. As such, almost everything that is worn, read, or lived in modern times has some element of ideas from Bauhaus school. Hochman and Ashton go back to discuss the turbulent circumstances under which Bauhaus emerged, specifically with the fall of Imperial Germany in 1919. Therefore, the authors discuss the day-to-day perspectives of Bauhaus school, those who taught in it, their perspectives, and what influenced how they perceived design education. This book uses primary sources from the school’s archives to paint the right picture of Bauhaus, which is different from what has been presented in the US concerning the school. I find this source useful as it provides a clear picture of how Bauhaus emerged and the underlying driving forces.

Lupton, Ellen, and Abbott Miller, eds. ABC’s of the Bauhaus: The Bauhaus and Design Theory. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1991.

This book by Lupton and Miller traces how the legendary Bauhaus school, transformed architecture and design starting from the early 20th century to contemporary times. When it was published in 1991, the book presented the standard political history of Bauhaus through the lenses of geometry, early childhood education, psychoanalysis, and pop culture. In addition, the book is a manifesto of Bauhaus ideals, aims, and achievements. It achieves this objective by combining craftsmanship, typography, and editorial concepts surrounding Bauhaus. The authors present essays by various prominent contributors addressing the different aspects of Bauhaus, such as how it was associated with the Weimar culture and the universal geometric design by Hebert Bayer among other contributors. I liked the book because it has many illustrations of extensive samples of artistic symbols and typographical designs. The book offers a wide range of examples of how Bauhaus influenced design practice and education by creating the needed platform to herald modernism.

Pearlman, Jill. Inventing American Modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus Legacy at Harvard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007.

In this well-researched book, Pearlman departs from the commonly assumed notion that Walter Gropius was solely responsible for effecting changes at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). According to the author, starting from the 1930s, the Harvard GSD contributed significantly to shaping a new form of modern architecture and in the creation of a modern city. Pearlman argues that most historians and scholars erroneously attribute the introduction of these changes at the Harvard GSD to Walter Gropius. Contrary to this common belief, Pearlman notes that Gropius was not the only one responsible for implementing changes at the GSD but he worked in collaboration with others, such as the school’s dean and founder, Joseph Hudnut. This book offers a fresh outlook on the issue of how the Bauhaus philosophy found its way to the GSD. I found it resourceful because, in the process of explaining the roles of both Gropius and Hudnut in effecting change in the GSD, the author underscores the influence of Bauhaus in American design education.

Powers, Alan. Bauhaus Goes West: Modern Art and Design in Britain and America. London: Thames & Hudson, 2019.

Powers explores the Bauhaus school to highlights its legacy within the modernism context and its influence in education, design, and art. This book is a story of cultural and artistic exchanges that took place between Germany and the West starting from the early 1920s to the end of the 20th century. Powers argues that while initially the Bauhaus was perceived as an educational experiment, it ultimately evolved into a style and movement that would eventually shape modernism. The book is based on meticulous research whereby the author reexamines the various speculations about the understanding of Bauhaus. One of the interesting aspects of this book is that it delves deeper to explore the theory and practice of design, architecture, and art before and after the Bauhaus. It authoritatively challenges the notion that the 1920s were characterized by reactionary conservatism by highlighting some of the neglected attributes of an avant-garde that paralleled the Bauhaus. Anyone interested in the objective history of Bauhaus will find this book useful and informative.

Saletnik, Jeffrey, and Robin Schuldenfrei, eds. Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse and Modernism. New York: Routledge, 2013.

In this book, Saletnik and Schuldenfrei revisit the meaning and status of Bauhaus objects via the lenses of different contributors talking about the history of the school. This book places various Bauhaus art objects within the different cultural, historical, and artistic contexts within which they were created and received. Various distinguished scholars, such as Alina Payne, Magdalena Droste, and Fredrick Schwartz discuss different issues associated with Bauhaus including photography, archival research design education and instruction, copyright laws, and theoretical models associated with this school of thought. The book uses a thematic structure to revisit the history of the Bauhaus and re-evaluate its continuing legacy in contemporary times. I found this book quite informative as it uses thematic structure and analysis to give an objective understanding of the Bauhaus and how it has been influential in the current period as part of modernism. This book is relevant to my research as it significantly addresses my thesis.

Watson, Grant, and Marion von Osten. Bauhaus Imaginista: A School in the World. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.

In this book, von Osten and Watson give an elaborate account of how Bauhaus rallied the idea of artists coming together to work as a community in its deep-running spirit of unity and cohesion. According to the authors, the idea behind the Bauhaus was to create a meaningful link between everyday life and works of art, design, education, and architecture. In other words, part of the Bauhaus’ mission was to encourage people to draw inspiration from their day-to-day encounters and apply the same in design and art. As such, the book widely discusses the influence of the Bauhaus in shaping modernism and its philosophy and history from an international perspective beyond Germany where the idea was born. I liked the book because it has many visual presentations of the Bauhaus objects in art and design placed in various art institutes, campus galleries, and museums around the world. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history and global influence of the Bauhaus.

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