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2. First years in Dessau, c 1925–c 1928

Source: Oxford University Press

In 1925 the Bauhaus transferred from Weimar to Dessau, an up-and-coming industrial town. A series of far-reaching changes were associated with this move. The preliminary course was lengthened from six months to a year, the workshop area was thoroughly overhauled and pottery, previously taught by Marcks, ceased to be part of the curriculum. There were also changes to the system by which an artist and a craftsman were in joint charge of each workshop: this had in fact latterly given rise to conflict, and so the running of the workshops was now partly entrusted to teachers known as Jungmeister. Having themselves trained at the Bauhaus, they now had the double qualification in art and craft that had been one of the declared objectives of Bauhaus teaching from the outset. It is interesting to note that some workshops not only had new people in charge but also were renamed in order to indicate an awareness of modern industrial demands: for example the former printing department under Feininger became the advertising department led by Herbert Bayer. Moreover, in Dessau the whole school was given the secondary title of Hochschule für Gestaltung.

The general conditions governing the continued work of the Bauhaus clearly improved. With substantial financial resources at its disposal, from 1926 the Bauhaus was housed in a new glass and reinforced concrete building designed by Gropius. This was a milestone of Functionalism. The building contained the school, workshops and students’ dormitory in three wings, which created a dynamic asymmetric shape. The designs of the outside walls corresponded to the different interior spaces, the workshops, for example, having huge spectacular sheets of glass. The building’s design exemplified the Functionalist desire to develop freely an architectural order derived from science and technology.

In Dessau the metal workshop and the furniture workshop were among the most successful. In the furniture workshop Marcel Breuer, who had been at the Bauhaus as a student since 1920, succeeded in developing armchairs and chairs made of tubular steel, a breakthrough in designing furniture appropriate to its function and adapted to the potential of industrial mass production (for illustration see Breuer, Marcel). The most outstanding characteristics of this metal furniture were its small mass, its transparency, lightness and ease of movement (the base of the frame acting as a skid).

Under Moholy-Nagy the metal workshop continued to set the standards for the gradual transformation of the Bauhaus into a modern laboratory of prototypes for industrial mass production. This applies particularly to the classic, innovative designs of light fittings by such designers as Marianne Brandt, Karl J. Jucker (1902), Wilhelm Wagenfeld or Gyula Pap (1899–1983).

A similar emphasis on industrial design was apparent in the textile department run by Gunta Stölzl from 1927 to 1931. Interest was concentrated completely on the design and manufacture of such utilitarian materials as furnishing textiles , and experiments were also begun on the use and aesthetic effects of new types of materials, for example synthetic fibres.

The workshop for mural painting in Dessau was taken over by Hinnerk Scheper (1897–1957). In contrast to Kandinsky’s interest in abstract monumental painting, for which there was no longer any appropriate setting in modern architecture, Scheper placed emphasis on the problems of using colour in creating buildings and interiors, as shown for example by his colour master-plan for the Bauhaus building in Dessau (1926; N. B. Scheper priv. col., see 1988 Budapest exh. cat., p. 179). However, Kandinsky continued to develop on a smaller scale a sophisticated abstract vocabulary (e.g. Several Circles, 1926; New York, Guggenheim).

The same processes of modernization can also be recognized in the work of the advertising department. Bayer designed such severe typefaces as the universal, contour-free shadow type, which made a decisive contribution to the rationalization and categorization of script and typography, purging everyday graphic design of traces of historicism or Expressionism.

While a strictly utilitarian approach was generally dominant at Dessau, the sculptural workshop under Schmidt was the exception. The sculptural workshop had the character of a foundation department for the systematic study of such basic forms as the cube, sphere, cone and cylinder, and the complex interpenetrations of such forms. It also produced props for the Bauhaus stage (directed by Schlemmer) and fulfilled commissions for trade fairs and exhibition stands.

This phase of reorganization and consolidation culminated in 1927 with the setting up of the long overdue department of architecture with the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer as head. It was thanks to Meyer that the systematic teaching of architecture was instituted on a scientific footing, discarding all aesthetic considerations since they were at variance with his socialist-inspired Functionalism. Gropius’s leadership came to an end in spring 1928. Worn down by administrative duties and having been the butt of conservative criticism both in Weimar and in Dessau, he elected to work as an independent architect in Berlin: Meyer took over as Director. At the same time Moholy-Nagy (who was succeeded as head of the preliminary course by Josef Albers), Bayer and Breuer left the Bauhaus; Muche had already left Dessau in 1927.

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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