‘Less is more’ said the third and final Bauhaus director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Given that this school survived fewer than 15 years, yet exerted more influence on modern design than any other, Mies was probably right. As Frank Whitford put it in Bauhaus: World of Art (1984): ‘Everyone sitting on a chair with a tubular steel frame, using an adjustable reading lamp or living in a house partly or entirely constructed from prefabricated elements is benefiting from a revolution…largely brought about by the Bauhaus.'
Founded in Weimar in 1919 by Berlin architect Walter Gropius, this multidisciplinary school aimed to abolish the distinction between ‘fine’ and ‘applied’ arts, and to unite the artistic with daily life. Gropius reiterated that form follows function and exhorted his students to craft items with an eye towards mass production. Consequently, Bauhaus products stripped away decoration and ornamentation and returned to the fundamentals of design, with strong, clean lines.
From the very beginning, the movement attracted a roll call of the era’s greatest talents, including Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer, plus now-legendary product designers Marianne Brandt, Marcel Breuer and Wilhelm Wagenfeld. After conservative politicians closed the Weimar school in 1925, the Bauhaus crew found a more welcoming reception in industrial Dessau.
Even here, though, right-wing political pressure continued against what was seen as the Bauhaus’ undermining of traditional values, and Gropius resigned as director in 1928. He was succeeded by Swiss-born Hannes Meyer, whose Marxist sympathies meant that he, in turn, was soon replaced by Mies. The latter was at the helm when the school moved to Berlin in 1932 to escape Nazi oppression, but to no avail. Just one year later, the Nazis dissolved the school and its leading lights fled the country.
But the movement never quite died. After WWII, Gropius took over as director of Harvard’s architecture school, while Mies (the architect of New York’s Seagram Building) held the same post at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Both men found long-lasting global fame as purveyors of Bauhaus’ successor, the so-called International Style.
The best way to take in all of the Bauhaus sites is to buy a day ticket (adult/concession €22/15.50), which covers the exhibitions in the Bauhausgebäude, German-language guided tours of the Meisterhäuser and a guided tour of the Törten Estate. It also includes free local public transport and is valid for 24 hours from the time of purchase.
You can also opt for separate tours (€5 per person). Foreign language audioguides are available. For more information, see www.bauhaus-dessau.de.