Rambassun (Sandeep) Sewpal

Chartered Architect, Principal at Sandeep Sewpal Architect .  

In 1919, Walter Gropius launched the Bauhaus movement, which literally means “House of Building’’ following World War I in attempt to break away from the past in the teaching of architecture and design. The aim of the Bauhaus movement was to replace the Victorian-era design of ornament and decoration on buildings to a plain style to be in line with a machine age which later would be known as the modernist architecture. The Bauhaus movement had for motto, “Rethinking the world’’ which revolutionised the world in 14 years of existence with the idea of building at ‘’human scale’’ compared to the idea of the time, of grandiose neoclassical style. In 1933, the NAZI regime considered the movement too ‘’degenerate’’ and exerted pressure to close down the Bauhaus school. After the closure of the school in Berlin, Mies van der Rohe and other staff left Germany to emigrate to all over the world to spread the concept of Bauhaus.

In 2019, Germany is celebrating the centenary of this great art movement with an extensive programme of exhibitions and events to show the world a style that is still fresh and modern even after 100 years. The roots of Bauhaus are linked with the emancipation of craftsmanship. Germany was probably late to industrialise compared to UK and France. But the need to reform the educational system and art schools to meet the transitional step from craftsmanship techniques to industrial technology was the goal to achieve.

Poster by Joost Schmidt

The process was almost identical to the English Arts and Crafts movement founded by the artist William Morris in the 1860s, where old handicraft techniques were revived to be used in the production of high quality goods. On the 1st April 1919, Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in Weimar and created the Weimar State Bauhaus from the merger of the former Großherzoglich-Sächsische Kunstschule (Grand Ducal Saxonian School of Arts) and the Großherzoglich- Sächsische Kunstgewerbeschule (Grand Ducal Saxonian School of Arts and Crafts).

The school was started with the appointment of high calibre artists and designers such László Moholy-Nagy and Wassily Kandinsky among others who in turn recruited their most talented students to teach. The idea behind the Bauhaus style was to make art once again serve a social role and unite all crafts-based disciplines under a common philosophy. Bauhaus encouraged the individual development of a student’s artistic talents within a pluralistic educational concept. This new educational programme gradually gave rise to a pragmatic, functional approach. But due to the rise of the right wing party Thüringer Ordnungsbund, Bauhaus was forced to move to the industrial city of Dessau in 1925. It was in Dessau that Weimar State Bauhaus became Bauhaus – School of Design. The city served as inspiration to create designing models for industrial mass production. The school moved to the famous Bauhaus building in Dessau in 1926 where it reached its full potential and attained international reputation. In 1928, Hannes Meyer served as its Director and in 1930, he was succeeded by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the last Director of the Bauhaus. With the victory of the NAZI party in Dessau’s municipal election of 1931, the Bauhaus was dissolved in 1932. The Bauhaus moved to Berlin but due to political repression from the NAZI regime and drastic cutbacks in funding, it was finally closed down on 20 July 1933. László Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937 while Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe achieved great fame as influential architects in the USA. The Bauhaus ideas continued to live on despite the closure of the school in Germany and changed the world through functional design.

Bauhaus building in Dessau, 1925-1926 designed by Walter Gropius – Photograph: Alamy

The Bauhaus movement brought art into industry and inspired generations of architects worldwide for decades. Following World War II, the world embraced modernism during its reconstruction and at that specific point in time, people in urban regions agreed that public buildings should be more aesthetically pleasing than their homes. From 1945 to the 1980s, architecture played a central role in political decision-making in many European countries and the USA. In the 1980s, Francois Mitterrand launched a series of architecture competitions under the name ‘’Grandes Opérations d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme’’ to create a new set of modern public buildings in Paris, the city of monuments such as Arab World Institute, Parc de la Villette, Pyramide du Louvre and the National Library of France among others to symbolise France’s role in art, politics and economy at the end of the 20th century. In the world, political leaders agree that the success of a country is measured by the quality of its public spaces namely its public squares, parks, gardens, beaches, roads and pathways – and not only by its economic growth. In the context of Mauritius, 51 years after our independence, we need well-designed public buildings and public spaces more than ever before to enrich our lives physically, psychologically, spiritually and emotionally – and leave a legacy for generations to come. Otherwise poor architecture will continue to destroy the hopes and inspirations of many in this country!

Bibliography

SMOCK, W., The Bauhaus Ideal Then & Now, 1st Ed. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 2004.

ANKER, P., From Bauhaus to Eco-House, 1st Ed. Louisiana State University Press, 2010.