It would appear that some believe the reputation of the Bauhaus to be overinflated. Architects in particular …

17.8.2019

When Alan Powers (Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects) began to speak to his packed audience, the audience was abuzz with excitement. By the end of his discourse, you could have heard a pin drop. And the chair Andrew Franklin summarised the event as the “slaughtering of a sacred cow”. Whatever did Powers say?

He stressed he wanted to assess the Bauhaus brand against reality, and these are some realities:

– Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel chair only became a classic in the 1960s.

– Marianne Brandt’s Coffee and Tea Set was handmade and expensive. It did not match professed Bauhaus aesthetics.

– There is nothing special about Bauhaus architecture. In any event Gropius’s ideas of aligning art with industry were taken from Britain in the first place. And when the Bauhaus was set up in Weimar, a Dutch school was set up in competition. Gropius apparently borrowed all the Dutch ideas. (Oooh, suddenly the twist in Theresia Enzensberger’s Blaupause/Blueprint doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all ….)

Powers argued that modernism wasn’t limited to Bauhaus. That Bauhaus wasn’t special, or unique. It was simply a part of a continuum and architecture would have developed as it did, even if the Bauhaus had not existed! The Bauhaus itself wanted to align form and function, to create a reliable NORM. “Only the Nazi sojourn made it seem exceptional,” he argued.

When Gropius left Germany for Britain, he didn’t take the UK by storm. Neither did Marcel Breuer nor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Their achievements here were really rather modest. Things looked up when they got to America, but not everyone is happy with the supposed Bauhaus influence, and Powers directed the audience to Tom Wolfe’s “evil, inaccurate but hugely fun” From Bauhaus to Our House.

“What we think is the influence of the Bauhaus probably isn’t,” he said. “The Bauhaus is dead but the zombie lives on.” It is well organised particularly by the Weimarer Stiftung, and its reputation is fuelled by nostalgia (the need for good news out of a difficult past), feeling and emotions. It’s almost as if Bauhaus has become part of German Romanticism.

The German government has invested €70m in Bauhaus centennial celebrations this year. Why? Because Bauhaus sells, and it is still selling.

“But it’s time to put the zombie back in its box,” said Powers. “To see the Bauhaus for what it really was.”

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Further reading:

Kathleen James Chakraborty: Modernism as Memory – Building Identity in the Federal Republic of Germany
Walter Dexel: Bauhaus Style – A Myth
Alan Powers: Bauhaus Goes West