“How Bauhaus is your house?” The question is posed at the end of the animated short “Bauhaus: Design in a Nutshell.”
I’d venture that most of our apartments and bedroom interiors include next to nothing that could be termed Bauhaus–or any other canonical design movement, for that matter. Barring, of course, that set of modestly priced Ikea cantilever chairs that fill out the dining room (or “area”).
Produced for The Open University’s OpenLearn website, the Bauhaus video is one of six themed teasers designed as bite-sized introductions to consequential aesthetic movements of the 20th century, such as Modernism and Arts and Crafts.
Featuring minimalist graphics inflected with bits of humor–delivered in large part by Ewan McGregor’s insouciant narration–the Bauhaus short charts a (too) brief history of the school and the commanding influence it would come to exert over modern life and design. Of course, the details are vague, and the video contents itself with a more simplistic view of the storied design school, which experienced at least three different phases from its founding in 1919 to its closing by the Nazis in 1933. Still, it’s filled with compelling little factoids and entertaining asides that paint a picture of what life was like at the Bauhaus (German, by the way, for “school for building”).
And what was it like? Pretty fun, it seems. (For more proof, look no further than their costume parties.) The Bauhaus–here, visually represented by a cardboard avatar of Walter Gropius’s glass and steel campus–was the forerunner of the “art school as an alternative way of life.” It was a place for unparalleled, and to some, indecent experimentation, and the results were by turns groundbreaking and silly.
In this creative environment, some of modern design’s greatest icons were born. Like the cantilever chair, which the short casually credits to “someone named Breuer” (Marcel Breuer, of course), whose designs for the tubular steel chair embraced the school’s mass-production ethos. While most people are familiar with Breuer’s design, they probably were unaware that the architect/designer shrugged off the chair’s success and instead looked ahead to the days when chairs were obsolete and people were sitting on “columns of air.”
Long after the Bauhaus’s demise, its emblematic aesthetics would be recycled ad infinitum, usually with little regard to the school’s original “ideas, reform, exploration, and vitality.” Knowingly or not, the video concludes with an apt conclusion of the state of Bauhaus today: it was all about “giving us more cool stuff for our apartments.”