100 years of Bauhaus: Myths and misunderstandings

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

Bauhaus is white

Color was an important element in Bauhaus architecture. The state Bauhaus school in Dessau, which opened in 1926, was painted gray, white and red on the outside. In old black and white photographs, the red doors, the gray facade and the blue or yellow painted walls in the rooms are not visible. Color was intended to underline the architecture and serve as orientation.

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

Bauhaus is functional

True, but not always. Of all things, this icon of Bauhaus design, designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld in 1924, first turned out to be a flop. The hemispherical lampshade burst because it became too hot. The lamp had to be redesigned. In addition, it is now known that Wagenfeld designed the lamp not alone, but together with Carl Jacob Jucker.

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

Bauhaus means right angles

The straight line and the right angle are the hallmarks of Bauhaus. For the most part, that is. But Bauhaus architecture also worked with curves. Commissioned by a brewery, the restaurant Kornhaus in Dessau-Rosslau, located on the Elbe River, was built between 1929 and 1930 by the architect Carl Fieger.

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

Bauhaus is a home improvement store

In Germany, Bauhaus is a household name. Many regularly visit the home improvement stores of the same name, which are found in every major city from the north to the south. Unfortunately, the school of design in Dessau didn't register the name "Bauhaus" as a trademark. That's why, in 1960, it also went to a carpenter from Heidelberg who turned it into a business.

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

You can drink Bauhaus

Bauhaus is not in everything that says Bauhaus. This also applies to the Bauhaus burgundy, offered by a discount chain in Germany. The swill is supposed to look like a masterpiece. Still, the winegrower managed to convince the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin with the quality, and he was allowed to use one of their motifs, a 12-part color circle, for the design of the label.

Weissenhof community in Stuttgart (picture-alliance/dpa)

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

Bauhaus is for everyone

Bauhaus architects envisioned an architecture for a new kind of person. The focus was on the neglected ones in history: the workers. They moved into the white boxes, but weren't comfortable. They hung curtains in the windows and were reprimanded for it, or they hung pictures on the wall to make things cozier. The designers did not like that at all.

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

Things are great in a Bauhaus building

Narrow doors, low railings, thin walls. Anyone who lived with a family in a Bauhaus house needed a good night's sleep. But the walls were paper-thin, so it was loud. And children certainly didn't want to spend much time in their tiny children's rooms. They preferred to romp through the narrow staircase. It was easier to live in a Bauhaus apartment in theory than in practice.

8 misunderstandings about Bauhaus

Bauhaus is masculine

When the Bauhaus opened in Weimar in 1919, there was a rush of applicants. More women than men enrolled. This was a novelty. Until then, women had not been able to attend an art school. Unless they asked their husband's permission. Anni Albers was one of the women who began studying there in 1922.

Bauhaus is considered an export hit from Germany. Many who love the famous school of design reduce the fundamental ideas to one bold formula: square, practical, good. Here are eight misunderstandings about Bauhaus.

Germany's Bauhaus architecture is famous around the world for its clarity. The pioneers of a new design concentrated on clear lines, resisted decorative and ornamental elements and celebrated everything that was functional. Most people think they know what is "typically Bauhaus": elegant tubular steel cantilever chairs by Marcel Breuer, the semi-spherical table lamp by Wilhelm Wagenfeld, or the architecture that went down in building history as square and purpose-oriented. Everything bourgeois was declared an enemy.

That is why Walter Gropius also tried to bring craftsmen, honest workers with dirt under their fingernails, to the Bauhaus in Weimar.

And what did the target group think about this anti-bourgeois dogma? They complained about the aesthetic paternalism in their prefabricated chambers in which they were required to live. They were not allowed to hang up curtains, and pictures on the walls were not welcome either. There was no wallpaper, there were no decorations, nor any coziness — just bare white walls.

Group picture of the Bauhaus masters, with just one woman: Gunta Stölzl

A space for gender equality

While Bauhaus today is celebrated around the world as having been home to the avant-garde and a melting pot of new forms of thinking, it is often forgotten that it was a fairly patriarchal place.  

Still in 1919, the year of its foundation, more women than men were admitted, but only a few of them managed to get a sought-after job as a teacher in the workshop.

Gunta Stölzl was the only master of weaving and gathered together many talented women in her class. Innovative textile artist Anni Albers, who took on the name after marrying Bauhaus artist Josef Albers, also studied with her.

Only a few managed to gain access to other workshops. Marianne Brandt was the only woman to find her way into the metal workshop. There, she helped to shape the metal design of her time.

Johanna Hummel, on the other hand, left the school because she wanted to make money from her own works while she was still a student. 

The women possessed impressive innovative power.

Walter Gropius in 1933, shortly before he emigrated to the US

What remains of Bauhaus?

Nowadays, an idealized image of Bauhaus circulates throughout the world. The think tank is often misunderstood as a style and product rather than as a school that aimed to promote a new form of learning and living.

What has become of the ideas of that time? The notion of a common ideology and self-organized coexistence in manageable, strictly isolated circles has become obsolete. It only worked as long as there was a shared vision as well as a shared image of an enemy. Bauhaus pioneers fought shoulder to shoulder against the attitude toward life of the imperial era before the First World War. Gropius and his colleagues resisted historicizing architecture, as well as the flourishes of the bourgeoisie and figurative painting.

The movement that wanted to create nothing less than a new person is an ideal of the past. Yet building in the Bauhaus style is still a trend in many German cities in the 21st century. This, however, has nothing to do with the utopias of the 1920s. Builders like to use the label to lure financially powerful architecture lovers into purchasing a new radiant white property. Bauhaus for everyone — the dream has long since passed.

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