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    Two Bauhaus Buildings: A Paradigm Shift

    by Darlene Brady, R.A.

    The Bauhaus School buildings at Weimar and Dessau in Germany capture the dichotomy of an early 20th century debate about the impact of technology on architecture. The underlying issue was whether creativity or technology should be the stronger design determinant. It is interesting to revisit these two famous buildings, by Henry Van de Velde and Walter Gropius respectively, in light of this debate.

    The Bauhaus Manifesto called for a new architecture that made no distinction between monumental and decorative art. It was a call for buildings imbued with the "architectonic spirit" as a unified work of art. The complete building, not embellishment, was the ultimate aim of all the visual arts. Art must not exist in isolation but in cooperation with craft.

    The roots of the manifesto are found in an earlier debate about the impact of technology on art—a confrontation between "individualism" and "standardization." Referred to as the Muthesius /Van de Velde debate, it took place during the 1914 Conference in Cologne as part of the first exhibition of the Deutscher Werkbund.

    With the goal of increasing the export of German arts and crafts and their influence abroad, this debate focused on whether industrial technology or individual inventiveness was the best determinant of style and quality.

    Hermann Muthesius maintained that industrial technology enabled standardization, or type, which would result in "universally" valid forms. The efficiencies of large-scale business enabled the mass production of high quality work: time traditionally spent on execution could be devoted instead to refinement of the product. Implicit in this argument was the belief that the greater availability of superior work would result in the development of universally good taste.

    For Henry Van de Velde, invention was the determinant of "culturally" valid forms. The individual artist was the best interpreter of the influences and spirit of an epoch. The possibility of quick results from mass-production and industrial technology did not ensure quality. Standardization imposed a canon that encouraged imitation and endangered the creative impulse. To let type determine style placed effect before cause. It would produce work that was not worth exporting.

     

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    ArchWeek Photo

    The Weimar Bauhaus, designed by Henry Van de Velde, is a tectonic expression of load bearing walls interrupted by window screens.
    Photo: Darlene Brady and Mark English

    ArchWeek Photo

    In the stairwell of Walter Gropius's Dessau Bauhaus, by contrast, the window is a mask that unifies the elements and levels of the building.
    Photo: Darlene Brady and Mark English

     

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