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Bauhaus Architecture: Sleek, Simple, and Thoroughly Modern

A bauhaus architecture building

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Bauhaus architecture is a design movement that emerged in post-World War I Germany, in the dawning days of the artistically liberated Weimar Republic. After the war, German artists began questioning their country’s traditions, rejecting the styles of it’s Prussian past, and rewriting all the rulebooks. In the realm of architecture, this happened at the Staatliches Bauhaus, an art school founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919.

The Bauhaus school sought to modernize art, radicalizing the principles of design in a country devastated by war machines—a clean slate which needed to be rebuilt. In Bauhaus architecture, the applied arts of the industrial age are united with the fine arts to create sleek, simple, thoroughly modern designs. 

What Is Bauhaus Architecture?

Bauhaus architecture prioritized function above all else, with a core principle of “truth to materials.” In Bauhaus architecture, materials were used in their most natural form, with little in the way of adulteration. This was meant as a stark rebuke of industrialization, the coldness of mass production, and consumerism. A building designed in the Bauhaus style will utilize materials in their raw, honest state, celebrating them as part of the overall design instead of something that needs to be covered up. Bauhaus buildings are often constructed from basic industrial materials like concrete, glass, and steel. 

In profile, Bauhaus architecture seeks to achieve balance through asymmetry, as perfectly symmetrical buildings were seen as part of the industrialized world, reminiscent of factories, warehouses, and other shapeless structures that dominated the landscape of German cities. 

Bauhaus architecture primarily uses functional shapes—like squares, triangles, and circles—with little in the way of embellishment. Many Bauhaus buildings are starkly geometric, with flat roofs and streamlined facades; if there are abstract shapes, they are used sparingly for ornamentation. However, because Bauhaus was an architectural movement rather than a strictly defined style, you can find Bauhaus buildings that eschew sharp angles for curved lines and rounded corners. 

Though Bauhaus buildings aren’t all the same, some of the Bauhaus movement's more common characteristics include:

  • Simple, functional design with minimal ornamentation
  • Use of basic geometric forms; circles, squares, triangles, etc.
  • Asymmetry preferred over symmetry
  • Smooth façades and sleek lines 
  • Use of modern materials—like steel, glass, concrete—in their most natural, unadulterated state
  • Flat roofs

History of Bauhaus Architecture

Walter Gropius opened the Staatliches Bauhaus art school in Weimar, a city in central Germany, in 1919. The name Bauhaus is an inversion of the word hausbau; German for “house design.” Though the school trained students of multiple disciplines—notably in typography, graphic design, and industrial design—Gropius chose the name to show his desire to revolutionize the architecture world; to create a new German home for a new era in German history. 

Though Germany had been an industrialized country before the war,  World War I kicked industry into hyperdrive. Thousands of factories sprung up to support the war effort, rapidly changing the entire character of Germany’s cities, and extending into the countryside. Gropius understood the need for industrialization, but disliked its complete neglect for artistry, and its total absence of design. He believed that the war had created a massive rift between the world of fine arts, like painting, drawing, and sculpture, and the applied arts, such as graphic design, furniture design, and, of course, architecture. 

Over the next 14 years, the school went through several relocations and school buildings (from Weimar to Dessau to Berlin) and several directors (from Gropius to Hannes Meyer to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), and its goals and tenants fluctuated with each change. However, at its core, the Bauhaus school’s driving force was its aim to reintegrate art and industrialization.

The Bauhaus school relocated from Weimar to Dessau, and then again to Berlin before being shut down by the Nazis in 1933. The school saw three directors over its 14-year history, the first being founder Walter Gropius, followed by Hannes Meyer, and then by the father of Modernist architecture,  Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Each director shaped the movement in a different way, with styles changing and evolving under each of their tenure. Through it all, the core tenet of the Bauhaus school was to unite art and industrialization.

Notable Bauhaus Buildings

Fagus Factory

Alfeld-Hannover, Germany

Walter Gropius designed this factory in 1911, eight years before he founded the Bauhaus school. Gropius’ designed the building with the workers in mind, lining the exterior with curtain walls of glass to flood the factory with sunlight; these glass walls were a major innovation in both design and engineering, revolutionizing the entirety of architecture. Traditionally, the exterior walls of factories were load-bearing; in order to replace them with glass, Gropius placed large columns of reinforced concrete inside the buildings, supporting it from the inside. 

Haus am Horn

Weimar, Germany

One of the earliest examples of Bauhaus residential architecture is located not far from where the Bauhaus school once stood in Weimar, a populous city in central Germany. Designed by architect Georg Muche, this sleek, rectangular home can be found on the campus of the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar campus.

Bauhaus Dessau

Dessau, Germany

When Gropius decided to move the Bauhaus school out of the increasingly-conservative Weimar, he chose the industrial town of Dessau, which promised him prime real estate and full funding to build a new modernist Bauhaus campus. In 1925, he designed an asymmetrical building that was a low-key homage to Dessau’s other major industrial tenant: the Junkers aircraft factory. When viewed from above (as you might in a Junkers biplane), the building looks like an airplane propeller.