Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Only an idea has the power to spread so far

Learning by Doing at the Bauhaus

“Only an Idea has the power to spread so far” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (Naylor, 1968)

The work of the Bauhaus has offered influential design and pedagogical influences to architects and to architectural education. This chapter discusses the “learning-by-doing” workshops at the Bauhaus taught by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers. These workshops offered students the chance to experiment with materials in an open-ended format, which emphasized rigorous process and intuitive design methods. Students were challenged to work directly with materials in the design process. Itten and Albers differed slightly in their approaches as they developed their own ideas about architectural education.

Political forces at the time of the Bauhaus make it a unique educational model for study. Because the school was reacting to political and social forces in Nazi Germany, learning objectives and student output were affected. More specifically, an emphasis on the economy of materials is evident.

“This diagram, which Gropius published in the Bauhaus statutes of 1922, illustrated the structure of the school curriculum. Training started with the six-month preliminary course (‘Vorlehre’). The two middle rings represent the three-year period of workshop training together with form theory. In reality, form theory was taught less systematically than this diagram suggests. Building (‘Bau’) – the final, highest stage of education – was not yet offered. Compared to the programme of 1919, the handicraft basis of workshop training is here supplemented by the Illinois Institute of Technology” – Mies van der Rohe, IIT Archives

The Bauhaus
In considering architectural education and construction, it is helpful to discuss the inherent theoretical differences between schools of thought. At the Parisian Ecole Polytechnique, C.N. Durand, the first tutor in architecture, sought to establish a universal building methodology. This was an architectural counterpoint to the Napoleonic code by which economic and appropriate structures could be created through the modular permutation of fixed plan types and alternate elevations (a sort of stock plan theory). After winning the Prix de Rome, Henri Labrouste spent five years at the French Academy devoting much time in Italy and studying temples at Paestum. The education of the Beaux Arts architect put an emphasis on the picturesque, an attitude toward the monumental and archival use of history for emotional affect, and a sort of “hands off“ approach. This approach appeared to lead to an elitist attitude, as architects were concerned with drawing elaborate elevations of unbuilt palaces for the wealthy and opulent. In the Deutsche Werkbund movement, which lasted from 1898 to 1927, Gottfried Semper stated that the depreciation of materials results from its treatment by machine lead. Frampton and Semper, at the same time, were asking how industrialization might affect the quality of architecture. Semper wondered if the hand craft would be lost.

Gropius, bringing the craftsman and artist together, states: “Let us create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions, which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist. Together, let us conceive and create the new building of the future, which will embrace architecture, sculpture and painting in one unity and which will rise one day toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith” (Proclamation Weimar Bauhaus, 1919).

Bauhaus educator Bruno Taut stated that within a new art of building, each separate discipline would contribute to the final form and there would be no boundaries between the crafts, sculpture and painting. This revolution of Gesamtkunstwerk was amplified even in the word Bauhaus. Walter Gropius was intentionally recalling the medieval Bauhatte, or masons lodge. He was realigning the architect with the craftsman. He elaborated on this in a 1922 letter to his colleague Oskar Schlemmer: “Originally the Bauhaus was formed with visions of erecting the cathedral of socialism and workshops were established in the manner of the cathedral building lodges” (Donbauhutten).

Swiss painter Johannes Itten was influenced by a system of learning design that is based on sparking individual creativity by constructing collages of varying materials, textures, and assemblies. Influenced by Froebel and Maria Montessori, he believed in “learning by doing”--a phrase first coined by American John Dewey--in the Voukurs, or preliminary class. In 1922, Gropius modified the craft orientation of Bauhaus. He stated, “The teaching of craft is meant to prepare the student to design for mass production. Starting with the simplest tools and least complicated jobs he gradually acquires the ability to master more intricate problems and to work with machines, while at the same time, he keeps in touch with the entire process from start to finish” (Wick, 2001).

This caused the immediate resignation of Johannes Itten and ushered in the new Bauhaus. Moholy Nagy replaced Itten, which put him in charge of both the preliminary course and the metal workshop. He introduced students to “constructivist elementarism,” a concept that describes the economy of the designed object. He introduced students to wood, metal, wire and glass. He was not interested in collages and contrast of materials. Rather, he was interested in light and space.

The first design-build projects were two houses built on the campuses and furnished by the students. The Sommerfield House, designed by Gropius and Adolph Meyer, and the “Veruchshaus,” or experimental house, were designed as traditional “Heimatstil,” or log houses, with interiors of carved wood and intricate stained glass. The second house was a production object or living machine. The house was organized around an atrium space. All of the fittings, windows, door frames, furniture and light fixtures were built by the students in the workshops of new materials. Josef Albers designed the stained glass and built the installation with student help in 1922.

“The building contractor, Adolf Sommerfield, asked Walter Gropius to build a villa which, for reasons of economy, was to be made of teak salvaged from the wreck of a battleship. The villa was sited near Asternplatz, in the Dahlem district of Berlin“ (Droste, 1990).

The design was not generated and supplied by students, but by their professors, Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer. The foreman on the project, Fred Forbat, was a recent graduate. The interiors were completed in collaboration with the mural-painting, textile and woodworking workshops. “The laying of the foundation stone was celebrated in a precisely planned ceremony, underlining the importance of this first cooperative effort. For the topping out ceremony, the men had to wear guild clothing and the women wore specially designed head scarves to ensure a homogeneous, uniform picture” (Droste, 1990).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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