Tech posers of the Bauhaus
The Bauhaus greatest achievement was to make artists interested in the creative use of technology, to design things that are useful and nice to use. And they did that without knowing a lot about tech.
Product, experience, interaction, industrial designers, creative technologists. If somehow you are a creative interested in making things that are useful and nice to use, you owe that to the Bauhaus. It’s also because of that school and their influence on art education that we can enjoy things designed by people with an artistic sensibility. Rather than only having things designed by engineers.
At the time, few artists were willing to collaborate with the industry to create mass-manufactured objects. Architect Walter Gropius, founder and director of the school, was especially passionate about social architecture and in general in creating things for the common people. Mass-manufacturing technology could allow that at scale. So some years after the creation of the school, he adjusted the focus in the Bauhaus curriculum. And since 1925, when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, the school new motto became ‘Art and technology: a new unity’.
But despite the ambition of the Bauhaus to teach students how to design for the industry, few of the tutors at the time had experience in industrial production. The school method was still based on a combination of applied arts and academic education, and the students’ practical lessons were given by craftsmen whose experience was in making things by hand and not in designing for production.
For instance, in the metal workshop under Moholy-Nagy, students would handmade prototypes with a style they thought would be easy to reproduce industrially. For instance using spheres, cylinders and other basic shapes. Except that due to their ignorance of industrial processes, those objects were hard to make in a mass-production facility.
But the strongest critique of the Bauhaus lack of technological knowledge was Buckminster Fuller. Fuller was familiar with the work of the Bauhaus due to the Black Mountain College in the US, where he and other former Bauhaus tutors were teaching. According to him, the ‘International Style’ brought to the US by the Bauhaus, simple replaced the previous decorative style with a new simplified one made of basic shapes and colours. A new exterior, but that was leaving unchanged the structural and functional elements of the building.
In short they only looked at problems of modifications of the surface of end-product, which end-products were inherently sub-functions of a technically obsolete world
(Obviously, Bucky did all the things he was criticising Gropius and the Bauhaus about. But that’s a story I’ll save for some other time).
The excitement of the Bauhauslers for new technologies is still present among designers now. And so is that limit in understanding fully a new innovation that can be used in a new product or service. I feel that every time I’m working with machine learning. But what the Bauhaus achieved was to get artists interested in bringing their sensibility in the creative use of technology. And whatever Bucky thinks, that remains.
Bauhaus - Madgalena Droste
Theory and Design in the First Machine Age - Reyner Banham