From Bauhaus to Your House: 100 Years of Modern Architecture.

After World War 1, Germany was devastated and burdened with huge debt repayments. One German architect wished to raise the standards of art and architecture by creating a total new type of university. The Bauhaus was truly unique in bringing together all the arts with emphasis on contemporary edgy design. Bauhaus literally translates to “construction house” and while the school of architecture did not emerge until 1927, the core beliefs and practices had a profound effect on International design and construction.

Technically the school opened in April 1919 and the first classes with actual desks started in 1920. The immensely influential art and design school was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany. Although the school was only in existence for a total of 14 years, it engaged some of the biggest names in 20th-century art and design—Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, to name a couple of giants. The visions of all things modern has echoed around the world in every human and cultural discipline for 100 years.

The most important influence by Bauhaus was the groundswell to modernism as a movement. For architecture, it meant clean undecorated lines, lots of glass with minimal obstructions, the outdoors merging into indoors, simple unadorned interiors and even the common clock was sleek and clean. While the 1930’s arrival of National Socialism swept through Germany and closed the school, Germany regressed into traditional Renaissance architecture. However, the International style as it would be called, took hold in America and particularly in California.

The design innovations commonly associated with Gropius and the Bauhaus were the radically simplified forms of straight forward function and the idea that factory production of common household products can have the artistic spirit. The common theme was all products could be easily mass produced and therefore relatively simplistic in their appearance. This was a huge shift from other products and art on the market at the time which were often very ornate and expensive.

California and The Bay Area quickly embraced the clean and simple lines of the International style. Flat roofs, large overhangs, unembellished lines and the indoor/outdoor lifestyle were easily adopted here. While more traditional embellished architecture is common for homebuilders, more clean and simple designs can be every bit as exciting without reverting to the old echoes of semi-historic designs.

The relevance today and what makes Bauhaus eternal is the relationship of our homes to the environment. The desire is to engage the building with the land using locally sourced materials and construction techniques. At the start of design for any home, there are two distinctive options that an architect can choose for the client. Architects can play it safe and replicate one of the hundreds of traditional architectural styles or one can travel down a new road and apply the general principles of the Bauhaus, ending up with a remarkable looking building, simply by using geometric shapes and unusual angles. The choice is up to you and your architect.

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Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB