100 years on and Bauhaus still informs modern architecture

by Ric Blenkarn, Bramhall Blenkharn architects, wwww.brable.com

This year celebrates 100 years since the founding of The Bauhaus Art School by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany.

The movement had the idea of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together.

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The Bauhaus style later became one of the most influential currents in modern architectural design, art and architectural education.

It was a place that despite the economic turmoil and cultural conservatism of the world around it offered a truly radical, international and optimistic vision. The art school ran until 1933 and was heavily influential in the movement for contemporary architecture.

The Bauhaus had a profound influence on artists, such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, and designers, such as Marcel Breuer. It is fascinating to look back at the Bauhaus inspired buildings to see how well they stand against today's architecture.

The concept of using simple shapes, expanses of glass and steel frames fashioned some beautiful buildings, which have stood the test of time.

The movement shaped much of the contemporary architecture we witnessed in the 1920s and 30s and I often look back at some of these buildings with a double take, since they echo many of the best modern buildings of recent times.

However, the role of such architecture in domestic buildings stuttered through the 20th century and hit something of a wall.

There was resurgence in domestic architecture of pseudo Georgian and Victorian style buildings, typical of the housing estates we see across the country today. Small paned windows, double pitched roofs, decorative brickwork and canopied porches became the order of the day. Yet, there is still a basis for the telling architecture of the Bauhaus and The Modern Movement in domestic architecture today.

We have many clients wanting to create large, naturally lit living spaces with good visual contact to the outdoors. This is readily possible with the use of today's materials and technologies. Steel, glass, timber and various cladding.

They all have a role to play, though their use demands care and sensitivity as many such buildings are asymmetric, rather than symmetrical.

There is a careful balance to be had in the ratio of solid to void and the proportion of openings to ensure a successful overall composition. In the right hands, such architecture can be bold and breath-taking and help make a contribution to our architectural heritage.

Sure, care needs to be taken to ensure such buildings do not jar with their neighbours but such buildings can often create a domino effect, where their presence helps regenerate villages and towns to marked benefit.

Such radical architecture need not be the norm, but thankfully, it is becoming more commonplace. It is great to witness that the Bauhaus movement established a hundred years ago teaches “truth to materials” as a core tenet, which means that material should be used in its most appropriate and “honest” form, and its nature should not be changed.

The principles established by the Bauhaus and Modern Movement are as relevant now as they were one hundred years ago. We should be grateful to Gropius and his followers. They have helped shape our past yet still influence buildings we design today. Architecture is the richer for it.