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100 years of Bauhaus

Woman with mask sitting in a club chair

Woman in Marcel Breuer's club Chair B3

Art meets technology

One of the greatest German "inventions" of the 20th century is celebrating its 100th birthday this year: the Bauhaus, which existed for only 14 years, has had a lasting influence on art, design and architecture all over the world. And at the same time it was a visionary concept of society.

Everyone knows them: the design classics of the Bauhaus era. Be it the cantilever chair after Mies van der Rohe, which can often be found in the waiting room of a GP's practice, or the construction game by Alma Buscher, inherited from grandpa - we encounter Bauhaus classics everywhere in everyday life.

Back to craft

The Bauhaus has its origin in the art college "Staatliches Bauhaus" in Weimar, which was founded in April 1919 by Walter Gropius. It soon became clear that Gropius had no intention of joining the ranks of conventional art academies. His goal was to revive the forgotten connection between art and craftsmanship. "Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to the craft," said Gropius. He modelled his Bauhaus on the medieval "Dombauhütten" (building hut), which united all the fine arts under one roof and one idea for Gothic cathedral construction. This also led to the name "Bauhaus".

Patented art, but no trademark?

Stamp "Original Bauhaus Model"

Registered trademark 922652, Bauhaus stamp, registered on 30.07.1974

The Bauhaus style is characterised by its prosaic design and the economic-industrial approach. At the Bauhaus, everyday objects suitable for the masses were to be created.

The Bauhaus presented itself to the public in a legally professional manner. The Bauhaus exhibition of 1923 was accompanied by "Conditions of Sale for the Workshop Products and Pictures Exhibited", in which it was stated that "forms and samples are the property of the state-owned Bauhaus" and that the purchase of the exhibits in no way conferred the right to use them as "models for reproduction". From March 1922, all Bauhaus products also bore the "Bauhaus stamp recognised by the government". The step to the trademark didn't seem to be far anymore, but surprisingly the stamp was not registered as a trademark until decades later, in July 1974, by the Bauhaus Archive. The Bauhaus also made little use of the other possibilities of intellectual property protection at its beginnings in Weimar.

It was not until the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1925 that the Bauhaus people became interested in a functioning rights management system. The minutes of a meeting with a patent attorney show that the Bauhaus managers had apparently not previously been aware of the fundamental principles of industrial property protection. From then on, Bauhaus Dessau began to systematically register utility model and design rights.

Cantilever chair

Cantilever chair by Mies van der Rohe, Imperial Patent 558 774

The combination of art and craftsmanship even produced patentable innovations. Examples are the pdf-Datei Patent Number 387 832 (valid from 28.10.1922) by Ilse Fehlung on a "round stage for marionette games", which she had made at the Bauhaus in the same year. The famous cantilever chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is also patented ( pdf-Datei Patent number 558 774, valid from 21.12.1929), you can find more information in our poster gallery.

In contrast, Marcel Breuer could not apply for a patent for many of his early steel pipe models in Germany because photographs of them had already been published or he had presented them at exhibitions. This meant that these pieces of furniture were no longer new in the sense of the Patent Act and legally valid protection was no longer available. But Breuer did, however, receive a patent on a folding armchair, which was a further development of his club armchair ( pdf-Datei Patent number 468 736, patented on 26 March 1927).

Equal opportunities - a visionary concept of society

The Bauhaus was not only visionary from an artistic point of view. A special feature for that time was that young people from all over the world could be educated at the Bauhaus - regardless of previous education, nationality, religion or gender. This was particularly attractive for women, who were often denied access to qualified training at the time. The female students even outnumbered the male students in the first semester, which the founding father Gropius found too fashionable. And so he quickly ensured balanced conditions by having a weaving mill set up specifically for the female students. Only in exceptional cases were women admitted to the bookbindery and pottery. Marianne Brandt, who even became head of the metal workshop at the Bauhaus in Dessau, became particularly well known. She is still known today for her designs for lamps and tableware.

The end of the Bauhaus

With his visionary reorientation, Gropius not only met support. The Bauhaus era came to an abrupt end in 1933, when the National Socialists closed the Kunsthochschule. Most of the lecturers, like Walter Gropius, fled abroad to spread the teachings of the Bauhaus.

Photography of the Bauhaus building

Bauhaus building from the southwest, Walter Gropius, Dessau, 1926

Although Bauhaus only existed for 14 years, it has shaped our current concept of design like no other style. Some of the most famous artists of the 20th century, such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger, originated from the Bauhaus era. In 1996, UNESCO declared numerous Bauhaus sites and testimonies World Heritage Sites,including the original art academy in Weimar and the Gropius building in Dessau.

Especially in Jena one can still admire various testimonies of the Bauhaus era today. Among the numerous buildings whose architecture has been shaped by the Bauhaus style are Villa Zuckerkandl, Haus Auerbach and the Jena DPMA office building.

Picture 1: Woman in club chair B3 by Marcel Breuer, mask by Oskar Schlemmer, dress by Lis Beyer, photo: Erich Consemüller, around 1927/ © Klassik Stiftung Weimar/ © Stephan Consemüller (Erich Consemüller), picture 2: DPMAregister, picture 3: DEPATISnet, Picture 4: Tillmann Franzen, 2018 / © Tillmann Franzen, tillmannfranzen.com/ © VG Bild-Kunst

Last updated: 4 February 2020 

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