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A timeless union of simplicity and functionality

"If, in our time, the term ‘revolutionary’ is perhaps a little too readily applied to the latest detergent or extra fin clapped onto the latest car model, it rightly does to the Bauhaus idea." - T. Lux Feininger

The Bauhaus movement sparked to life in the two decades that segmented the World Wars. Following the capitulation of the German forces in 1918 and the abolition of censorship under the new Weimar Republic, the listless cultural atmosphere of the early 1920s was thoroughly shaken by founder Walter Gropius’s new school of art and design. Gropius, a Berlin born architect, set out with the vision of creating a transcendent art form; a collection of paintings, architecture and sculpture that would, in the words of his manifesto, “create the new building of the future.” Over time, this conception has come to be recognised in the movement’s radically simplified use of line, colour and shape. For Gropius and his followers, the Bauhaus movement also represented a spiritualised religion to which they zealously devoted themselves.

Despite Gropius’s claim that the school was apolitical, the minimalist nature of Bauhaus design offered an economical alternative to the Salon art of the bourgeoisie. This was craft for the people, created out of standardised materials and mass-produced by machines. Critics have described the movement as a socialist one, and indeed, Gropius’s attempt to democratise the artistic process, placing the likes of carpentry on par with fine art, marked a dramatic transition in art’s societal role. However, to pigeonhole the movement as socialist is to simplify a group that was, as Hilton Kramer describes, “shaped by a menu of beliefs, superstitions, ideologies” that at times even had to “accommodate the imperatives of modern industry, capitalist enterprise and private patronage.”

The Bauhaus was indeed fashioned by a diverse range of architects, sculptors, painters, photographers, graphic designers and printmakers, including Paul Klee, Lászl Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and Marcel Breuer. It was this rich vintage of faculty members that catalysed the spirit of the movement. Howard Dearstyne, who was a young student at the school from 1928 until 1933, recalls the tangible energy emitted by the convergence of so many great minds. He listed in detail the steps taken to define the various aspects of the Bauhaus aesthetic:

“… metal window frames, simple pipe for railings, plain surfaces painted in frank colours, furniture simple and square cut…everything simplified…they get down to the essentials of architecture and art.”

The students of the school were driven by the purpose of Johannes Itten’s Vorkurs ‘preliminary course’, a versatile, enduring prototype that would become one of the Bauhaus’s chief legacies to western art education. They set about with the vigour of workmen at a factory, producing ceramics, metalwork and furniture. In the decades to come, these products would form the linchpin of modern design teaching, having particular influence in the USA, to where many members of the school fled at the outbreak of World War II.

Over the twenty years that the Bauhaus was active in Germany, before its forced closure under the National Socialist Party, it moved from its initial base in Weimar to Dessau in 1925, and finally on to Berlin in 1930. During this period, Marxist Hannes Meyer replaced Gropius, and went some way to politicising the movement, driving at the social function of art and architecture. However, as Germany’s municipal government became increasingly right wing he was replaced by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who managed the school until the fraught political situation in Berlin, and dwindling finances forced its closure in 1933.

In 1960, an archive was set up to house the art and literature of the Bauhaus, and such was the support for the project that plans were put in place to build a museum to accommodate its growing collection. Needless to say, Gropius was asked to come up with a blueprint for the building, which was to be constructed in Berlin. While political and financial decisions forced a number of changes to be made to Gropius’s original design, Matthias Heideich’s clean, linear photos (featured) create a striking synergy with the architect’s work, evoking the characteristic shapes of his structure’s shed roofs. The archive itself hosts a large and varied assortment of Bauhaus products, and provides a chronological outline of its pervasive influence on future generations of artists, architects and sculptors. Such a collection perhaps provides sufficient weight to Dearstyne’s belief that, “Architectural education as we have it today owes more to the Bauhaus than to any other single institution.”

“If, in our time, the term ‘revolutionary’ is perhaps a little too readily applied to the latest detergent or extra fin clapped onto the latest car model, it rightly does to the Bauhaus idea.” – T. Lux Feininger



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