New books celebrate the Bauhaus centenary and its legacy

I attended an art and design foundation course much like the famous Vorkurs run by Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, a year-long requirement for all new Bauhaus students before they could progress to study in a specific workshop. In a similar way to how the Bauhauslers ran the famous art school a century ago, mine was a place that taught experimentation and encouraged abstraction, tasking us to find our own unique solutions. And it happened to be the finest year of my formal education. The specialist art school that proceeded, failed entirely to capture my imagination, lacking the free spirit, the magical weirdness of that original school. So, I left my paints, clay, tools and camera, and took up writing.

‘To have the gift of imagination is more important than all technology,’ wrote Gropius, reflecting the spiritual origin of the school he founded. And as the Bauhaus celebrates 100, a series of publications aim to explore the enduring legacy of this modest art school founded in 1919 in the quiet town of Weimar. Some are assessing the impact of the Bauhaus post 1933, as Bauhauslers emigrated to England and America and beyond. Others have re-published some of the original Bauhaus journals and documents. Together they tell a compelling story of the most famous school of design – a place of collective dialogues, progressive ideology, imagination and creative madness.

The Bauhaus was formed in response to the crisis and devastation following the first world war. It represented a collective voice desperate to forge a new world order. It was and remains so much more than an art school – it represents a significant cultural movement. The Bauhauslers championed the power of imagination and freedom of expression. They believed strongly in bringing the art of craft to industry, embracing architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity. They explored utopian ideas, celebrated the avant-garde and encouraged free love and creative madness – sometimes to the extreme. And long after they were forced to shut down, pressured by the Nazis who saw the progressive ways a threat after assuming power in 1933, as émigrés in London and Paris and New York, their dissident voices continued to be heard.

The first of the series of books takes us back in time for insight into the teachings, ideas and philosophies of the Bauhaus when it was alive with discussion in Weimar, Dessau and then Berlin. Lars Müller has collaborated with Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung for ‘Bauhaus Journals 1926-1931’ with edited voices of the key figures of the modern movement in art and design. Josef Albers, Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gerrit Rietveld – all feature in this stimulating publication.

They address developments in and around the Bauhaus, the methods and focal points of their own teaching, and current projects of students and masters. The exact replica of all individual issues is accompanied by a commentary booklet including an overview of the content, an English translation of all texts, and a scholarly essay to place the journal in its historical context.

Accompanying this are four beautifully-republished journals from the ‘Bauhausbücher’ series, all in their original design. ‘International Architecture’ was the first to start the series with the school founder Gropius offering an illustrative lesson on the theories of the modern architecture movement of the mid-1920s. In ‘Pedagogical Sketchbook’ artist Klee expresses key aspects of the Bauhaus’ guiding philosophies, writing of his desire to reunite artistic design and craft in a tone that moves between the seeming objectivity of the diagram, the rhetoric of science and mathematics, and an abstract intuition.

Third in the series by Lars Müller is ‘New Design’ by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. He begins with a philosophical foray describing art as a figurative expression of human existence, questioning the prevailing hierarchy between painting and architecture, observing the future of his movement, neoplasticism – abstract painting which used only horizontal and vertical lines and primary colours. Lastly, ‘Painting, Photography, Film’ by Moholy-Nagy argues for photography and filmmaking to be recognised as a means of artistic design on the same level as painting. With some fascinating illustrations, the Hungarian makes the case for a functional transformation within the visual arts and for the further development of photographic design options.

All this was before 1933. With the closure of the Bauhaus school, most of its prominent members left Germany in search for new homes, and new schools to teach. They took with them their ideologies, which in turn evolved and changed with their new destinations. Two books explore this post-Bauhaus journey.

‘Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain’ by Batsford narrates the brilliant story of the giants of the international modern movement – Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Breuer – and their brief émigré life in Hampstead, London before they moved to America. The story centres around the Isokon, the building by architect Wells Coats, where they lived and where they collectively pioneered concepts of minimal and shared living. Isokon’s apartments, restaurant and bar became a creative hub for writers and artists and designers in the 1930s and 40s. Authors Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund paint a colourful portrait of the notorious dinners here, as the Bauhauslers party and discuss advancing the world alongside local creatives – Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Peter and Alison Smithson, even Agatha Christie was a guest here.

Thames & Hudson’s ‘Bauhaus Goes West’ also explores the cultural exchange between these émigrés and their new adopted homelands. The general idea is that England wasn’t receptive to the avant-garde in 1933 – possibly a concept backed by the fact that there are few early projects of significance made here. Much like what we learn in the Isokon, author Alan Powers also challenges this notion, suggesting there was a provocative dialogue between the Bauhauslers and local young leaders of opinion here, namely Nicholas Pevsner and Herbert Read. The book follows their journey onto America, where the Bauhaus titans really flourish. Gropius prospers at the Harvard architecture school, Breuer gets to design great monumental buildings, Moholy-Nagy sets up a new Bauhaus school in Chicago, as husband and wife team Anni and Josef Albers shine at the brilliant liberal Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

We will never know if the Bauhaus would have such an ongoing impact on generations of creatives had the school not been forced to close in 1933. Yet what’s clear is that the discussions initiated in this small school of art and design in Weimar in 1919 evolved and enriched through a broader, international dialogue with artists and designers and philosophers and writers from London to Paris, New York, Tel Aviv and beyond. What is also clear is that the creative community could benefit from revisiting these journals, reading some of the ideas being weaved at a time that also was in the midst of crisis. As we navigate a new world, assessing how we can design for a more efficient and fairer world, we should tap into the spirit of this progressive movement – this school of thought.

Nargess Banks

All images are strictly © Lars Müller. From the  ‘Bauhaus Journals 1926 – 1931’, edited and published Lars Müller and Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung; and the re-published journals from the ‘Bauhausbücher’ series (1926-1931)

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Book review: Intersection Cars Now

Books on cars tend to follow a simple formula – a pretty straight narrative that is either sequenced historically or by company. In this context, Intersection‘s Cars Now maintains this by guiding the reader through a selection of today’s most notable cars via alphabetically organised car companies. ‘We go make by make, model by model, to capture a snapshot of a species evolving,’ say the authors. And as a reference book, this formula works perfectly.

Founded over a decade ago, Intersection magazine set out to challenge our relation with the car and how that is communicated. The book – the first volume written by the team – retains the visual energy of the magazine with its hundreds of original photographs and illustrations. It is also surprisingly insightful to read.






Whether we choose to drive or not, it is near impossible not to interact with the automobile. The car impacts not just on the environment and how we live, but also on our landscape, visually shaping cities – something that is even more poignant with the growing number of megacities.

Cars Now has addressed the automobile in this wider context, documenting not only sexy supercars but also highlighting the latest innovations that address our dependency on fossil fuels, and all this from a global perspective.

Additionally, with some of the leading car companies, the authors have weaved in caracrchitecture. Increasingly marques like BMW are teaming up with big names in building design such as Coop Himmelb(l)au for the Welt Munich showroom and Zaha Hadid for the Leipzig factory (where the electric i cars will be built) in a bid to create stronger brand statements.

Another interesting addition is the designer Q+A that features in some of the major car companies’ chapters. Though a little superficial, it does help add a human element to an otherwise seemingly cold industry.

Cars Now is a celebration of the automobile in all its guises. To quote the authors: ‘Call it a last hurrah for the dying pleasures of smoking tires, and a deep breath of hope for the new crop of contenders trying to extend the electric frontier.’

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Intersection Cars Now is published by  TASCHEN. You can also purchase the book directly from the DT bookshop.

Also read our Cars & Mobility pages which feature trends in car design and first hand interviews with leading car designer.

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Book review: Design as Politics

Our world is nearing a state of structural unsustainability- a truism so obvious that even global-warming deniers deny it under their breath. In Design as Politics, author Tony Frey develops his previous thesis on the role of design in preventing the coming catastrophe  somewhat further.

Sustainability (with a capital S) is to be achieved and catastrophe prevented by placing design at the heart of vital social transformations. Here Fry uses design not in its politically neutral aesthetic definition of design as taste, applied to such products as architecture, furniture and fashion, but to design as it defines our very existence, our life styles, our values and hence the very core that defines our being, our existence and our relation to the environment.

Fry’s critique of the use of design currently in operation ranges wide and introduces many useful ideas. Thus technology has been designed to render us impervious to the way we are being manipulated, and becomes internalised to our very being such that ultimately it is technology that is designing us. The tools themselves effectively design the user. Man becomes defutured through unthinking, unlimited consumption, what has been called ‘consumption as grazing’.

Instead of being the political subject, mankind is instrumentalised into becoming the object of politics. Under these circumstances liberal democracy gives the illusion of change while reproducing more of the same, conjured up to pose as a difference.

Furthermore, under democracy pluralism is seen as a collection of atomised and individualised beings as opposed to collectivities, unities or bonded communities, with communal joint interests and goals.

Design as Politics by Tony Fry. Berg Publishing

For Fry, Sustainment is the acceptance of plurality within one unified goal, a meta-diverse end which he identifies as fundamentally changing our behaviour in order to avoid a defutured world. In this goal he can only be lauded by any sane person. And he rightly recognises that this future is unachievable within a global liberal political structure designed to turn the entire human race into a machine for consumption, using design (and education and the media) to obscure the unsustainablity of their project.

Here democratic politics, as he says, is reduced to providing consumer satisfaction, and hence politics is presented to the consumer as another product for consumption. What we have, he says, is ‘autonomous techno-centrism’ which shows us a ‘future from which we are absent’.

Fry is clearly well read and takes us through a fascinating, though somewhat complex and at times linguistically dense, journey touching on a large number of philosophers, social scientists and thinkers.

So far so good, and not very contentious. But when Fry goes into providing what he sees as a road to solution he goes badly wrong. While recognising the enormity of the problem he separates the political from the class-productive relations that are at the roots of the unsustainability of our current level of consumption.

Moreover, despite his repeated assertion that his solution is the only one that is not utopian, the world of Design as Politics is essentially built on a series of unsupportable assumptions.

He clearly understands that the fundamental cause of the unsustainabilty of our existence is anthropocentrism that was accentuated by the introduction of the capitalist mode of production that, in his words, has no reformative other.

Moreover he spends countless pages showing the undemocratic nature of democracy but then wishes to rebuild it from the inside (see page165). He then, contradicts himself by proposing to reform capitalism. The entire Design as Politics project aims at reforming capitalism (and democracy) so that it is changed from creating a technology for consumption to one for sustainment.

Central to his thesis is that design determines our fate – hence to change that fate we must begin by changing our understanding of design, to ‘rethink and redefine and reinvent the very nature of urban and rural life,’ and at its core a, ‘design becoming more dynamic, more powerful and more able to communicate the significance of designers to society in general’ he writes.

The agency for this change is an (hopefully) ever-widening, but tight, circle of people – designers – who have woken up not just to the horrors of a defutured world (after all many of us are already there) but on the root causes of that defuturing.

And what are those root causes? It is design for consumption, or ‘consumption as grazing’. And the solution is design for sustainment. And since democracy (I guess he means parliamentary democracy although nowhere does he define it as such) is also a system designed to cloud our vision we need to go beyond it. But by going beyond democracy Fry does not mean more, and more meaningful, democracy, which he dismisses as utopian radical democracy, but less – much less.

What Fry proposes is a cabal of designers and teachers who will in what he rightly recognises as a hard and difficult road, convince global capitalism to reform itself before the entire system collapses under the mass migration induced by global warming; and for the rest of us to consume for survival not for pleasure.

They, and we, will do so through teaching and persuasion, turning ‘knowing into the service of economic ends’. The hoped for outcome: a self-imposed ‘dictatorship of Sustainment’, or if people won’t, by imposition from above by an ‘adaptive design directorate’.

And if that change cannot rely on agreement it must ‘aim with material force’. Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat, which was his shorthand for the democratic control of the majority on society, becomes the dictatorship of a committee or at best an idea – ‘thought itself as redirective practice’, as Fry puts it or ‘designed and managed interventions’ to impose ‘unfreedoms’.

His main foe is democracy with its laisser-faire attitude to the rampages of technology gone wild. His heroes are Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, both neo-romantic critiques of democracy and philosophers of authoritarianism. His effectors are a clique of educators – in the form of enlightened designers educating (read imposing) a new form of design that safeguards our future by taming the rampages that capitalist profit motive has sown on our planet. A modern version of Plato’s philosopher king transposed to twenty-first century globalised world.

Somewhere among his solution both the real effectors of unsustainability, capitalism, and its dictatorship imposed through apparent parliamentary democracy is lost. Here Fry not only misses the real critique of Heidegger of the roots of technology, but aims to reform capitalism by educating it to respect the future of the human race by ceasing to be so anthropocentric – a socialised capitalism, so to speak.

It is like educating the thief to patrol the neighbourhood. Marx had identified commodity fetishism as central to capitalist relations. By placing design at the centre of the futuring of the planet, Fry is demonstrating the most extreme form of commodity fetishism to defetishise commodities. No wonder Marx barely gets a mention in these pages.

Fry rejects utopian solutions but opts for the impossible. To ‘induce a being otherwise’ by design begs the question of who is the designer, chosen by whom and answerable to whom.

Dictatorship of sustainment will become just that – an imposed unfreedom imposed by unelected designers, answerable to no one but that very global capital (where ‘the capitalist commodity sphere was constituted as a world of desire’) that presumably employs the designers.

It is not entirely accidental that the word profit does not appear anywhere in this book. Does Fry imagine a capitalism without profit. Without it would they be persuaded to create a world where ‘to live is to suffer’ reigns eternal?

Guest blogger Mohsen Shahmanesh

Design as politics by Tony Fry is published by Berg 2011. You can purchase the book directly at Design Talks Bookshop here.

Tony Fry is a director of the sustainment consultancy Team D/E/S and adjunct professor of design at Griffith University, Queensland College of Art, Australia. Among his publication is A New Design Philosophy: an Introduction to Defuturing, and Design, Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice.

Also read another interesting take on this by Peter Radziszewski in Rock n Roll!

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