The Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany | Image courtesy of Åke E:son Lindman ©

Bauhaus 100 • In The Detail: Bauhaus Materials

To celebrate the centenary of the Bauhaus movement, The Conran Shop digs a little deeper and explores some of the key materials used by the influential German art school. Founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius, the teaching at Bauhaus encouraged the use of previously-overlooked materials such as concrete, tubular steel piping and glass.

 

Truth to materials

Bauhaus architecture was built to serve a purpose and lacked the ornamentation and unnecessary embellishments seen in other architecture movements of the day. Instead, the elements of a building’s structure were left in plain sight and followed a core tenet of Bauhaus teaching, ‘truth to materials’. This approach to design was adhered to by the school’s students and required materials to be used in their most ‘honest’ form, meaning steelwork should be exposed and concrete left unpainted.

Despite being in direct contrast to the synthetic materials that were becoming increasingly common at the time, the ‘truth to materials’ principle was as prevalent in Bauhaus furniture as it was in its architecture.

 

The Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany | Image courtesy of Oskar Da Riz via Floornature
The Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany | Image courtesy of Oskar Da Riz via Floornature

 

Tubular steel

During the mid-1920s, Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer began experimenting with tubular steel. Inspired by Adler bicycles, Breuer wrote to the manufacturers asking for some of their tubular steel to build a prototype design, a request that was promptly denied. However, Breuer continued his experimentation and in 1928 he partnered with Thonet to create a tubular steel range.

The style was quickly adopted by Marcel Breuer’s contemporaries, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Mart Stam and Le Corbusier, and became a defining feature of Bauhaus design.

 

Tubular steel piping on Tecta's M4R Console Trolley
Tubular steel piping on Tecta’s M4R Console Trolley

 

Concrete

Concrete was an essential component of much Bauhaus architecture, admired by the school’s students and teachers for its strength and resistance. Acting as a precursor to Brutalist design, the Bauhaus’ appreciation of concrete is most notable in its starring role at the school’s Dessau campus. With a striking, reinforced concrete frame, the school’s main building wholeheartedly embraces concrete and modernist design.

The robust material opened doors for a revolutionary approach to architecture and can be seen in buildings across Europe, including the Harnischmacher House in Wiesbaden and London’s Isokon Building, as well as the Neue Meisterhäuser in Dessau.

 

The concrete Neue Meisterhäuser in Dessau | Images courtesy of Christoph Rokitta via IGNANT
The concrete Neue Meisterhäuser in Dessau | Images courtesy of Christoph Rokitta via IGNANT

 

Wicker

Wicker is another material seen throughout Bauhaus furniture design. Very much in line with the principle of ‘truth to materials’, the use of exposed wickerwork displays the material in its purest form. Wickerwork can be seen in some of the Bauhaus’ most celebrated furniture, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s D42 Armchair, Marcel Breuer’s F41E Breuer-Couch and Peter Keler’s Bauhaus Cradle.

 

Wicker detailing on Mies van der Rohe’s D42 Armchair
Wicker detailing on Mies van der Rohe’s D42 Armchair

 

Glass

Spurred on by the revelation that sunshine benefits health and wellbeing, Bauhaus architects began using huge panes of glass in their designs to allow in natural sunlight. The Bauhaus’ main building in Dessau still features a huge glass façade with an exposed framework, and its workshops and studios inside are illuminated by walls of glass.

Outside of architecture, glass was used as a medium of design and the Bauhaus taught glasswork as part of its main curriculum. One of the most prolific users of glass was Josef Albers, husband of textile artist Anni Albers, who used glass as one of his primary mediums. Throughout his career, Albers designed stained glass windows for churches, residential homes, museums and factories, little of which remains today, unfortunately.

 

Inside Josef Albers: Glass, Color, and Light | Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Josef Albers Foundation. 1995
Inside Josef Albers: Glass, Color and Light | Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Josef Albers Foundation. 1995

 

Explore our Bauhaus collection and see our Bauhaus-inspired installation in the windows of our Chelsea store. Don’t forget to follow the fun on social media using the hashtag #ShapedByConran.