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Bauhaus manifesto re-cap

Historical background and content

Lyonel Feininger, Kathedrale [Cathedral], 1919,
Cover of the manifesto and programme of the Bauhaus,
April 1919, Woodblock print, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin,
Photo: Atelier Schneider, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018.

Published in April of 1919, a tract for his new school penned by Walter Gropius expresses the basic tenets of this new school and its unique goal of bringing architects, artisans and artists together to create a new working and training community united by the primacy of architecture and a return to notions of craftsmanship as its guiding ethos. Gropius stressed the vigor of this appeal by dubbing the pamphlet a “manifesto” a decision reminiscent of avant-garde art groups such as the Dadaists and Futurists; making the Bauhaus manifesto the first (but not last) architectural manifesto.

Manifesto and programme of the Bauhaus, April 1919, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin,
Photo: Atelier Schneider, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018.

Printed on paper slightly narrower than DIN A4, four pages in length, the Lyonel Feininger “Cathedral” woodcut on its cover: Three stars surround the cathedral spire, symbolizing the three principle arts—painting, architecture and sculpture—united, according to the Bauhaus vision, by the new concern with craft. The text begins with a declaration of principle expressed in the often-cited statement: “The ultimate goal of all art is the building!” Architecture is brought to the fore and declared the school’s most important objective, a concern reflected as well in the very word “Bauhaus”—a term that so synonymous with the school’s ideals it is no longer necessary to translate it. The second important statement refers directly to the cover illustration: “Architects, sculptors, painters—we all must return to craftsmanship!” This declaration heralds a new relationship and new humility toward craftsmanship, toward making, toward the imperative of community and communal goals. In short, this brief sentence contains the basic formulation of the goals and principles of the Bauhaus—the unified work of art, the importance of building.

Gropius wrote his text shortly after the end of World War I. The German empire had collapsed, Russia had undergone a revolution and a second revolution in Germany was in the process of being suppressed. Throughout Germany people felt the necessity for a social and intellectual change. Amidst the general disorder, Gropius pushed forward with his ideas, a combination of the socialist-inspired return to Medieval craft guilds and handicrafts advocated by John Ruskin and others in the nineteenth century Arts and Crafts movement. Gropius sought to unite two old institutional typologies—the art academy and the craft guild—towards similarly progressive ends, combining them within one radically new institutional model: the Bauhaus. By putting workshop training at the core of its curriculum, Gropius made his approach clear: “The artist is an exalted artisan.“

This text is based on an interview by Marion von Osten with Magdalena Droste.

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