London — A home for Bauhaus Designers
The arrival of Gropius, Breuer and Moholy-Nagy to London was facilitated by Jack Pritchard—founder of Isokon Furniture Company Ltd. and an adept admirer of Modernist design and architecture. Pritchard worked as sales manager for Venesta, the largest manufacturer of plywood in the world in the 1930s, and during a business trip in 1931 he visited the Bauhaus in Dessau. His fascination for the Bauhaus modernist ideas and his antifascist impetus was key in helping the émigré masters to settle in London.
The first one to arrive was Walter Gropius and his wife Ise in 1934. They were hosted by Pritchard in the newly built and modernist Lawn Road Flats—also known as the Isokon building in Hampstead—designed by architect Wells Coates. A year later, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy followed Gropius and lived too in the Isokon.1 Pritchard’s numerous connections in architecture and design helped the émigré masters to find commissioned jobs. Gropius became Controller of Design for the Isokon Furniture Company Ltd. shortly after his arrival and advised Pritchard on furniture design that followed the Bauhaus ethos. He also took part in a project for the Village College Movement, led by Henry Morris, Chief Education Officer in Cambridgeshire. This program aimed to meet educational needs of children at rural Cambridgeshire and Gropius was asked to collaborate in the design of the Impington Village school (1935) with architect Maxwell Fry. Gropius, however, was not involved in the design of the teaching program. On the contrary, he often emphasised that imparting a programme like that of the Bauhaus was not be suitable for the UK because the conditions and reception of modernism were not as that of Germany.
The Isokon Furniture Company was one of the few British companies truly devoted to Modernism and having collaborators from the Bauhaus school greatly helped to achieve the latter. As controller of design, Gropius encouraged and facilitated work opportunities for his fellow Bauhaus colleagues in order to make a living according to their creative interests. Marcel Breuer designed various models of plywood furniture for the firm, including a long chair, nesting tables, and the Isokon table. Egon Riss, a Viennese émigré and allegedly student of the Bauhaus, also designed furniture such as the iconic Penguin Donkey bookcase. All the Isokon furniture was manufactured in Britain and was commercialised as modern and functional products—‘Invention which makes life more comfortable’, according to the slogan created by Moholy-Nagy in 1937. He also designed the logo and the embossed letterheading for Isokon, as well as several promotional materials and advertisements that showcased his signature photomontages, amongst them the promotional flyer to advertise and commercialise Breuer’s Isokon long chair and the Isokon’s fitted book shelves—which came in a box with instructions and all the necessary materials so that the buyer could build them by themselves.