Already from its inception, the Bauhaus was internationally oriented. Students and teachers travelled from different parts of Europe and Asia to become part of the school. As the curators of the project, we understand the global circulation of Bauhaus ideas not in terms of impact, but rather though its participation in international networks prior to 1933, and how this was mirrored in the school’s afterlife. The school itself was heterogeneous, and at different times, took ideas from the Arts and Crafts movement, socialism and communism, as well as spiritualist and esoteric concepts. It linked to revolutionary soviet Constructivism, and its members participated in movements such as the International Congress of Architecture (CIAM). This diversity also produced contradictions and conflict. There were discrepancies in its utopianism, for example despite steps towards toward women’s emancipation, gender hierarchies and stereotypes persisted at the Bauhaus, and tensions between art and design education, between learning and commercial production, between egalitarian aspirations and a largely upper middle-class clientele for its products went unresolved. Ultimately this complexity mitigates against any canonical reading of the Bauhaus or attempt to reduce it to a style, which has been reflected in our approach.
Walter Gropius vision of the Bauhaus – as the school’s first director from 1919–27-constituted a break with classical and academic training including its separation between the fine and applied arts. This revision was also important in parts of the world where decolonising education meant doing away with art/craft hierarchies often imposed through European colonization. Gropius believed that experimental and artistic research can intervene in the conditions of mass production. Hence the preliminary course introduced formal and material studies, which fed into the workshops and eventually through to collaborations with industry. Under the Bauhaus’s second director Hannes Meyer (1927–30) a socialist and poly-technical understanding of design was realized including spatial, topographic and societal research, before in its last phase the Bauhaus took the form of an architecture school under the directorship of the architect Mies van der Rohe (1930–33). The Bauhaus in all its different phases from 1919 to 1933 consistently remained a school for practitioners by practitioners, based in material experimentation, contrasting with the privileging of cognitive over practical and manual skills today.