●Edition 2: Learning From

Connecting the Dots

Sharing the Space between Indigenous and Modernist Visual Spatial Languages

Ever increasing numbers of design institutes note the merits of cultural diversity within their pedagogy and practice. Rather quixotically, however, Eurocentric modernist ideals remain dominant within design curricula. This ambiguity results in non-Western social, cultural and creative practice, remaining side-lined, albeit while still being lauded as of great value. Critical of this duplicity, this paper introduces the Pasifika ideology of Tā-vā (tā meaning time and vā meaning space), the concept of teu la vā, as a sacred and unbreakable connection, and te ao Māori (the worldview of New Zealand’s Indigenous people), identifying a number of correlations and contradictions these offer to the establishment and implementation of Bauhaus pedagogy and subsequent examples of modernism adopted beyond Europe. This study asserts that Indigenous visual spatial languages have much to offer design’s call to broaden its scope of inquiry by expanding the field’s understanding of both literal and ideological connections through time and space. By recognizing Indigenous visual spatial languages, values, and strategies as a part of design history—as well as its contemporary use and as a powerful tool of change—the shifts so fervently sought within the discipline are more likely to be achieved.


While the momentum to shift design away from its reliance on “universal” concepts continues to gain bandwidth, this study suggests there is still work to be done with graduate students, who will advance the laudable skills and acumen that multiplicity offers design. In recent years, growing numbers of design institutes and practitioners have referred to inclusivity and diversity as politically, socially, and, where it suits them, economically beneficial. But implementation has yet to be considered on a broad scale. The merits of cultural diversity add to the capacity and capability of institutes to graduate globally competent citizens,1 and this paper illustrates a pedagogical pathway that engages cultural acumen in a meaningful and authentic way to achieve this. This research introduces the Indigenous values and strategies imbued within visual-spatial languages, arguing they should, as a matter of historical correctness, be first and foremost acknowledged for their contributions to our aesthetic and built environs, and, secondly, valued for the renewed opportunities they offer design to recalibrate its cultural and ideological compass. This study aims to show that the inclusion of Indigenous tenets, specifically those of the Pacific region known as Moana,2 is not as much of a cultural or pedagogical stretch as one at first might think. In fact, this knowledge is already tacit, albeit overlooked in our modernist-led curriculum. Drawing analogies between Indigenous visual-spatial strategies and the roots of modernism, this research elucidates not only the relevance but the opportunity Indigenous knowledge holds for design thinking and practice.

The predicament lies in the fact that, unlike traditional art and craft, design as a discipline developed well after the colonial period; as such, design researchers have tended to disregard Indigenous cultures as having little to offer it. In recent years, however, design’s increased demand for diversity has called for a re-evaluation of this paradigm. For example, in support of a shift away from the homogeny of standardization, Alain Findeli has posited that twenty-first century design should further “open up the scope of inquiry.”3 Supporting such calls and drawing upon the cultural diversity extant within Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Design Innovation cohorts, this study presents course work developed to enable New Zealand design students to gain appreciation for culturally inspired visual-spatial languages and an understanding of what these can offer their thinking and praxis. The Pasifika ideology of Ta-vā (meaning time andmeaning space), further supported by developing an understanding of teu la vā as a sacred and unbreakable connection and te ao Māori (the Māori worldview), are central to this work.

Within Ta-vā, Hūfanga 'Okusitino Māhina explains, “People are thought to walk forward into the past and walk backwards into the future, both taking place in the present, where the past and the future are constantly mediated in the ever-transforming present.”4 Māhina also introduces the concept of eternal relationships through teu le vā, explaining that: “All things, in nature, mind and society, stand in eternal relations of exchange.”5 A central tenet of the Māori worldview is the notion that time is non-linear in nature, explained with the proverb ka mua ki muri, meaning to walk backwards into the future and consider connections to both people and place.

By drawing a parallel between the historical trajectories of reductive graphic codes and holistic ideologies espoused by both Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) and the Bauhaus (1919–1933) and those imbued in te ao Māori, Ta-vā, and teu le vā, this study exposes the connections between Indigenous ideologies and Bauhaus-inspired modernist design education, arguing that the acknowledgement, inclusion, and reflection of Indigenous acumen should not be considered an interesting historical or cultural deviation, but as itself containing ideologies, strategies, and visual-spatial languages deeply rooted in and highly relevant to the enrichment of design today. By using Indigenous knowledge, our students have identified and visually expressed both tangible and intangible connections to both past, present, and future, investigating the historic or traditional meanings and methods attached to the symbolism or strategies they have identified, and discerning relevant methods for expressing culture in contemporary and collective contexts.

The Backdrop and New Insights to Design’s History

Ornament speaks to us and about us through both figurative and rhythmic languages.6 In the production of form, the visualization of narratives, and the expression of both symbolic and pragmatic meanings, ornament has always been a fundamental tool. But as an article of culture, it has also been misunderstood and misused. Aesthetic education has celebrated the thinking and work of Vitruvius (c. 90–c.20 BCE), Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472), pointing to the centuries that ensued, when the use of ornament flourished, as a highpoint in the development of ornament’s formal vocabulary, through to the late nineteenth century, when its extravagant use caused ornament, along with cultural, religious, and historic visual references to ornamentation, to be called into question. Reacting to the excesses of the Rococo style, the horrors of mass-production, and the widening economic social divide, the roles and responsibilities of ornament began to be scrutinized by theorists such as Owen Jones (1809–1874) and John Ruskin (1819–1900). Throughout the later part of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century Ruskin and Jones’ ideals attempted to imbue a more egalitarian and universal approach to education, one that would offer an understanding of aesthetic languages that was not owned or defined by class and ethnicity.

Subsequently, Adolf Loos (1870–1933) categorically scorned the use of ornament, labeling it degenerate and no less than a crime.7 Moreover, Loos’s criticism of “indigeneity as counteractive to the evolution of a modern culture devoid of primitive ornament”8 was among the earliest and most fanatical outbursts in the coming assault on ornament, leading to the elimination of ornament design from the curricula of schools of art and architecture.

One might argue that Loos’s argument was overly polemical. However, the political, personal, and economic discourse that besieged this period in design’s history reveals that despite his essay being an efficacious work of fiction rather than historical fact, his influence increased in the coming decades. So it seems opportune for this study to diverge away from the historical trajectory of modernism’s abolition of ornament to tread a not-so-teleological path illuminating a connection between Froebel’s theories, Ruskin and Jones’ manifestoes, the Bauhaus, and the visual spatial languages of Indigenous Pasifika and Māori cultures. To begin, Froebel’s instigation of aesthetic education informed Ruskin and Jones’ work, greatly contributing to the development of a modernist design pedagogy. Froebel was in turn inspired by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Johann Pestalozzi (1746–1847), and believed that incorporating simple visual and physical elements into pedagogy, alongside sensory learning, could achieve unity within struggling societies. Froebel thus approached education from both a biological and a spiritual perspective, formulating a reductive graphic code based on a sparse grammar of lines and curves, acknowledging relationships within space and building his pedagogy upon holistic, sensory, spatial, and social ideals. His work, like the Māori world view te ao Māori, embraced all things in nature as connected, offering an early linkage between Western thought systems and Indigenous knowledge. Froebel introduced—more correctly, re-introduced—values that emphasized, nurtured, and respected the individual, acknowledging their ongoing or intergenerational connection to a larger collective, whether family, community, or environment. As an aside, Buckminster Fuller would later reference this relationship within his Spaceship Earth concept.9

Froebel’s pedagogy has been credited as having had a direct influence on the inception of modernism; influencing Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius (1883–1969) and his Vorkurs studio masters—Johannes Itten (1888–1967), Paul Klee (1879–1940), Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), and Lázsló Moholy-Nagy (1888–1967). It also influenced Le Corbusier, (1833–1965) Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983), and Charles Eames (1907–1978), to name a few of the grandfathers of Western aesthetics.10 Froebel’s holistic, abstract theories had previously given traction to the reform programs of Ruskin and Jones, and were in the twentieth century developed by Itten and Moholy-Nagy at the historical Bauhaus, as well as inspiring the endeavors of Bauhaus émigrés after the school’s closure.11 These men have been credited with fashioning the bedrock of the modernist aesthetic and its pedagogy. Informing my research focus is the fact that, quixotically, neither the fields of architecture nor design in this period ever acknowledged the existence, influence, or impact of Indigenous visual spatial strategies, which predate the codified visual expressions and holistic strategies Froebel, Ruskin, and Jones developed as an expression of their discontent with the irrational, excessive, and visually meaningless. (Fig 1)

Fig 1.
Left: Pasifika works of tapa and tukutuku Jones’ 1857 Ornament of Grammar.
Middle: Froebel’s work, circa 1850, Norman Brosterman. Inventing Kindergarten.
Right: Gunta Stölzl, 1928, Bauhaus Weaving Workshop. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019.
All use sparse grammars of lines and curves to express abstracted narratives.

Correlations between Indigenous and Modernist: Reductive Codes.

Froebel introduced a codified and sparse visual grammar to express the abstracted essence of form and space. The “Gifts,” as his tools were called, encouraged physical experimentation through the principles of connection and divisibility.12 Shifting from simple to complex and between two and three dimensions, the Gifts created inter-connected spatial relationships. Central to my argument is the resemblance Froebel’s aesthetic codes have with the visual grammars observed in P.V. Kirch’s 1997 work, The Lapita Peoples: Ancestors of the Oceanic World—identifiable, for instance, in the dentate stamping on Lapita pottery from as far back as 1500 BC.13 This correlation, I posit, illuminates the first link between traditional Indigenous practices and what aesthetic educators ironically refer to as the inception of the modernist approach (Fig 2). In The Grammar of Ornament, Owen Jones references numerous ancient cultures, taking from them much of his inspiration for unraveling theories around visual abstraction. Half a century later, Eugene Grasset (1845–1917), the French reformist and an inspiration to Johannes Itten, also affirmed the value of Indigenous knowledge, stating: “The return to the primitive sources of simple geometry is a certain guarantee of the soundness of our method.”14 Jones’ work depicted the abstracted graphics, flat patterning, and ornamentation of many cultures whose aesthetic strategies were subsequently adapted, albeit without recognition, into modernist strategies. Although, sadly, Jones referred to Indigenous decorative work as having been done by “savages,” unlike his contemporaries he readily acknowledged the extraordinary nature of Indigenous knowledge within design,15 stating: “The eye of the savage accustomed only to look upon Nature’s harmonies, would readily enter into the perception of the true balance both of form and colour.”16

Fig 2.
Far left: Examples of Froebel’s Gifts. Circa 1850, Norman Brosterman, Inventing Kindergarten.
Right: Lapita peoples are the ancestors of the Polynesians, Micronesians, and Austronesian-speaking Melanesians who colonized the islands of the Pacific. These two plates display reductive graphic codes. Patrick Vinton Kirch. The Lapita Peoples: Ancestors of the Oceanic World.

Space as a Relationship

The second correlation between modernist and Indigenous works is their shared understanding of space as a relationship. For Froebel, connections within space existed, and he believed nurturing these connections was important. Using the second Gift, Froebel used spinning to show how form is perceived to change when treated differently within space. From static in space to spinning in space, a sphere becomes a cylinder. In this way Froebel described appearance and illustrated perception. His simple demonstration illustrated how separate physical entities can be connected by lasting symbiotic, yet fluid, relationships; attributes summarized by Brosterman thusly: “Froebel, in a sleight-of-hand worthy of a resourceful magician, created the ultimate gambit—a straightforward demonstration of cosmic mutuality and universal interconnectedness that even a child could understand.”17 In contrast to the Western paradigm of space as a separator, the ideals embedded in the Pasifika constructs of Ta-vā, and teu le vā, as with Froebel’s Gifts, also emphasize connectivity, his exercises expressing, as do Ta-vā and teu le vā, intangible yet present immaterial connections, sensory perception, and a shared understanding. Samoan-born author Albert Wendt explains as containing symbiotic relationships that as a consequence of nurturing and respect grow and change over time. “ is the space between, the in-betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates but, space that relates, that vā holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-in-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things.”18 Echoing this, Amiria Henare explains that within te ao Māori, “people and things have close relations that collapse spatial and temporal boundaries.”19

As important contributors to this synergy—motivated in this context by twentieth century industrialization— in their respective iterations of the Bauhaus preliminary year (Vorkurs) pedagogy, Itten and Moholy-Nagy, two of the most influential Bauhaus masters, shaped design pedagogies which continue to be central to design instruction. Itten’s Vorkurs methodology laid a pathway for individual exploration and analysis of one’s self, nature, and the world of artistic creativity within the context of a collective.20 This was not done to produce a common style, as has been wrongly interpreted within mid-twentieth century American architectural and design education, but to cultivate shared understanding. Itten’s tenets, like Ta-vā and teu le vā, offered students the ability to see, synthesize emotion, and connect with their physical senses in order to both experience and articulate the essence of form and space. “The essence of a material is its effect of space, the immaterial,” Itten explained. “Space is the material of the immaterial.”21

Lázsló Moholy-Nagy’s spatial experiments and social ideology also possess a demonstrable correlation to Indigenous knowledge. After his emigration to the United States in 1933, Moholy-Nagy attempted to disseminate his holistic and inclusive tenets at the New Bauhaus in Chicago. Moholy-Nagy wrote: “Today spatial design is an interweaving of shapes: shapes which are ordered into certain well defined, if invisible, space relations; shapes which represent the fluctuating play of tension and force.”22 At this time, Walter Gropius, then teaching at Harvard Graduate School of Design, praised Moholy-Nagy’s conception of space, saying it “opened design considerations to the problems of the fourth dimension and a modern conception of space.”23 Peder Anker, a historian of environmental sciences, states that “Moholy-Nagy believed the future held the possibility of a new harmony between humans and their earthly environment.”24 Supporting this, Findeli also applauds Moholy-Nagy’s assertion that “the key to our age is to be able to see everything in relationship.”25 Again, Moholy-Nagy’s ideas resemble te ao Māori and Ta-vā in that both speak to a spiritual unity that continuously binds people with place through an understanding and respect for space, and all that exists in it and between entities. The energy and forces held within the Earth and the symbiotic relationships between the planet and humans are implicitly understood within Moana cultures. With equal tribute, I suggest that Māhina’s Tā-vā, and te ao Māori sit comfortably alongside Moholy-Nagy’s work, and also reveal further correlations with Froebel, Itten, and the Bauhaus as a whole. Despite the laudable efforts of those Bauhaüslers who emigrated to the United States, their tenets were not adopted wholesale. Only the reductive code, the universal aesthetic, and a perpetual desire to unite creative practice with advancing technologies—predominantly motivated by financial reward—remained of the Bauhaus pedagogy following its American translation. I posit that what was diminished or completely lost in later adaptations of both Itten and Moholy-Nagy’s teachings were the notions each had developed within their respective appreciations of space with regards to symbiotic relationships, the interconnectedness of humans with nature, and an appreciation of connectivity persisting across time.

Connecting Indigenous Knowledge and Design Pedagogy

The Māori ideologies of Ta-vā, teu le vā, and te ao ensure that the relationships formed between people, nature, and objects is reciprocal. But they also share a nexus, being that space holds physical, emotional, and perceptual qualities. To celebrate Hirini Moko Mead’s proclamation of Māori knowledge as having finally “come out of hiding and now in the bright light of day,”26 and inspired by design theorist Fern Lerner’s assertion that cultural diversity, provided that new aesthetic languages are not constricted or impeded, offers new agency to design,27 design course work was developed at Victoria University School of Design that integrated the legacy of Māori connectivity through both personal, cultural, and discipline-specific histories. First Year design students were asked to construct visual articulations expressing their emotional connection to themselves, their genealogy (whakapapa), and their cultural heritage. Students then used strategies of repetition, rotation, and reflection employed in the traditional visual narrative works of Māori tukutuku and Pasifika tapa (Fig 3) to develop collective juxtapositions. Using simple elements and forms of the reductive aesthetic codes that, as I have asserted, bind Indigenous visual languages to Froebel’s Gifts, the Bauhaus, and the modernist aesthetic—along with an understanding of te ao Maori, Ta-vā, and teu le vā that allowed each student to abstractly and critically depict the in-between space of culture—the project assignments required students to express and reveal themselves through their culture, applying their understanding of Indigenous symbols to visual strategies so as to illustrate their connection to a greater cultural whole.

Fig 3. First Year Work Interconnectivity—Modern Tribes—Life Symbols. Depicted are a variety of the individual life symbol designed by the students using teu le vā, depicting their connection to and within a larger entity.

This exercise helped students to develop an appreciation of the relationships illustrated within their compositions which become legible as a result of these strategies, enabling them to experience connectivity on multiple scales and to consider their work as both juxtaposed with and connected to something larger than themselves. The conceptual process students undertook was intended to encourage them to see themselves as participants within and guardians of complex systems connected to both people and place. In a second exercise demonstrating the design process of iteration, students were instructed to express teu le vā as a family tree, using this structure to iterate their previous design work. Supported by Jones’ assertion that within Indigenous ornament the true balance of both form and color could always be found,28 and armed with an appreciation that people and cultures arrange time and space in diverse ways, students investigated Māori and Pasifika practices where time and space are marked through the use of repetition and symmetry. Symbols designed referenced historical and contemporary cultures alike, representing Indigenous narratives that identify and reflect which culture—or cultures—students felt tethered to. Using a combination of analog and digital technologies for pattern generation, students continued to expand on their understanding of iteration and connection.

The patterns illustrated in Fig 4, at the right of the individual symbol (top far left) are adaptations representing different degrees to which the individual feels a part of larger collectives. The first pattern expresses the student’s relationship with their family, or tutorial group of about 20 students. This student has located the individual symbol of themselves as a large and recognizable element within a group of similar elements. The second pattern represents the student within their class, numbering approximately 120 students. This particular pattern shows less distinction between each element, but its creator expressed in their reflective summary that the scale still enabled a place for individuality. The third and fourth patterns represent the entire first-year design cohort of over 250 students. It seemingly engulfs distinctiveness, but hints of individual uniqueness are still visible. The repetition and fluidity of the pattern reads as a harmonious connection among what the student summarized as “kindred spirits.”

Fig 4. First Year Work Interconnectivity—Modern Tribes—Life Patterns. Depicted (top) is the individual life symbol iterated using teu le vā to represent connectivity with a larger entity. Using the collective format of Jones’ Grammar of Ornament, the individual patterns are catalogued as plates representing collective cultural heritages and embodying the cohort as a series of connected modern tribes.

Although efforts are presently being made, design is still in need of a pedagogical approach engendering diverse understandings of time and space. I have argued in this essay for engaging with the ideological meanings and narratives embedded in Indigenous visual-spatial languages and strategies, in combination with acknowledging their relevance and contribution to our aesthetic appreciation and built environs, so that the assimilation of Indigenous culture within contemporary design education can be meaningfully realized. By doing so, one outcome will be the matriculation of a more diverse and globally proficient body of design students. Equally important, these graduates will value and disclose—using an enriched visual/spatial vocabulary—the connectivity between humans and nature, between humans and objects, and between individuals within the broader human community. As a Froebel alumni and one of Moholy-Nagy’s kindred spirits—and I would also hope to Māhina—Buckminster Fuller once put forward a hopeful estimation of the intersubjective nature of space. “Space is irrelevant,” he said. “There is no space, there are only relationships.”29

Further literature

Walter Drexel: “The Bauhaus Style: A Myth,” in: E. Neumann (ed.): Bauhaus and Bauhaus People: Personal Opinions and Recollections of Former Bauhaus Members and their Contemporaries, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York 1993.
Alain Findeli: “Moholy-Nagy’s Design Pedagogy in Chicago (1937-46),” Design Issues 7, 1990, pp. 4–19.
Alain Findeli and Charlotte Benton: “Design Education and Industry:The Laborious Beginnings of the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1944,” Journal of Design History 4, 1991, pp. 97–113.
T.M.C.E. Foundation: M.C.Escher, Pixelday, LLC., Washington 2013.
Maria Kraus-Boelte and John Kraus: The Kindergarten Guide. An Illustrated Hand-Book Designed for the Self-Instruction of Kindergarteners, Mothers and Nurses, E. Steiger & Co., New York 1882.
Hūfanga 'Okusitino Mahina: “Our Sea of Islands,” The Contemporary Pacific 6, 1994, pp. 148–61.
Lázsló Moholy-Nagy: Vision in Motion, Paul Theobold and Company, Chicago 1947.
Henry P. Raleigh: “Johannes Itten and the Background of Modern Art Education,” Art Journal 27, 1968, pp. 284–302.
Annemarie Jaeggi (ed.): Bauhaus: A Conceptual Model, Hajte Cantz, Ostfildern 2009.
Albert Wendt (ed.): Towards Oceania, Macmillian Press Ltd., Auckland 1982.

  • 1 C. B. N. M. M. J.-J. Y. B. S. McFall: “Design Thinking: Promoting Diversity through Global Immersion,” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 37, No. 3, 2009, pp. 344–358.
  • 2 Unasa L F Va'a: “Samoan Cultural Perceptions of Tā-Vā,” Pacific Studies: Special Issue Tā-Vā (Time-Space) Theory of Reality 40, 2017, p. 1.
  • 3 Alain Findeli: “Rethinking Design Education for the 21st Century: Theoritical, Methodological and Ethical Discussion,” Design Issues 17, 2001, p. 11.
  • 4 Hūfanga 'Okusitino Mahina: “Tā, Vā and Moana: Temporality, Spatiality, and Indigeneity,” Pacific Studies 33, 2010.
  • 5 Ibid.
  • 6 Kent Bloomer: The Nature of Ornament: Rhythm and Metamorphosis in Architecture, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York 2000.
  • 7 Adolph Loos: Ornament and Crime, Ariadne Press, Riverside, Calif. 1997, p. 45.
  • 8 Ibid.
  • 9 Buckminster Fuller: Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity, Lars Muller Publishers, Oslo 1969.
  • 10 Norman Brosterman: Inventing Kindergarten, Harry.N.Abrams, Inc., New York 1997, p. 18.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 19.
  • 12 Ibid., p. 50.
  • 13 P. V. Kirch: The Lapita Peoples: Ancestors of the Oceanic World, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, Mass. 1997, p. 31.
  • 14 Eugene Grasset: Methode de Composition Ornementale par Eugene Grasset, Librairie Central des Beaux Arts, Paris 1905, p. 115.
  • 15 Nan O’Sullivan: “Connecting the Dots: The Points, Lines and Planes Shared Between Indigenous and Modernist Visual Spatial Languages,” Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 19 (1-2), 2016, pp. 239–51, p. 245.
  • 16 Owen Jones: The Grammar of Ornament, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Limited, Berkshire 1856, p. 14.
  • 17 Brosterman: Inventing Kindergarten, p. 45–46.
  • 18 Albert Wendt: “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” SPAN: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies 42, 1996, p. 42.
  • 19 Amiria Henare: Museums, Anthropology and Imperial Exchange, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005, p. 3.
  • 20 Frank Whitford: Bauhaus, Thames and Hudson, London 1984, p. 119.
  • 21 Eva Badura-Triska (ed.): Diary no. 7, 27 May 1918, Löcker Verlag, Weisbaden 1990, p. 278.
  • 22 Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, Ise Gropius (eds.): Bauhaus 1919-1928, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1938, p. 122.
  • 23 Fern Lerner: “Liberating Foundations of Art and Design International,” Journal of Art and Design Education 31, 2012, pp. 140–52, p. 143.
  • 24 Peder Anker: “Graphic Language: Herbert Bayer’s Environmental Design” Environmental History 12, 2007, pp. 254–79, p. 256.
  • 25 Findeli: “Rethinking Design Education for the 21st Century,” p. 17.
  • 26 Hirini Moko Mead: Tikanga Māori Hawai‘i, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu 2006, p. 23.
  • 27 Lerner: “Liberating Foundations of Art and Design International,” p. 148.
  • 28 Jones: The Grammar of Ornament, p. 14.
  • 29 Buckminster Fuller: Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity, Lars Muller Publishers, Oslo 1969.
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In this recorded interview, Vicuña describes how after she first learned about quipu, she immediately integrated the system into her life. Quipu, the Spanish transliteration of the word for “knot” in Cusco Quechua, is a system of colored, spun and plied or waxed threads or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. They were used by the Inca people for a variety of administrative purposes, mainly record-keeping, and also for other ends that have now been lost to history.  → more

Diagonal. Pointé. Carré — Goodbye Bauhaus? Otti Berger’s Designs for Wohnbedarf AG Zurich

Gunta Stölzl. Anni Albers. These are the most prominent names today when one thinks of actors in the Bauhaus textile workshop. Both had been involved in the textile workshop since Weimar times, shaping it through their understanding of textiles and their teaching. Otti Berger did not join the workshop until Dessau. Stölzl and Albers succeeded in leaving Germany in 1931–32. And they succeeded in continuing to work as textile designers and artists. Berger succeeded in doing this, too, but accompanied by an ongoing struggle for recognition and fair remuneration. → more

The World in the Province from the Province to the World — Bauhaus Ceramics in an International Context

In this article Hans-Peter Jakobson presents the various influences, both national and international, and direct and indirect, influencing the views on ceramics taught in the Ceramic Workshop of the State Bauhaus Weimar Dornburg. Based on the life paths, inspirations and influences of the few ceramists who emerged from the Bauhaus workshop in Dornburg, he traces possible worldwide developments in ceramics to the present day. → more

Reading Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture in North America, 1957

In the 1960s, the interest in a regional and vernacular architecture evolved into a sort of counterculture against the prevailing modernism in the USA. Sybil Moholy-Nagy’s book is an early document of this movement and today a classic of architecture history. It features buildings and construction techniques that emerge from social practices and whose builders remain anonymous. They include Amerindian settlement forms, Mexican pueblos and churches, as well as barns and houses of the first European settlers. → more

Vernacular Architecture and the Uses of the Past

In sending out the manuscript of Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture to a publisher, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy added a note on the “Genesis of the manuscript,” which is quite revealing about the intellectual trajectory that gave rise to it. She positioned herself as first and foremost a traveling observer, learning from direct contact with artefacts and buildings, curious about their histories and willing to interpret material evidence and local narratives. → more

The “Workshop for Popular Graphic Art” in Mexico — Bauhaus Travels to America

The global developments that led in 1942 to the appointment of Hannes Meyer, second Bauhaus director, as head of the workshop for popular graphic art, Taller de Gráfica Popular (henceforth referred to as the TGP), made it a focal point for migrating Europeans in flight from fascism. This essay aims to shed light on how the TGP was influenced by Europeans granted asylum by Mexico before and during World War Two, and, conversely, to explore the degree to which these exiled visual artists, writers, and architects’ ideas came to be influenced by their contact with artists active in the TGP. → more

Lena Bergner — From the Bauhaus to Mexico

The story of Lena Bergner is relevant to the history of architecture and design on account of her career passing through different ideological and cultural contexts. Here we will discuss her life and work, focusing on her training in the Bauhaus, her time in the USSR and her time in Mexico, where, along with her husband the architect Hannes Meyer, over a ten-year period she undertook cultural projects of great importance. → more

Of Art and Politics — Hannes Meyer and the Workshop of Popular Graphics

The Mexico of President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was a fertile ground for the development of ideological questions, especially those originating from the left. The expropriation of oil fields, mining and large estates in 1938, the refuge granted Spanish republicans and members of the International Brigades in 1939, and the accord of mutual support between the government and syndicalist organizations all favored the formation of artistic and cultural groups willing to take part in the consolidation of revolutionary ideals which, until that point, had made little progress. Among these organizations was the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the Workshop of Popular Graphics. → more

bauhaus imaginista — and the importance of transculturality

What bauhaus imaginista has documented thus relates to a particular historical phase, one that opened a path to the renewal of the art situation in Morocco. And yet, although more recent generations of Moroccan art historians and critics often mentioned the period as a formative and unavoidable reference point, they never really deepened study of that period. It somehow remained in the shadows of other phases and realities. But cultural memory has its rhythms, and the moment arose when the years of the Casablanca Group called for attention, demanding its artistic accomplishments be better understood. In this regard, the bauhaus imaginista project came at the right moment and has had important repercussions. → more


I was sixteen years old when I undertook my first journey into finding a professional vocation, first in Asilah, then in Fez followed by Tétouan. 1952. Tangiers was, to me, an open book, a window on the world. The freedom of seeing, of discovering and of feeling, of weaving the narratives of my dreams. → more

The Bauhaus and Morocco

In the years when Western nations were committed in new projects of partnership, with what was then called the “Third World”, young artists and students from the Maghreb had grown up in the passionate climate of the struggle for independence, were talented, open to modernity, and eager to connect with twentieth-century international art movements, which were different in production and spirit from colonial ideology and culture. → more

École des Beaux-Arts de Casablanca (1964–1970) — Fonctions de l’Image et Facteurs Temporels

Utopie culturelle vécue, posture éthique et préfiguration de la modernité artistique et culturelle marocaine, l’École des Beaux-arts de Casablanca est, de 1964 à 1970, le lieu de cristallisations d’aspirations sociales et artistiques portées par un groupe d’artistes et enseignants responsables d’une restructuration des bases pédagogiques. → more

Les Intégrations: Faraoui and Mazières. 1966–1982 — From the Time of Art to the Time of Life

Les Intégrations exemplified a specific conceptual motif, one that acted not within a single field but rather implied a relationship of interdependence between different media (visual arts and architecture) and techniques (those of graphic arts and architecture). They thus allowed for the emergence of disciplines that were not static in formation but evolving in relation to one another. The intermedial relationship they created between art and architecture raises the question of what lies “between” these disciplines: how do they communicate with each other? What are the elements of language common to this “spirit of the times,” to the particular atmosphere of the late 1960s? → more

Chabâa’s Concept of the “3 As”

“Architecture is one expression of the fine arts” (Mohamed Chabâa, in: Alam Attarbia, No. 1, p. 36, 2001.)

Mohamed Chabâa’s consciousness of his national heritage and his interest in architecture both emerged at a young age. His concept of the “3 A’s”—art, architecture and the arts and crafts—grew out of his discovery both of the Italian Renaissance and the Bauhaus School during a period of study in Rome in the early 1960s. From then on, bringing together the “3 A’s” would become a central interest, a concept Chabâa would apply in various ways and fiercely defend throughout his long and varied career. → more

Don’t Breathe Normal: Read Souffles! — On Decolonizing Culture

The need for a synthesis of the arts and, with this, a change of pedagogical principles, was not only present at the beginning of the twentieth century (forces that prompted the Bauhaus’s foundation), but after WWII as well, during the “Short Century” of decolonization. This second modern movement and its relation to modernism and the vernacular, the hand made, and the everyday was vividly expressed through texts and art works published in the Moroccan quarterly magazine Souffles, published beginning in the mid-1960s by a group of writers and artists in Rabat, Casablanca and Paris. → more

A Bauhaus Domesticated in São Paulo

In March 1950, Pietro Maria Bardi, director of the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP, which opened in 1947), wrote to several American educational institutions requesting their curricula as an aid to developing the first design course in Brazil—the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC), which was to be run as a part of the museum and would also be the country’s first design school. Despite being brief and objective, his missives did not fail to mention the “spirit of the Bauhaus,” explicitly linking the institute he hoped to found with a pedagogical lineage whose objectives and approach he aimed to share. → more

In the Footsteps of the Bauhaus — Its Reception and Impact on Brazilian Modernity

Through the strong German-speaking minority and its active work in the creation and mediation of culture in the spirit of modernity, the application of Bauhaus formal language, especially in the first phase of Brazilian modernity, has played a considerable role. It was only with the equation of German culture with National Socialism and the ensuing intolerance of German protagonists that these architectural and cultural activities were severely disrupted. In Brazil during this period, a style of modernism based on the principles of Le Corbusier finally gained acceptance. The impulses of the Bauhaus, however, which were not perceived for many years, were also reinterpreted and further developed within Brazil, although they remained occulted in comparison to the public reception of Corbusier. → more

Ivan Serpa, Lygia Clark, and the Bauhaus in Brazil

The art school of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro was established in 1952, led by Ivan Serpa, who gave classes for both children and adults—including artists who would go on to form the Grupo Frente (1954–56) and later the neo-concrete movement (1959–61). Writer and critic Mário Pedrosa described the “experimental” character of these classes, but the fact this experimentation was structured through study of color, materials, technique and composition has encouraged art historian Adele Nelson to claim Serpa’s teaching method was substantially based on the Bauhaus preliminary course. → more

Walking on a Möbius Strip — The Inside/Outside of Art in Brazil

This text investigates how the topological figure of the Möbius strip, famously propagated by Bauhaus proponent Max Bill, was used in Brazil within dissident artistic practices of the 1960s and 1970s as a tool for reflection on the subject, alterity and public space. The Möbius strip is revisited in this essay as a conduit for thinking critically about possible subversions of Eurocentric forms, as well as various appropriations of traditional popular culture by modern and contemporary art in Brazil. → more

The Poetry of Design — A search for multidimensional languages between Brazilian and German modernists

In the 1950s and 1960s, intense debates and exchanges took place between Brazilians and Germans working in the fields of design, art, and their various manifestations—from architecture and painting to music and poetry. These intertwined lines are identifiable in myriad events: journeys, meetings, exchanges of letters, exhibitions, lectures, courses, and publications. Common modes of production emerged out of these different encounters where, more than relations of influence, one can observe how entangled realities led to a questioning of the directionality of the flow between center and periphery. → more

The Latent Forces of Popular Culture — Lina Bo Bardi’s Museum of Popular Art and the School of Industrial Design and Crafts in Bahia, Brazil

This text deals with the experience of the Museum of Popular Art (MAP) and the School of Industrial Design and Handicraft, designed by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, in Salvador (capital of the state of Bahia), Brazil. Such a “school-museum” is based on the capture and transformation of latent forces that exist in Brazilian popular culture. → more

Teko Porã — On Art and Life

Cristine Takuá is an Indigenous philosopher, educator, and artisan who lives in the village of Rio Silveira, state of São Paulo, Brazil. She was invited to present a contemporary perspective on questions and tensions raised by interactions between the Indigenous communities and the mainstream art system, as well as to address Brazil’s specific social and political context. → more

Times of Rudeness — Design at an Impasse

In 1980, Lina Bo Bardi began working on a book concerning her time in the northeastern part of Brazil. With the help of Isa Grinspum Ferraz, she captioned the illustrations, revised her contributions to the book and drafted the layout and contents. The latter also included texts by her collaborators who, in a truly collective effort, had tried to envision the project of a true Brazil—an unfettered and free country with no remnant remaining of the colonial inferiority complex which had plagued the country earlier in its history. Bo Bardi discontinued her work in 1981. In 1994, the Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi published this project as Times of Rudeness: Design at an Impasse. → more

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