The State Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in April 1919. Its precursors were the Grand Ducal Art School established by the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach Charles Alexander in 1860 and the Grand Ducal Vocational Arts School established in 1907. Their director, the Belgian painter, architect and interior designer Henry van de Velde, designed the two central buildings that are still home to the university today. When Van de Velde had to leave Germany during the First World War, he proposed the architect Walter Gropius as his successor. The latter subsequently founded the new school of design after the war. The Bauhaus remained in Weimar until 1925 when it moved to Dessau. This was mainly for political reasons: in Weimar’s nationalist milieu, attacks on the internationally-oriented school of reform with its self-confident teachers, radical ideas and innovative teaching methods increased.

Only a school of construction built in 1926 remained in Weimar. During the GDR era, it was continued as the University of Architecture and Civil Engineering. It was expanded after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989/90 and, in 1996, the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar was established. With its four faculties of architecture and urbanism, civil engineering, art and design, and media, the new university focused on balance and cooperation: while diversity and disciplinary excellence form the basis, common ground and interdisciplinary cooperation define the focus and vision.

From the perspective of the present-day Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, what makes the historical Bauhaus so special and what is its significance in the current time?

While the name »Bauhaus« alluded to the »Bauhütten« – the guilds of tradesmen who worked together on construction of the great gothic cathedrals in medieval times – the founders of the Bauhaus certainly did not look back. Rather, they wanted a radical new beginning. Some came from the Lebensreform social movement (literally, life reform) of the turn of the century or had belonged to the German Association of Craftsmen (Deutscher Werkbund) before the First World War, as was the case with Gropius. The latter association of artists, architects, designers and industrialists sought to reconcile craft and industry, and to contribute to the refinement of mechanical production through artistry. After the First World War, many of them were active within the Workers’ Council for Art (Arbeitsrat für Kunst). Artists sought to connect with the councils movement through this union. They hoped to be able to contribute to the reorganisation of politics and culture in Germany by working on solving the social tasks of the time.

Architecture and art were not only seen as instruments of social policy, but also as the seeds of a new beginning. The aim was a reformed society that overcame the social rifts of capitalism and post-war poverty and discovered its sense of community – through newly designed ideal cities, for example. All trades and disciplines, technicians, craftsmen, artists and architects should work together to create a so-called »Gesamtkunstwerk« (i.e. an overall work of art).

The State Bauhaus of 1919 was shaped by personalities and wanted to shape personalities. Beside techniques, it also taught carpentry, weaving, pottery, metalwork, mural painting, glass painting and much more. Above all, though, it taught approaches to the questions of the time. How people as social beings can redesign their environment and their coexistence in the age of the machine, how new content can be created, values conveyed and social cohesion achieved through form and style – these were among the questions to which the Bauhaus masters devoted themselves.

An unusual combination of designers and artists worked here. This ranged from Gropius himself, who wanted to design modernism as the director and an architect, through Lyonel Feininger, Walter Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer and Paul Klee to the painter Johannes Itten, who had just turned away from modernism to seek inspiration in Far Eastern concepts. Similar to other radical reform movements of the time, the teachers at the Bauhaus actually wanted to create a »Neuer Mensch« (literally, new being) – or to be precise, a type of human who could survive the conditions of modernity.

The Bauhaus was not only concerned with the reconciliation of craft, art and industry, but also with the objective functional design of daily life, buildings, furniture and everyday objects. The form should be appropriate to the function, ornamentation was to be avoided and the respective specific and task-appropriate design solution found. Initially this was rarely commercially profitable. However, some works attributed to the Bauhaus, such as the Wagenfeld table lamp and the cantilever chair, have since become renowned and are today often adapted and replicated. And so they have lived on and entered everyday culture – into the present day and all around the world. For the Bauhaus became a transnational model during the interwar period.

Many Bauhaus representatives were forced to leave Germany when the National Socialists came to power in 1933. Their ideas and work migrated across the globe with them, were taken up and used under different conditions and in other places from which they once again influenced Germany and Weimar.

The founding of the Bauhaus is inextricably linked with the city of Weimar and at the same time bound to Henry van de Velde’s buildings, which today form part of the world cultural heritage. New layers have been superimposed since 1919 both in Weimar and in the university buildings, and the city of classicism has evolved into a city of modernity. These include convening of the German National Assembly in February 1919, the »Gauforum« built during the Third Reich that remains unfinished, and the buildings from the GDR era (first and foremost, the »Jakobsplan« student hall of residence nicknamed »Lange Jakob«) as well as the confrontation with the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp and the controversial Buchenwald Memorial.

What does this past mean for the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar today? The university also stands for a consistent and radical contemporary society, for specialist expertise and interdisciplinary cooperation, for local roots and international openness, for a historical awareness and continuous new beginnings, for the desire to explore, learn and shape. Today we no longer believe in the promises of a »Gesamtkunstwerk« (overall work of art) or the creation of a »Neuer Mensch« (new being). However the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar remains committed to the courage and radicalism of the historical Bauhaus to this day nonetheless. It continues to write history without repeating it at the birthplace of the Bauhaus by embracing the present.