Bauhaus Design and Its Influence on Typography and German National Identity

Written by Meenakshi Nirmalan

During the twentieth century, between the First and Second World Wars, a myriad of new movements in art and design began to emerge. A crucial movement was the Bauhaus, a German school of art, which played a pivotal role in modern design. Founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, Bauhaus encompassed a variety of art forms. Gropius sought to create Gesamtkunstwerk (‘comprehensive artwork’) by unifying various art forms–from fine art to architecture, from graphics to interior design. Nowadays, Bauhaus design continues to influence contemporary artists and designers in fields such as graphic design.  

Walter Gropius combined the Weimar Academy of Arts and the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts to create the Staatsliches Bauhaus. Merging the schools allowed Gropius to take an interdisciplinary approach, viewing art and design as a holistic practice. The institution existed in three cities: Weimar (1919-25), Dessau (1925-32) and finally, Berlin (1932-33). As a result of political pressure from the government, the school was not able to be run in a continuous form. Nevertheless, the Staatsliches Bauhaus was a hub for innovation, with prominent artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky teaching at the school. Gropius’ vision was to dissolve the barriers between distinctive art forms; therefore, students were taught in a multi-disciplinary style. Furthermore, one of the distinctive features of the movement was an emphasis on functionality: Gropius hoped to curate an aesthetic which was purposeful yet simultaneously visually pleasing. With regards to Bauhaus design-inspired typefaces, the Staatsliches Bauhaus preferred the use of sans-serif fonts, as they viewed sleek, geometric letters as more practical than traditional, ornate fonts.  

It can be argued that the roots of Bauhaus design are inherently political. In terms of fonts, the simplicity and sleek curves that characterise Bauhaus typography contrast previous typefaces, such as Fraktur (pictured above). This Gothic typeface has been strongly tied with German national identity for centuries and was adopted by the Nazis in their propaganda. Michael Tabb has stated that ‘the Nazis believed that the Bauhaus’ rejection of tradition was fundamentally “Un-German”’; there was a clear dichotomy between new directions of avant garde design and German tradition. Radical movements in design allowed art and language to be reinvented and liberated from tradition following the aftermath of the First World War, which the Nazis felt threatened by. Unfortunately, the Nazis closed the Dessau branch of the Bauhaus school in 1932, branding it as ‘degenerate’ art and shut the school in Berlin the following year after its relocation. However, despite the adversities, Bauhaus design still influences artists and designers a century later.  


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Featured image credit: “Dessau-Bauhaus,” photograph by Spyrosdrakopoulos. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:6265_Dessau.JPG.

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