‘Together, we are intending, conceiving and creating the new building of the future …’ Walter Gropius’s founding manifesto is shaped by an educational vision even more than by its architectural and craft vision. The history of the Bauhaus and the development of its programme did not follow a smooth course. Changes in management and among the teachers, as well as artistic and political influences from outside, led to constant changes in the college. One of the decisive qualities that the Bauhaus possessed was an ability to see diversions or even unsuccessful experiments as potentially necessary lessons and to derive corrections in its course from them.
The programme of the Bauhaus was decisively shaped by its three Directors. At the time of its founding in 1919, Walter Gropius linked the elimination of the divide between free and applied art that was the aim of the new college with an Expressionistically influenced ‘human education programme’. Artists and crafts specialists collaborated in both teaching and production work. But the greater value attached to craft work alone was not sufficient in the longer term to counter the reality of an increasingly technologized environment. In 1923, the Bauhaus responded by introducing the guiding principle of ‘Art and technology – a new unity’. The opportunities provided by industrial manufacturing were now to be exploited more strongly in order to achieve functional and aesthetically satisfactory design. The Bauhaus workshops developed models that were intended for mass production – from lamps to residential buildings.
Starting in 1928, the college’s social aims intensified under Hannes Meyer; the solution was now summarized as ‘people’s necessities, not luxuries’ [‘Volksbedarf statt Luxusbedarf’]. Using cost-saving industrial mass production, products were to be made affordable for broad social strata. For Meyer, meeting people’s basic needs took clear priority over artistic considerations. He therefore required a more academic and scientific approach to education. When the students under his direction became more and more politicized, Meyer was accused of having a Communist orientation and was dismissed by the City of Dessau. His successor, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, placed the emphasis on the aesthetic side of architecture starting from 1930, neglecting its social and political aspects. The preliminary course was abolished and the importance of the workshops declined. Many of the students oriented themselves artistically towards the model of Mies van der Rohe.