Bauhaus at the Barbican
Alan Clawley sees similarities in the celebrated Barbican in London and the seemingly doomed Central Library in Birmingham.
The Bauhaus exhibition at London’s Barbican Gallery is fascinating in itself but, for me at least, it had the added wonder of being housed in a building not much different in size, shape and architectural style from Birmingham’s Central Library.
The Gallery, along with Guildhall School of Music and a cinema, is embedded in the Barbican Centre which is part of the Barbican estate with its multi-storey apartment blocks, restaurants, pavement cafés pools and fountains built between 1952 and 1983. The Barbican is arguably the UK’s biggest and best example of Brutalist architecture.
Brutalism is alive and well elsewhere in London too. Erno Goldfinger’s 1972 Trellick Tower is not only admired from the outside, it is a popular place to live and Trellick Tower postcards and high quality stationery are on sale in the Barbican Gift Shop.
Founded By Walter Gropius in 1919 at Weimar the lifespan of the Bauhaus coincided exactly with that of the Weimar Republic. Both were born in the revolutionary upheavals following Germany’s defeat in World War 1. What surprised me about the Bauhaus show was that between 1919 and 1925 when it was based in Weimar in it showed few signs of its style becoming what we now recognise as the Bauhaus style – pared down Modern, the source of inspiration for Habitat and IKEA. The students’ work had more in common with William Morris with its emphasis on honest craftwork and decoration, a reaction to soulless mechanisation.
It was only under the new influence of teachers such as Theo van Doesburg of the De Stijl school that the Bauhuas changed direction. The Mondrian-like Rietveld chair is a well-known example of their style. Astonishingly, some of the furniture in the exhibition dating from the 1920s could easily be mistaken for standard IKEA products of 2012..
The School was forced to move to Dessau in 1925 where it built the suite of Modernist buildings that are so well-known. It was headed during this phase in turn by Walter Gropius, Adolf Meyer and Mies van der Rohe.
Its final move was to Berlin where it was directed by Mies Van der Rohe again. It was closed down finally in 1933 at the outset of the Third Reich but its influence lives on.
The exhibition ‘ Bauhaus; Art as Life’ is at the Barbican Art Gallery in the City of London until 12 August. Click here for details