Term Paper: Deutscher Werkbund and Bauhaus

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¶ … architectural and design movements that played central roles in the evolution of Modernism as a whole and in the development of German culture in particular throughout the first half of the 20th century. While a proper comparative analysis of the Deutscher Werkbund and the Bauhaus is difficult, if not impossible, to undertake, owing to the fact that the latter essentially grew out of the principles of the former, I will endeavor to explore the goals and aesthetic principles of each movement in order to illuminate the similarities and inconsistencies within each. I will also take a look at landmark architectural works belonging to each of the two movements in order to support my hypothesis that the principles laid out by the Deutscher Werkbund would not receive their full apotheosis until they appeared in the work of the Bauhaus.

Deutscher Werkbund

The German association known as the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation) was to play a pivotal role in the development of architectural modernism. The Deutscher Werkbund was formally established in Munich, after being instigated by Hermann Muthesius, who had been sent to England in the early years of the 20th century by the German government in order to study that country's arts, crafts, design, and architecture. One of the results of Muthesius's time abroad was the English House, a three-volume study of the English Arts and Crafts movement.

By the time the Deutscher Werkbund was founded, Muthesius was a key proponent of the idea that traditional German folk craftsmanship had to be abandoned in favor of an objective functionalist design that would fuse the latest developments in technology with a comprehensive understanding of the tectonic possibilities of the materials to be employed. Rather than looking to the past, Muthesius believed that it was vital to pay close attention to scientifically objective, machine-based forms. This, he felt, would be the goal of the 20th century - not for artists to discover new styles, but to meld form and function together into a new approach to designing useful objects and buildings.

It has been argued that the Deutscher Werkbund was not so much an art and design movement than an attempt by the German nation to integrate its tradition of craft making with more modern mass production techniques. In this respect, the ultimate goal of the Deutscher Werkbund was to put Germany on the same competitive footing as other industrialized nations, such as the United States and England.

The Deutscher Werkbund, with its melding of form and function, took as its focus everything from sofa cushions to the building of cities (Vom Sofakissen zum St. dtebau.) the launching pad of the organization was a series of controversial remarks Muthesius made in early 1907, whereupon he denounced everyone who did not take up the call of "objective functionalism" and abandon the traditional design practices of the past. He asserted that shoddy materials and an old-fashioned approach had made the words " 'German' and 'tasteless' into practically identical concepts," thereby angering a number of craftsman. Muthesius's remarks incited the Association for the Economic Interests of the Crafts to call for his removal from his post with the German government. While his supervisor refused to let him go, a group of Muthesius's colleagues and supporters would break away from the Association in order to found the Deutscher Werkbund that year.

Peter Behrens was one of the chief architects of the Deutscher Werkbund. His design for the Delmenhorst Linoleum Company exhibition pavilion of 1906, built for the Third German Applied Arts Exhibition in Dresden, is an exemplary piece of Deutscher Werkbund architecture. The building, which resembled more of a temple than a conventional meeting hall, took the standards of monumental classicism and then abstracted them through a thoughtful exploitation of such contemporary building materials as concrete, steel, linoleum, and glass. The exhibition pavilion was a remarkable fusion of classic, traditional ideals with the spirit of Modernity that Muthesius sought for his homeland. Behrens's work struck an immediate chord with the general public, as well as art critics and business executives from all over Germany.

Frederic Schwartz has identified the main principles of the Deutscher Werkbund as corporate symbolism, architectural imagery, and commercial expedience.

Such qualities can be readily assessed in the building Behrens designed in 1909 for the Moabit district of Berlin, the AEG Turbine Factory. This building represented a major transition in Behrens's career - it was the moment when the architect finally subordinated his modern choice of materials to a penultimate corporate image, an image that would ultimately serve to emphasize "corporeality and classical expression," in the words of Stanford Anderson.

Behrens's intent was to create a feeling of both monumentality and substantiality in the building, while simultaneously contrasting these feelings with the sort of light edifice that people at the time would not typically expect from a building that boasted an iron structural frame as well as a glass infill. The building's main feature was a pediment made out of concrete that bore the logo of AEG in hexagonal patterning - a logo that was also designed by Behrens, who is considered to be the father of today's popular notion of "corporate identity."

Another famous architect affiliated with the Deutscher Werkbund's project was Henry van de Velde of Belgium. Van de Velde is responsible for one of the Deutscher Werkbund's most famous creations, the Werkbund Exhibition Hall, for the Cologne Exhibition of 1914. With its signature flattened Jugenstil curves, this building was criticized in the fierce debates that took place at that year's Werkbund congress for being too "individualist" and departing from the "lightness, impersonal rectilinear geometry and standardization of forms" that was seen to characterize the work of Behrens and other Werkbund architects.

The debate between Muthesius and other prominent members of the Werkbund was based on the former's argument in favor of "types," rather than individualism in design. Practicality was, of course, the design standard that all the Werkbund designers and architects had espoused from the very beginning, with practicality being conceived of as in opposition to the ornamentality that had characterized previous, more traditional approaches to design. Beauty, argued Muthesius, was rooted in forms - not decoration. The means to attain beauty would thus be to form national types through standardized designs. This meant that beauty could not be attained through individual expression - a position to which many of the designers and architects of the Werkbund took offense, as they felt that Muthesius was threatening their individuality as creative beings, and artistic freedom in general. Van de Velde led this opposition. In the end, Muthesius tempered his argument so as to allow that artists still maintained personal freedom in the creation of types, he nevertheless stuck to his theory of the "typical." Despite the internal tensions within the organization, Muthesius essentially "won" the debate; it has been argued that his position was significantly enhanced by the governmental support he enjoyed throughout this period - a position that no doubt angered many of the opposing party, who felt that Muthesius was behaving in an autocratic fashion.

Muthesius's position was essentially nationalistic, while the others in the Werkbund strove for an internationalist position that celebrated the ideals of Modernism as they came to the forefront in other countries during this period - namely, that of individualism.

These debates were interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. It was during the War that Muthesius's desire for standardization on a national level was in many ways satisfied, as the DIN format (Deutsche-Industrie-Norman) was introduced in the military, following from the British military standards of the time. This move would launch standardization on a massive scale in Germany, while providing the inspiration for the standardized building components of the Bauhaus movement that would emerge after the War. This form of standardization is also responsible for starting the trend towards modularity - a trend that would become intrinsic to Modernist architecture and design throughout the following decades.


In the eyes of Walter Gropius, an architect and designer who had long been affiliated with the Deutscher Werkbund, a new period of history had begun with the end of the First World War in the year 1918, when he founded the Bauhaus. Literally in the shadows of the formation of the Weimar Republic, Gropius created a school in Weimar that would see the birth of an architectural style to mirror the values of this new era. The Bauhaus School in many ways represented an updated, less conservative version of the Werkbund, wherein artists would be trained to work in co-harmony with the demands of industry. Since Germany did not have the same amount of raw materials that Great Britain and the United States possessed at the time, they would have to rely on its labor force's proficiency and ability to export high quality goods. Thus, the Bauhaus sought to answer this call for a new type of designer with a new type of art education. The Bauhaus responded to the conservative calls… [END OF PREVIEW]

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