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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin

What is the Bauhaus-Archiv?

The Bauhaus-Archiv, Or Bauhaus Archive in English, is a collection of iconic Bauhaus art and design in Berlin that’s housed in a purpose-built structure that’s based on a design by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

Bauhaus Archive Berlin

Eisenacher, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bauhaus-Archiv Collection

Despite existing for only 14 years, the Bauhaus became the most important school of art, design and architecture of the 20th century. It’s still renowned today for its unique aesthetic, combining brilliant craftsmanship with functional and affordable design. Through artworks, models, drawings and documents, all saved after its closure in 1933, the Bauhaus Archive tells the story of an iconic movement.

Bauhaus-Archiv History

This acclaimed school was founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius. Its aim? To bring art back into contact with everyday life. Architecture, performing arts, design and applied arts were given as much weight as the more traditional mediums of sculpture and painting. Teachers included avant-garde artists Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers.

Teachers and students at the Bauhaus lived and worked together communally. They also partied. The Bauhaus’ themed costume parties were known for their outrageous flamboyance. Attendees were encouraged to take their costume design as seriously as their studies. At the 1929 Metal Party, guests donned outfits made from tin foil, frying pans and spoons, and entered the building by sliding down a chute into a room filled with silver balls.

Under Nazi pressure, the Bauhaus was forced to close in 1933. In 1960, the art historian Hans Maria Wingler decided to found an archive as a way of continuing to promote the school’s philosophy. This decision was supported by Gropius and other former Bauhaus members. The archive’s first home was in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt in south-central Germany. It soon expanded so much that plans were put in place for another museum building. Unfortunately, local politicians prevented this happening. The Bauhaus members were used to suffering logistical setbacks – in its short lifetime the school was forced to change location twice – and so they didn’t give up on their plans for an archive. In the end, West Berlin came to their rescue, offering to host the institution, providing both site and finance. In 1979, the new Bauhaus Archive finally opened.

It’s housed in a purpose-built structure, based on a design by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. Its clean white sawtooth profile encapsulates his austere style. Gropius bequeathed his entire private archive to the collection. This included such classic designs as Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s hemispherical frosted glass lamp and Marianne Brandt’s uncompromisingly modern tea infuser and strainer.

The enormous collection is complemented by a programme of special exhibitions. These have included retrospectives of some of the most influential Bauhaus teachers – Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Marcel Breuer. There’s a comprehensive graphic collection of drawings, watercolours and prints as well as a library and a busy educational events programme.

Though the Bauhaus closed in the 1930s, its ideas continued to spread as its former members emigrated world-wide during the turbulent years of the Second World War and after. Breuer and Gropius taught at Harvard, while Josef Albers accepted a position at Yale. Today, Bauhaus influence can be found in art and design the world over, inside the most prestigious museums as well as in our own homes.

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