Design for Life

On my love of Bauhaus architecture

Sharoun & Wisniewski: Staatsbibliothek, Berlin-Tiergarten
I managed to catch the Peter Saville slot on The Culture Show last night, and felt completely inspired. Peter Saville was one of the key creative forces behind the success of Manchester's Factory Records, and for many years was responsible for the design of its records sleeves and promotional materials. He has produced fantastic work for bands such as Pulp, Suede, and New Order, but has found world recognition for his classic minimalist sleeve for Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.

The Culture Show piece attempted to uncover one of Saville's key artistic influences, and was introduced and presented by none other than the man himself. Dressed in the usual long black coat, he steps into the frame of a cold Autumn day somewhere deep in Europe. He's standing in Dessau, outside the building that founded the German architectural movement Bauhaus. Saville takes us inside to look at the building, and we begin to understand what it was about Bauhaus that sparked such enthusiasm. 

Le Corbusier: Villa Le Lac, Switzerland

Le Corbusier: Villa La Roche, Paris
One of the movement's key architects, Le Corbusier, once suggested that 'a house is a machine for living in', a statement that attempted to combine aesthetic principles of design with practical functionality. Saville offers a guided tour of the movement's ideological foundations by pointing to small details incorporated into the building's design. Windows may be open and closed together via a beautifully simple pulley-system; the rounded handles of each door find recesses built into the walls that hold it in place when open; even the dozens of florescent lights formed in clusters on the ceiling look fantastic, modern and practical.

Saville mourns the loss of the Bauhaus movement, closed by the Nazi party in the 1930s for accusations of 'un-German' principles. Saville appreciates the importance of Bauhaus as a persistent influence in work such as his own, but appears to yearn for its presence in every facet of contemporary culture. The balance of beauty, simplicity and functionalism would appear, for Saville at least, to be at a loss in the mainstream. Where is the impact of Bauhaus, or similar ideologies of design, on our banal and everyday lives?

The slot ended with a link to a current exhibition of Bauhaus art and architecture at MIMA, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.

Sharoun & Wisniewski: Staatsbibliothek, Berlin-Tiergarten
But ten minutes on The Culture Show wasn't enough. I wanted more. More Saville. More Bauhaus. It would have been great to listen to some of the discussions raised in a little more detail: it was fascinating to hear such brave idealistic attempts to create new, beautifully crafted worlds for us all to take for granted. A machine for living in, but a beautiful machine.

Le Corbusier declared: "Space and light and order. Those are the things that men [sic.] need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep." An interesting idea, and it's something that many of us can relate to in an everyday sense (IKEA's minimalist branding seems to have formalized its ingenious marketing strategy on this very dictum). But, of course, all ideologies become problematic at some point or another - Bauhaus is no exception.

Le Corbusier, though a master architect, and the creator of some truly fantastic constructions, was perhaps overstepping the mark with notions of the Unité d'Habitation or the Ville Contemporaine: hugely ambitious projects that, for me, appear to become a victim of their own philosophy. I cannot help but feel that the concept of 'internal streets' sounds like something from a dystopian J. G. Ballard novel.

Le Corbusier: Villa Savoye, Poissy, France
I spent my Saturday afternoon watching Wim Wenders' Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), and couldn't help but notice the role architecture plays in some of the film's key scenes. There is a beautifully constructed sequence of panning shots located in Berlin's Staatsbibliothek, designed by Hans Sharoun and Edgar Wisniewski. The building is not only elaborately simple, but beautiful and functional at the same time; it's exactly the kind of ethic that Saville praised in the Bauhaus aesthetic. 

I can't help but think that there is something exciting and progressive driving many of these designs, no matter how long ago they were conceived or constructed. None of the buildings in question appear to belong to any decade - they all appear to point towards the future.