A Short History of the Bauhaus: The Design of Modern Life with Jan Otakar Fischer

A Short History of the Bauhaus: The Design of Modern Life with Jan Otakar Fischer


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The Bauhaus was not a style or even a movement--it was a unique laboratory for avant-garde design thinking. The German school existed for just fourteen years, but its fervent blend of artistic radicalism and social activism has endured, affecting every aspect of our creative global culture one hundred years after its founding. Whether we realize it or not, the Bauhaus continues to profoundly influence our 21st-century ideas about architecture, industrial design, graphic design, art, aesthetics, and technology. This conversation offers a primer about the historical and theoretical background of the most famous design school in history.

The Bauhaus did not invent modernism in architecture and design—it built on earlier and contemporary movements such as Art Nouveau, Expressionism, De Stijl, and Soviet Constructivism—and the ideologies of its guiding spirits were never in complete alignment. The utopian, sometimes mystical idealism of its opening years was eventually replaced by a more practical rationalism that encouraged mass production and profit. The creation of buildings and industrial objects—rugs, lamps, furniture, silverware, toys, books, etc.—for everyday use became more and more central to its mission (and its own financial survival). But the principles of the first Bauhaus Manifesto of 1919 remained largely shared ideals: that all artistic pursuits should best be combined and collaborative; that the arts and crafts should be given the same status and not taught in distinct institutions; that the crafts should be taught in special workshops (“learning by doing”), whereas the arts could only be encouraged in those who already possessed talent; and that the ultimate synthesis of the arts and crafts was found in architecture. The result was a complete rejection of 19th-century bourgeois modes of living, a commitment to improving all strata of society through prefabrication and rationalized design, and a new standard for design education. But to what degree did the Bauhaus masters manage to fulfill their dreams?

We will examine the motivations behind the founding of the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius in 1919, in the bleak aftermath of WWI; the central philosophies and debates of its extraordinary teachers (the Meister, a who's who of 20th-century design geniuses); the great variety of design experiments and objects produced by its teachers and students; the three main German locations of the school—Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin—and the political reasons the school had to relocate twice; the school's inevitable closure in 1933, a victim of Nazi suppression; and the legacy of the Bauhaus in the 21st century—which you see in everything from skyscrapers to IKEA chairs to iPhones to Olympic logos.

Led by an expert on urban history and design, Jan Otakar Fischer, this interactive seminar will vividly illustrate the evolution of the Bauhaus as an institution and a laboratory of design. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased preparedness to visit the many buildings and museums in Germany associated with the famous design school.

Jan Otakar Fischer grew up in New York City, graduated from Williams College in 1985 with Honors in the History of Ideas, and received his Master’s in Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1990. He has worked as an architect and academic in Berlin since 1994. Jan has been a regular contributor to a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, the Harvard Design Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Architectural Record, and Places magazine, writing chiefly about European architecture and urbanism. He has taught urban studies, history, sustainability, and visual culture at the IES Berlin Metropolitan Studies Program for over a decade, and has served as an invited guest critic or lecturer at several universities. From 2010-2018 he was the co-founder and Academic Director of the Northeastern University School of Architecture Berlin Program, for which he also taught architectural history and sustainable practices.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 12 reviews
92%
(11)
8%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
M
M.
Informative intro to the Bauhaus

Very enjoyable intro to the Bauhaus that contemplates the zeitgeist of the era and its modern legacy.

M
M.R.

Guest did not leave comment

C
C.
Interesting connections

An interesting and enjoyable overview of the Bauhaus, what led up to it, and its subsequent influence on design and life. It was clear that Mr. Fischer has deep knowledge and great interest in the topic. He was most generous in answering questions from the attendees.

E
E.
Terrific! I Learned A Lot and Felt A Little Like I Had Traveled

This was my first Context on line course and I had a great time. I am a veteran of Context touring and this session lived up to the high standard and intimacy I have come to expect from this organization. Jan was engaging and knowledgeable and his presentation was structured really well. I found the visuals enhanced the presentation perfectly. And the q and a session at the end was interesting too.

L
L.V.
Brilliant

As a person who went to a design school based on the Bauhaus philosophy and then to graduate school for architecture I figured this would be a nice refresh on the history of the Bauhaus. Instead, I learned many things I did not know and felt inspired and grateful that I attended the lecture.

Customer Reviews

Based on 12 reviews
92%
(11)
8%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
M
M.
Informative intro to the Bauhaus

Very enjoyable intro to the Bauhaus that contemplates the zeitgeist of the era and its modern legacy.

M
M.R.

Guest did not leave comment

C
C.
Interesting connections

An interesting and enjoyable overview of the Bauhaus, what led up to it, and its subsequent influence on design and life. It was clear that Mr. Fischer has deep knowledge and great interest in the topic. He was most generous in answering questions from the attendees.

E
E.
Terrific! I Learned A Lot and Felt A Little Like I Had Traveled

This was my first Context on line course and I had a great time. I am a veteran of Context touring and this session lived up to the high standard and intimacy I have come to expect from this organization. Jan was engaging and knowledgeable and his presentation was structured really well. I found the visuals enhanced the presentation perfectly. And the q and a session at the end was interesting too.

L
L.V.
Brilliant

As a person who went to a design school based on the Bauhaus philosophy and then to graduate school for architecture I figured this would be a nice refresh on the history of the Bauhaus. Instead, I learned many things I did not know and felt inspired and grateful that I attended the lecture.