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Bauhaus Style’s Impact on Typography

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The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 by an architect named Walter Gropius.

Gropius came from the Werkbund movement, which sought to integrate art and economics, and to add an element of engineering to art. The Werkbund movement was unable to achieve this integration, but the founding of the Bauhaus saw the solution that had previously been overlooked. The Bauhaus was founded by the combining of the Weimar Art Academy, and the Weimar Arts and Crafts School. Students at this new school were trained by both an artist and a master craftsman, realizing the desires of Gropius to make “modern artists familiar with science and economics, [that] began to unite creative imagination with a practical knowledge of craftsmanship, and thus to develop a new sense of functional design.”

The school had three aims at its inception that stayed basically the same throughout the life of the Bauhaus even though the direction of the school changed significantly and repeatedly. The first aim of the school was to “rescue all of the arts from the isolation in which each then found itself,” to encourage the individual artisans and craftsmen to work cooperatively and combine all of their skills. Secondly, the school set out to elevate the status of crafts, chairs, lamps, teapots, etc., to the same level enjoyed by fine arts, painting, sculpting, etc. The third aim was to maintain contact with the leaders of industry and craft in an attempt to eventually gain independence from government support by selling designs to industry. With these at its basis the Bauhaus began and influenced our lives immensely in ways that most people probably take for granted.

Since the school tried to combine art with engineering and craftsmanship, innovation ran rampant through the Bauhaus resulting in a multitude of advances affecting the most basic aspects of life. “Everyone sitting on a chair with a tubular steel frame, using an adjustable reading lamp, or living in a house partly or entirely constructed from prefabricated elements is benefiting from a revolution in design largely brought about by the Bauhaus;”(Whitford p.10) getting up from this chair looking at the lamp on my desk, and the dry wall in front of me, I feel a new respect for the work of the Bauhaus. The practical innovations developed by the Bauhaus have profoundly effected designs favoured by industry as shown by the desks and chairs that fill offices, lobbies, and lounges across America, not to mention the portable classrooms that seem to be favoured today, delivered on trucks, propped up and bolted together and filled with those ubiquitous tubular steel and plastic chairs. The effects of the Bauhaus stretches beyond our furniture and light fixtures, into the realms of architecture, theatre, and typography. where the designs and style of the Bauhaus are still spoken of today.

Typography

The work of other areas of the Bauhaus to move towards a level of clarity in design and production that had not often been reached also directly affected their opinions on typography. The Bauhaus favoured the use of sans serif fonts, which was frowned upon heavily by most of Germany, which preferred a heavier more complicated gothic font. This font which looked older and more formal had been used traditionally in German printing, but was difficult to read, a trait that some Bauhaus teachers disliked. This led one teacher, Laszlo Moholy Nagy, to create a font design and theory on fonts and formatting which was published in the Bauhaus book Staatlicles Bauhaus Weimar 1919-1923, a book on typesetting and typography of the Bauhaus. Below is a look at Moholy’s views as expressed in the book:

Typography is an instrument of communication. It must communicate clearly in the most urgent form. Clarity must be emphasised because, in comparison with prehistoric pictographs, it is the essence of script. Our intellectual attitude to the world is individually precise (this individual precision is today changing to collective precision), as opposed to the old individually and later collectively amorphous forms. Therefore above all, unambiguous clarity in all typography. Legibility communication must never be allowed to suffer for an aesthetic code adopted in advance.

It was this thought that that inspired the simpler less formal and imposing fonts of the Bauhaus, and those fonts that irritated most of Germany. However, the German public responded even less favourably to the ideas of Herbert Bayer, a student and later teacher of the Bauhaus who held some even more radical views on typography, none of which were looked upon favourably by much of Germany, although some of his ideas make a lot of sense.

Bayer disliked the use of serifs, the small lines that extend off of letters, like in the font Times, or Times New Roman, he found them wasteful and unnecessary, Germany at the time favoured the serif, and the more complicated gothic fonts, Bayer employed these sans serif fonts in his work for the Bauhaus and his outside commissions, but the Bauhaus using this type of font was not new, or solely supported by Bayer, but some of his other ideas caused more trouble:

Why should we write and print in two alphabets? Both a large sign and a small sign are not necessary to identify a single sound. We do not speak in a capital A and a small a. a single alphabet gives us practically the same result as the mixture of upper and lower case letters, and at the same time is less of a burden on all who write.

He argued that once everyone got used to using all single case, things would be easier; typing would be easier to master and faster to carry out since there would be no need to use the shift key, by this typewriters would be easier and cheaper to make since only one case would be needed. He also discussed the possibility that commercial printing would also be cheaper since typesetters only would have to worry about a single size, and that things would take up less space saving paper and money, and in 1925 the Bauhaus stopped using capital letters in their printings. On some levels these arguments make sense, and if people could begin to learn to read/write without the uppercase letters things would eventually be simplified, but the amount of change that that would require is enormous, just trying to break the habits of people who had already learned to write would take a tremendous amount of time and energy and would be met with heavy opposition by almost everyone. I have described what would happen in the United States if someone tried to convert the masses to this new way of writing, in Germany things would be worse.

The German public and German officials disliked the use of sans serif fonts by the Bauhaus, taking it as another break from tradition by a group that was already to far out for their liking. Their irritation at that was surpassed by their outrage at the Bauhaus decision to stop using capital letters. When considering this departure from the standpoint of the English language, it does not seem as to radical of a step, but considering German grammar, it really caused problems. In German, as in English, the beginning of sentences are capitalised, as are proper nouns, beyond that however, basically all nouns are capitalised. Attempting to change this in a society that strongly values tradition, was not taken well, or looked upon favourably, but it was this type of radical departure that helped to define the Bauhaus, and part of what made its effects lasting.

The Bauhaus for all of its accomplishments in various areas did not have as profound effect on typography as it did elsewhere, but the ideas that they put forth were and are worth consideration, the chances taken in the name of experimentation show their commitment to improving things and the true desire to accomplish their objectives, to bring together all aspects of art into a related whole, of which typography was of course a part. And although they may not be remembered for their typography, the Bauhaus will not soon be forgotten for their willingness to experiment, and the results those experiments achieved.

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