2019 marked the 100th birthday of the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus is regarded worldwide as an icon of modernism and as the most influential school for architecture, art and design. Founded in 1919 in Weimar, the company moved to Dessau in 1925 before finally landing in Germany’s capital Berlin in 1933 where it continues to the present day. What was a functional idea at the time still meets the sustainable requirements today. Today, as then, it is not just materials that play a role in the sustainable approach; the idea of a design is integral to sustainability in the first place.
Fast, disposable furniture, as well as fast-fashion that only follows current fads is an obsolete approach for a responsible society attempting to meet goals of a more sustainable, eco-friendlier future. With growing ecological awareness of consumers, the demand for design that is sustainable in every sense has increased. Thus, responsible manufacturers who care about a more sustainable future commit to this principle, and therefore follow the tradition of the Bauhaus. Brands like Vitra or Thonet with their design classics created in the Bauhaus era, are still celebrating worldwide success today. The focus was not on the product as such, but on the product as a service provider to make people’s lives more efficient.
Designs and manufacturing made to last may even supersede recycled or innovative new materials: if we buy products that last for generations rather than following current fads, we would eventually waste less and therefore contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle. An enduring design can create a timeless product worth keeping for generations. Yet, creating something that stays relevant over time seems to be the challenge for designers, as well consumers. Of course, materials play an important role as well: if the design of a product meets the requirements of a so-called timeless design, but the longevity, the quality of materiality is not given, the product ends up in the trash as well. A sustainable product starts with sustainable materials, goes through sustainable production processes to a timeless, trend-free design that can be used with enthusiasm for many years.
What was plastic in the 1960s, a material that promised to last forever, to be freely malleable and extremely cheap, is now sustainable materials such as wood that dominate architectural designs again today: minimalist, clear and reduced in design. Brands like Thonet are receiving new attention for their durable design that, in addition to the material, promises high quality. Many approaches to making furniture from other, mostly recycled materials such as fast-growing bamboo as an alternative to wood, plastic-reinforced paper as a leather-like cover material, wickerwork made of rattan, willow or bamboo or even recycled household waste contribute to the idea. The goal is to produce in a socially responsible manner and to not let waste arise in the first place.
The Bauhaus at the time was something totally new with its approach to combine art and craftsmanship as one. It is the most influential educational institution in the field of architecture, art and design in the 20th century. It is the origin of classical modernism in all areas of free and applied arts and architecture; an alternative to the aesthetics of historicism, in which handcrafted ornaments were serially copied through industrial mass production. And 100 years later, that aspect seems to be more relevant than ever: President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen even wants to create a new European Bauhaus movement to enhance sustainability and to stop climate change. Buildings and infrastructures are responsible for at least 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, modern constructions mostly use cement and steel whose production requires an excess amount of energy and carbon dioxide emissions. The new Bauhaus movement aims to create a construction industry in harmony with nature, which relies on natural materials such as wood or bamboo, adopts natural forms and construction principles and takes interactions in ecosystems into account from the beginning. The goal: to combine design and sustainability to have architecture, art, science, engineering and design experts and students work together. New projects, from natural building materials to resource-saving digital innovation are planned for the upcoming years.
Whether it is a Chanel bag you have been carrying in your family for generations, or a design-classic such as Marcel Breuer’s steel pipe collection – timeless is the only way that is really sustainable and ecological. At the end it is the consumer who needs to ask themselves whether to invest in a more sustainable product (and future) or to keep spending on passing fads and cheap copies of an original product. How will you choose?
by Marie Klimczak