The bauhaus workshops – From prototype to mass production

Practical work in the workshops was the core training element at the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus students during the Weimar year were called apprentices, journeymen and master craftsmen in accordance with artisan tradition. They normally sat the journeyman’s exam after three semesters. Only after that were they admitted to the building course which led to a qualification as master craftsman.

Each of the workshops had two heads throughout the Weimar years. A master of form, an artist responsible for the design and aesthetic aspect of work, always had at his side a master of crafts, a craftsman who passed on technical skills and abilities. Crafts work was seen as an ideal unity of artistic design and material production. Johannes Itten, who sought to train artists working with their individual peculiarities, was master of form in charge of almost all workshops at the beginning. In the course of 1922 Walter Gropius managed to divert the attention of the Bauhaus toward the needs of industry and appointed László Moholy-Nagy to head the metal workshop.

With Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer, almost all masters moved with the Bauhaus to Dessau. Former students became junior masters in charge of the workshops. Josef Albers ran part of the "Vorkurs" (preparatory course), Herbert Bayer was in charge of the typography workshop and Marcel Breuer of the joinery workshop, Hinnerk Scheper was head of the mural painting workshop, Joost Schmidt taught the sculpture workshop and und Gunta Stölzl ran the weaving workshop. The company Bauhaus GmbH (Bauhaus Ltd.) was formed in 1925 to sell the products developed at the Bauhaus. When the workshops moved to the Bauhaus building in Dessau, the masters became professors and henceforth the students received a diploma.

The articles included a second objective alongside training, namely the performance of practical experimental work, particularly in house building and interior design, and the development of models for industry and the crafts. All workshops accorded greater importance to collaboration with industry. Furniture and other everyday objects were designed for mass production to enable large sections of the population to buy quality items at prices they could afford. This was underlined in the guiding principle “necessities, not luxuries”, formulated by the second Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer: New workshops were established, such as the photographic workshop under Walter Peterhans, which formed part of the advertising department. The Bauhaus wallpapers designed in the mural painting workshop were the commercially most successful product.

The forms and significance of workshop activities declined considerably under the third Bauhaus director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who subordinated them to architecture employing the designs and materials of the time.