Bauhaus design and the aesthetic it embodies are problematic for me. I both love and hate Bauhaus at the same time.
On the one hand, I like the idea of the built environment, the furnishings and the art within being a concerted, harmonious, total and ultimate artistic expression. I agree with the marriage of art and craft. I think that knowing how to make fine, durable things, with good quality materials, in a skilled way, with clean, simple lines, is a worthy goal. Aesthetically, clean, uncluttered forms and simplicity of design, eschewing vain adornments, appeals to me. It isn’t surprising that Bauhaus influenced so much modern architecture and so profoundly and ubiquitously shaped the world of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
But I also find it sterile.
The human animal in me, the product of millions of years of evolution living in a sub tropical or temperate savannah grasslands, longs for the organic. There are no grassy hills. There are no low trees with branches that stem from the trunk, close to the ground. There are few animals. There are no tranquil lakes, trickling waterfalls, babbling brooks, meandering rivers or sources of water. There is light, but it is filtered and limited. It places human beings in close proximity to one another. Green has no special place or significance and neither does blue. The surfaces are hard, featureless and harsh under foot. The forms are mathematical and precise, not fractal and complex. Sounds reflect loudly from every direction, producing a cacophony of reverberant cues. It’s as if humans don’t belong there because they spoil the clean, intellectually satisfying geometries.
Why might I and many others feel this disquiet and discomfort? Here’s my speculation on the matter:
Because there are no grassy hills, there is nowhere to hunt for food and nowhere to plant crops. We perceive a lack of food security and so we fear starvation and our ultimate demise.
Because there are no low trees with branches that stem from the trunk, close to the ground, there is no place to hide from enemies or place of safety and sanctuary from predators into which we may, under threat, rapidly climb.
There are few animals, so no companions and no prey. We feel lonely and we feel we may not find anything to eat.
There are no tranquil lakes, trickling waterfalls, babbling brooks, meandering rivers or sources of water, so we fear thirst and thereby confront our fragile mortality. Stagnant ponds or constrained waterways ignite a fear of water borne disease.
There is light, but it is filtered and limited, so we fear we will not produce enough of the vitamin D from sunlight, essential for our lives. We will not be able to kill the bacteria that cannot survive in direct ultra violet light, so we may succumb to infection and disease. Our crops may wither and we may be ambushed in the darkness.
It places human beings in close proximity to one another, so we must live with the unending threat of potential rivals and foes within our personal space. We find no peace of mind or restful tranquillity as a consequence, because we must constantly be on our guard.
Green has no special place or significance and neither does blue, so we feel the risk to our food. Somehow we realise that green means a fecund abundance of food and hence survival and blue means that vital water and light are available to sustain us.
The surfaces are hard, featureless and harsh under foot, so we feel disoriented and unable to navigate using the memory of textures and rock formations that our sight and brains have evolved to recall and discern in fine detail. Our bare feet, without which we are immobile and vulnerable, are more easily injured by the unyielding, unforgiving, demanding concrete beneath our soles. They are not soothed by soft, green grass.
The forms are mathematical and precise, not fractal and complex. They contrast starkly with our own forms and every idea of sexual desirability, sexual selection and generational continuity we are equipped, by evolution, to uphold.
Sounds reflect loudly from every direction, producing a cacophony of reverberant cues, so we are disorientated, we cannot tell where the predators and enemies are coming from and we can find no peace and quiet. Silence, necessary for acute observation of our environment and the threats within it and for quiet introspection, restoration of our sanity, daydreaming, imagination and strategic thinking, is entirely absent.
In an evolutionary sense, deep within ourselves, Bauhaus and subsequent architectural movements seem devoid of life, for all the intellectual excitement and structural integrity they embody. These elements in our modern environment are rationally, cerebrally beautiful, perhaps, but the antithesis of a beauty we have come to know and love over millennia.
I think there is a similar irresolvable conflict between representational and abstract art, or expressionist versus realist painting. Consonant, romantic classical music is in the same conflict with metal or electronica for similar reasons.
My problem, if it be a problem, is that I like them all, but for different reasons. What do you feel?