Bauhaus, Modernism & Other Design Movements Explained by New Animated Video Series

UK’s Open Uni­ver­si­ty has devel­oped a fun way to mar­ket their design cours­es: a series of six short ani­ma­tions called “Design in a Nut­shell” that briefly sur­vey impor­tant move­ments in the arts and architecture—from the late-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Goth­ic Revival to late-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Post­mo­d­er­mism. While the for­mer looked far into the past, seek­ing to pre­serve tra­di­tion, the lat­ter looked every­where, glee­ful­ly dis­man­tling, recy­cling, and recom­bin­ing frag­ment­ed and irrecov­er­able his­to­ries.

Between the two extremes, three inter-relat­ed post-WWI move­ments sought to make peace with the indus­tri­al present and design for a har­mo­nious future. The first one fea­tured, the Bauhaus move­ment (above)—founded in Weimar, Ger­many by Wal­ter Gropius in 1919—integrated the fine arts and indus­tri­al design into one school. Famous teach­ers includ­ed artists Paul Klee and Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky. Bauhaus designs per­me­ate the larg­er move­ment known as Mod­ernism.

The ani­ma­tion above gives us the briefest gist of Mod­ernism, a sweep­ing umbrel­la term for a host of rad­i­cal ‑isms in the arts, lit­er­a­ture, design, and architecture—impressionism, cubism, fau­vism, futur­ism, bru­tal­ism, sur­re­al­ism…. Euro­pean and Amer­i­can artists turned their back on the old-world past after the mass slaugh­ter of World War One. Not all Mod­ernists found solace in the break­down of the old order. Writ­ers like T.S. Eliot found much rea­son to despair. But design­ers like Eero Saari­nen and the hus­band and wife team Charles and Ray Eames embraced indus­tri­al tech­niques and mass pro­duc­tion to cre­ate for­ward-look­ing, min­i­mal­ist fur­ni­ture and build­ings that still define the way we live now.

The episode above, “Amer­i­can Indus­tri­al Design,” describes how indus­tri­al design­ers made inno­v­a­tive use of new mate­ri­als and pro­duc­tion meth­ods to cre­ate sleek, stream­lined prod­ucts that rein­vig­o­rat­ed the Amer­i­can mar­ket in the midst of the Great Depres­sion. Design­ers like Nor­man Bel Ged­des cre­at­ed a futur­is­tic land­scape that inspired faith in tech­no­log­i­cal progress, even as much of the coun­try still lived on strug­gling farms.

Bel Ged­des’ most notable achieve­ment was his design of the “Futu­ra­ma” ride (which gave the ani­mat­ed show its name) at the 1939–40 World’s Fair. Part of the Gen­er­al Motors exhib­it, “Futu­ra­ma” whisked rid­ers past detailed minia­tures of “the world of tomor­row.” The opti­mism of some Mod­ernist design­ers would be shat­tered by the tech­no­log­i­cal hor­rors of World War Two. But for a few brief decades, the future looked entire­ly man­age­able with the right designs, tech­niques, mate­ri­als, and savvy mar­ket­ing.

You can find all six videos appear­ing in the Design in a Nut­shell series on YouTube.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The ABC of Archi­tects: An Ani­mat­ed Flip­book of Famous Archi­tects and Their Best-Known Build­ings

Charles & Ray Eames’ Icon­ic Film Pow­ers of Ten (1977) and the Less­er-Known Pro­to­type from 1968

Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky Caught in the Act of Cre­ation, 1926

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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