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Chicago: The New Bauhaus

Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Moholy-Nagy reassembled in Britain during the mid 1930s to live and work in the Isokon project before the war caught up with them. Gropius and Breuer went to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design which was enormously influential in America in the late 1920s and early 1930s, producing such students as Philip Johnson, I.M.Pei, Lawrence Halprin and Paul Rudolph, among many others.

In the late 1930s, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe re-settled in Chicago, enjoyed the sponsorship of the influential Philip Johnson, and became one of the pre-eminent architects in the world. Moholy-Nagy also went to Chicago and founded the New Bauhaus school under the sponsorship of Container Corporation of America’s Founder and philanthropist Walter Paepcke. This school became the Institute of Design, part of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Herbert Bayer, sponsored by Paepcke, moved to Aspen, Colorado in support of Paepcke’s Aspen projects at the Aspen Institute.

The influence of the Bauhaus on design education was significant. One of the main objectives of the Bauhaus was to unify art, craft, and technology, and this approach was incorporated into the curriculum of the Bauhaus. The structure of the Bauhaus Vorkurs (preliminary course) reflected a pragmatic approach to integrating theory and application. In their first year, students learned the basic elements and principles of design and color theory, and experimented with a range of materials and processes. This approach to design education became a common feature of architectural and design school in many countries. For example, the Shillito Design School in Sydney stands as a unique link between Australia and the Bauhaus.

The color and design syllabus of the Shillito Design School was firmly underpinned by the theories and ideologies of the Bauhaus. Its first year foundational course mimicked the Vorkurs and focused on the elements and principles of design plus color theory and application. The founder of the school, Phyllis Shillito, which opened in 1962 and closed in 1980, firmly believed that “A student who has mastered the basic principles of design, can design anything from a dress to a kitchen stove.”

Culture of Elements 1954, Herbert Bayer
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