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Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus
The design movement that changed history

'Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus'.
© Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus

With 'Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus', filmmakers Niels Bolbrinker and Thomas Tielsch tackle an ample project, and do so with multiple aims. To celebrate Bauhaus, the pioneering modernist design movement that stemmed from the post-World War I Weimar school of the same name, as founded by Walter Gropius, is to understand it — and so their documentary acts as both an ode and an explainer.

By Sarah Ward

How Bauhaus evolved, what it stood for, where its legacy still lingers and what it could mean for the future all fall within the film’s gaze, offering a reminder for fans and a primer for newcomers. And while there’s little about the end result that isn’t standard, the informative, affectionate movie serves its intended purpose.

ALLOWING THE WORK TO SPEAK FOR ITSELF

An avant-garde portrait of an avant-garde movement, this isn’t. As explored across chapters with titles such as “The Learning Body”, “The Residence”, “The Cities” and “Participation”, the experimental ethos of Bauhaus comes through in the projects showcased. From fusing dance and mathematics, to surveying global developments, to designing a school that children will never want to leave — a colourful, open space completely without classrooms, all in an old industrial building — each example adds to a substantial overview of Bauhaus’ ideas both in theory and in practice. Indeed, to view its principles in action, be it in on walls, in performance pieces, in structures (Bauhaus literally means building house, after all) or across entire housing complexes, is to appreciate them in a tangible sense.
'Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus'.© Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus
Seeing is more than believing here, however. With one of Bauhaus’ initial questions probing whether its aim was to design for the environment, or redesign the world — as posed by Wassily Kandinsky — roving the film’s frames over a wide variety of pieces, objects and buildings demonstrates the answer to that query. Perhaps none prove more instructive and eye-opening than walking through the school’s purpose-built Dessau facilities, whether discovering how its auditorium seats were designed, or peering up at its eye-catching lighting, or seeing a demonstration of its architectural underpinnings using wooden building blocks.

DESIGN IN CONTEXT

Assisting with Bolbrinker and Tielsch’s aim is their use of contextualisation; rather than traditional talking heads waxing lyrical about the significance of Bauhaus, the film operates as a tour of projects and properties, with commentary given onsite. If another of Bauhaus’ guiding principles stressed that enacting a vision requires visionaries, Bauhaus Spirit takes the visual component literally, all while imparting the necessary historical and factual details. Data-driven snippets, often using archival footage, are deployed in support, as are more performative interludes. But there’s nothing like seeing how people live their daily lives in an estate or entire portion of a city designed with Bauhaus principles, even all of these years later, to convey its meaning. Or, to step inside a 100-Euro, 6.4-square-metre tiny mobile apartment conceived today using the movement’s ideals. Or, to see the community-level change that a vertical gym has inspired in a crowded low-income neighbourhood in South America.

Still, if there’s a limit to Bauhaus Spirit other than its easy, recognisable format, it’s the feature’s scope. One sign of an effective documentary is its ability to leave viewers wanting more on the subject, which Bolbrinker and Tielsch’s film does. That’s a nice problem to have, immersing viewers to the point that they crave additional information, and it also speaks to Bauhaus’ immense impact. Alas, it also speaks to a grab-bag approach. Bauhaus Spirit aims to do much, including make the entire breadth, scope and importance of its topic accessible to the unacquainted, and in the process it demonstrates the sheer size of its task.
 

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