Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A roundup of reads for fans of Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, and other big names of the Bauhaus art and design movement.
If CityLab’s Building Bauhaus series has stoked your appetite to learn even more about history’s most influential art school, you’re in luck: The Bauhaus centennial this year has prompted a flurry of new and reissued books. Below are some suggestions for further reading.
The ABC’s of ▲■●: The Bauhaus and Design Theory
Edited by Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller
Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95
A reissue of a book first published in 1991, The ABC’s of ▲■● explores the graphic achievements of the Bauhaus through the lenses of psychoanalysis, geometry, and early-childhood education. The book’s title refers to Wassily Kandinsky’s belief that geometric forms have a universal correspondence with certain colors: The triangle is inherently yellow, the square red, and the circle blue. (Kandinsky even “proved” this via a questionnaire he distributed at the Bauhaus in 1923.)
Critical essays draw parallels between these forms and the shapes used in teaching by kindergarten pioneer Friedrich Froebel, discuss Herbert Bayer’s influential Universal typeface, and explore the Modernist ideal of a purely visual language. Edited by two renowned graphic designers, The ABC’s of ▲■● lives up to its subject in its own design, which elegantly integrates copious drawings, photographs, and typographic samples.
Walter Gropius (1925)
Lars Muller Publishers, $45
Lars Müller has translated and republished the first of the school’s Bauhausbücher to its exact original design. In the book, school master Gropius takes readers on a photographic tour of the world’s most modern factories, office buildings, and housing complexes. Gropius was eager to see architecture break away from 19th-century traditions. “The master builders in this book embrace the modern world of machines and vehicles and their speed,” he wrote. “They strive for ever more daring design means to create a sense of soaring high and overcoming earth’s inertia.”
Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; $35
In the first full-length biography of Gropius in a generation, Fiona MacCarthy traces his eventful life, from his Berlin childhood and military service in World War I to his brief exile in England and new life in Massachusetts, where he led Harvard’s design school and co-founded what would become the largest architectural practice in the U.S., The Architects Collaborative.
MacCarthy, who has authored biographies of William Morris and the poet Byron, finds Gropius to have possessed an “extraordinary charisma” and sees him as a “great survivor” of the upheavals of the 20th century. “Not the least of the myths I have had to contend with in writing his life is the idea that Gropius was doctrinaire and boring,” she writes.
Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies
Edited by Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar, and Natasha Chandani
Metropolis Books, $29.95
A 2012 book that thoroughly captured every small detail of daily life inside Detroit’s Lafayette Park is being re-released in April, with a revised introduction and new texts that reflect on the changes the neighborhood underwent since the city declared for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 2013. Mies van der Rohe designed towers and townhomes in what used to be the historic Black Bottom neighborhood, which was targeted by city officials for urban renewal starting in the late ‘40s. In Thanks for the View, residents, living rooms, community activities, and even dead birds are profiled. The book has great photography, a clever layout, and a strong sense of how a million little things tell the real story of a thriving community living behind minimalist walls.
Bauhaus Journal 1926-1931: Facsimile edition with English translation
Lars Müller Publishers, $80
The art school’s 14 published journals have been re-released in their exact original design and accompanied with a book that translates each issue down to the photo captions and advertisements. It’s an awe-insipiring reader experience that transports you into the school’s active days, providing a clear view of the ambitions and interests of students and faculty through the writings of now-famous contributors accompanied by high-quality typography and photography.
Marcel Breuer: Building Global Institutions
Edited by Barry Bergdoll and Jonathan Massey
Lars Müller Publishers, $40
One of the Bauhaus’s biggest design stars, Marcel Breuer had a prolific career—first as an industrial designer, then an architect. Starting in the 1950s, Breuer accumulated an impressive client list of academic, corporate, and civic institutions, and built for them in cities and suburbs across the U.S. and Europe. Bergdoll and Massey’s book thoughtfully organizes his career into six sections, with nine contributing writers focused on specific projects, cities, and building materials. Thumbing through this book may pique a reader’s curiosity about their own nearby Breuer building toiling in obscurity today—thankfully, there’s an essay about his digitized personal archives maintained by Syracuse University.
Liberated Dwelling (Befreites Wohnen)
Sigfried Giedion (Originally published in German in 1929, translated by Reto Geiser and Rachel Julia Engler in 2018)
Lars Müller Publishers, $40
A 1929 book reprinted and translated from German, Sigfried Giedion argues for a new way of thinking about affordable housing through standardization. The art historian was moved by the possibilities of architecture’s Modern moment in the early 1920s, and became a mix of historian, critic, and observer of it in the years that followed.
Thanks to new printing technologies that made book publishing cheaper, Liberated Dwelling was presented as a verbal and visual manifesto, with written proclamations accompanied by photographs and drawings of new structures that demonstrate Giedion’s desired direction for Modernism—a movement that could create stunning designs in support of a better, more affordable life for everyone.