Brian's History of Communication Design Blog

Weekly exposition on recent learnings.


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Bauhaus Thoughts

We reviewed the Bauhaus last week, moving, as we are, in reverse chronological order through the history of design schools.

Although it was not touched upon in class, it was clear how the Bauhaus was the genesis of the streamlined school of design that eventually led to product design such as Braun and Olivetti, and thenceforth to Apple, under the direction of Sir Jonathan Ive.

The other thing that struck me, as we reviewed Bauhaus architecture, was how there were echoes in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose designs both preceded and followed the Bauhaus movement.

One particularly striking moment was when we looked at the work of the De Stijl architect, Rietveld.

The Rietveld Schroedhuis

For me this 1924 work very much prefigures Wright’s Fallingwater house, which was built much later in 1937.

Fallingwater

To compare apples to apples, we can look at what Wright did in 1923, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo:

The Imperial Hotel

This is much more reminiscent of Rennie Mackintosh than Rietveld, so I think that the Bauhaus/De Stijl impact on Wright occurred only after Wright started developing his Mature Organic Style in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

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Swiss Modernism

There are only a few things I can immediately and personally relate to Swiss Modernism, although I know the impact of the movement is huge.

The first would have to be the design choices for the New York subway system which rely on the Helvetica typeface, the signature typeface of the Swiss Modernism movement. I specifically remember using the subway back in 1983 and 1984, during the last year of high school, on Saturday mornings, when I a few other classmates were taking advanced science classes at Columbia University. We would take the bus from Rockland County down to the Port Authority Terminal at 175th Street and then switch to the the subway, take the 1 to 116th Street. Sometimes, once class was done, we would ride the subway all the way down to Greenwich Village to go shopping on Broadway in Soho for cool accessories that were definitely not available in Rockland.

The other experience I have with Swiss Modernism is the museum literature I remember from my time in Japan. Since exhibit portfolios were always designed with in at least Japanese and English, if not more languages, the layout of the portfolios were always, unbeknownst to me at the time, set in the Swiss Modernist format, with multiple columns, based on grids, with photos of the exhibit pieces prominent.

I think I unwittingly copied that style, if perhaps only faintly, when I was laying out documents for my first design job in Japan. We needed to have Japanese on one page and English on the next, so we had tight columns of text to make it economical and legible. This was before I had any design training whatsoever, so I was simply imitating what I saw and liked.