Bauhaus, Socialist Designers, architecture for humanity and music for thinking


I realised that closer links had to be forged between the machines and the artistic individuals. So I established workshops which trained people in two ways: as artists and craftsmen as well. … You can’t understand a machine unless you’ve understood the tools of your craft. …

Walter Gropius ( Bauhaus: The Face of the Twentieth Century)

Since it was depression, a period when they had no money, you had to work with what was at hand. So you would say to students, go out to the junkyard and pick up from the scrap what you can. And, then try to find out what’s in the material.

Charles Jencks ( Bauhaus: The Face of the Twentieth Century)

  If I make something from material I must exploit, not disguise, the strengths inherent in it. His aim (Josef Albers’s aim) was to make you think in terms of the material. He set us projects, like for example: create space from a large piece of paper that was about a yard long using any kind of tools. One could fold it , cut it, do all of those things. We discovered that we could make it carry a vertical load. We made folds a man could stand on. But all in all, Albers was a man who systematically drove the artistic madness out of young people and forced them to think intelligently and clearly.

Prof. Kurt Kranz  (Bauhaus: The Face of the Twentieth Century)

The Haus am Horn. The site was on a field used to grow fruit and vegetables for the Bauhaus canteen. The house was constructed from prefabricated parts and furnished entirely by the Bauhaus workshops. It was ecologically sound, cheap to build and easy to run.

Bauhaus: The Face of the Twentieth Century

Socialist Designers is a collective of politically conscious graphic designers who have agreed to follow “an indisputable set of rules”: Design must be done on location. … Design must be done in spot colours. Four-colour process and varnish are not acceptable. Photoshop filters and any other filters are forbidden. Design must not contain superficial element. Temporary and geographical alienation are forbidden (that is that design must take place here and now). “Genre” design is not acceptable. … We are socialists but we are not attached to any institutions. It’s our desire to act in the original sense of the word. We are socialist because we have social concerns, because we are interested in a very specific way of thinking about life, about a better life.

From an interview with Fabrizio Gilardino (Citizen Designer by Steven Heller)

So we decided to embrace an open source model of business–that anyone, anywhere in the world, could start a local chapter, and they can get involved in local problems. Because I believe that there is no such thing as Utopia. All problems are local. All solutions are local. … this isn’t just about nonprofit. What it showed me is that there is a grassroots movement going on of socially responsible designers who really believe that this world has got a lot smaller, and that we have the opportunity–not the responsibility, but the opportunity–to really get involved in making change. … Instigation, developing ideas with communities and the implementing–actually going out there and doing the work, because when you invent, it’s never a reality until it’s built. So it’s really important that if we’re designing and trying to create change, we build the change. …

Cameron  Sinclair (My wish: a call for open-source architecture)

Music for thinking is Brian Eno’s Lux.

…generative art… designing systems that produce music… establishing a set of possibilities and allowing them to happen…

Brian Eno

Commonplaces Summer Programme Basel

Coat of arms of the canton of Basel-Stadt
Coat of arms of the canton of Basel-Stadt

A week ago Tony Pritchard, my course leader from the LCC, asked me to write about my experience in Basel. So I looked through my archive and I gathered the information about the course, as well as some photographs and quotes which help elucidate the philosophy behind the Basel School of Design and their Summer Programme.

Between 1968 and 1999, the ‘Basel School of Design’ had conducted an Advanced Class of Graphic Design which was attended by students from all over the world. When the school was transformed into University Level, this Advanced Class was unfortunately closed.

From the Basics in Design and Typography Programme, Basel 2008

When the Schule für Gestaltung Basel (Basel School of Design) first announced its First Summer Program ‘Basics in Design and Typography’, three weeks of workshops for graphic designers, students and educators, it emphasised the fact that the course would be conducted by Wolfgang Weingart and would ‘re-open a dialogue’ with the legendary Advanced Class of Graphic Design, closed since 1999 …

The course was delivered in a series of huge, clean white rooms, previously used as exhibition spaces within the Gewerbemuseum (trade museum) building. On the floor above was the Basel School of Design library; on the floor below was the Swiss Poster Collection. Each student was given their own enormous working space for the course. At the start of each class, all the equipment and materials were to be found ready and waiting in a neat pile on each desk. However, by far the most noticeable feature of the studio was the complete absence of computers . . .

Back to basics in Basel by Rupert Bassett

The course was delivered in a series of huge, clean white rooms, previously used as exhibition spaces within the Gewerbemuseum (trade museum) building. Summer Programme 2008.
The course was delivered in a series of huge, clean white rooms, previously used as exhibition spaces within the Gewerbemuseum (trade museum) building. The Summer Programme 2008.

Drawing and Designing with Peter Olpe

In this workshop we had to draw pieces of track ballast from the Swiss Railway.

The piece of ballast, from the workshop, I still have on my desk.
The piece of stone from the workshop. I still have it on my desk.

What we do not see we cannot tell. What we see incorrectly we will report incorrectly.  

Josef Albers: To Open Eyes by Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz

From the workshop with Peter Olpe
Drawings from the workshop.

Only with a rich vocabulary of a solid graphic training is it possible to move freely among all one has learned. It is significant that often the most elementary experiences – which are commonly undervalued – are exactly those that can be the most lasting.

A Drawer’s Thoughts on Drawing: Drawing Makes Things Visible by Dorothea Hofmann

From Leonardo comes this observation: The line has an intellectual nature because, although it does not exist in reality, it can be understood to clarify objects. …the drawing cannot be a reproduction of nature, but that is possesses rather its own special reality.

Drawing as Design Process by Peter Olpe

My work from the workshop
My work from the workshop: “Relationships”.

Tonal work is risk-free; line is perilous voyage. Line drawing had a nakedness that forced students to think in advance of the line they drew.

Josef Albers: To Open Eyes by Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz
My work from the workshop
My work from the workshop: “Final Piece”.

Colour and Designing with Dorothea Flury

For the workshop we just needed paper and tempera.

From the workshop.
Group’s work.

In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is–as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art. In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives us continually. To this end, the beginning is not a study of color systems.

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers

My work from the workshop. Colour relationships.
My work from the workshop: “Colour Relationships”.

Basics in Typography with Wolfgang Weingart

Designing book covers using paper and scissors.

After completing one of the task. Group discussion.
After completing one of the tasks. The little round box with a six-point, semi bold Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk was always on Weingart’s desk.

Good typography is not loud. A responsibly applied and readable type style is the first ingredient of good composition. Today, asymmetric composition is certainly feasible, however, typography is intrinsically symmetrical. A text block without indents is unclear. Indents help the reader by the logical order of the text. The best typography is invisible to the reader and serves to transmit the thoughts and intent of the author. Beautiful text, a text well composed, is legible. One of the highest virtues of good typography is its subtle elegance. It is not the duty of the typographer to consciously display or emulate the style of the current trends, nor to reflect the spirit of the times. Typography must be itself. It must be pleasing to the eye and not tiring. Good typography has absolutely nothing to do with remarkable or exotic type styles. This is the opinion of amateurs. The essence of letter-form is not modernity, but readability. (from Jan Tschichold’s document sent to Wolfgang Weingart)

It seemed as if everything that made me curious was forbidden: to question established typographic practice, change the rules, and to reevaluate its potential. I was motivated to provoke this stodgy profession and to stretch the typeshop’s capabilities to the breaking point, and finally, to prove once again that typography is an art.

My Way to Typography by Wolfgang Weingart

My drawing from the workshop.
One of the drawings I made during the workshop.

Space and Form (3D) with Stephan Primus

During the workshop we only used paper and a cutting knife.

Examples of work from previous courses.
Examples of work from previous courses.

Don’t even worry about being without a studio or being away  from your tools; you can always get out the paper. (from Josef Albers’s Report on a Course)

Josef Albers: To Open Eyes by Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz

The following photographs present my work from the workshop.

Different forms.
Different forms.
Libraries of forms.
Libraries of forms.
Progression 1
Progression 1.
Progression 2
Progression 2.

Things I liked most:

  • the struggle while I was drawing the ballast stones
  • Peter Olpe’s amazing pinhole cameras, which he builds himself
  • the school’s poster collection, shown by Dorothea Flury
  • Dorothea’s comment that students came to the Basel School of Design for Armin Hofmann, but wanted to stay for Kurt Hauert.
  • the visit to the Novartis Campus (a treasure trove of design) guided by Kaspar Schmid and Lize Mifflin (Mifflin-Schmid Design)
  • Beat Keusch who, according to Weingart, is the most sensible Swiss designer
  • Paper Museum and it’s exhibition: 50th Aniversary of Helvetica
  • Shaulager, a place to check out
  • Letterform in Public Space, a guided tour through the city of Basel with Lisa Pomeroy
  • Vitra, the collection of chairs and the Conference Pavilion designed by Tadao Ando


*The black and white photographs (Drawing and Designing, Space and Form) come from the book we received after the course. They were made by two assistants in the Summer Programme,  Mo and Anne.

Here are some photographs of the book.



Yasunori Morinaga's work.
Yasunori Morinaga’s work.
Yasunori Morinaga's work.
Yasunori Morinaga’s work.
Yasunori Morinaga's work.
Yasunori Morinaga’s work.