The Bauhaus in the Age of Frictionless Design

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And architecturally, it’s been an exceedingly steady simmer—until now. Mies designed IIT’s campus, including the famous steel-and-glass Crown Hall. The Institute of Design’s new home, the 70,000-square-foot Its most profitable product was wallpaper, as Architect magazine pointed out.

At the Institute of Design post-Mies, Jay Doblin, who became director in 1955, sought professionalization, adding theory and critique to what had been a largely experiential field of master-and-apprentice craft. Under Doblin, faculty put more emphasis on business-friendly new product development and less on open-ended experimentation.

That legacy is reflected in the spotless, tidy condition of the Kaplan Institute. “There’s still a janitor walking around cleaning scuff marks off the floor with a tennis ball on a stick,” said Mau. “It sets a tone of, ‘Where can I spread my work out and leave it?’”

This is partly due to how new the building is—things could change. The building is made from tough and resilient materials (polished concrete, exposed fireproofing) that should be able to absorb some creatively channeled destruction. “I imagine it’ll look quite different in a year or two,” said Ronan. “It’s not a precious thing. It’s meant to be a working space that can get messy. It’s a canvas for the students to finish with their work.”

The Bauhaus was never a purist organization, but through most of its brief history there was room for art. At the Kaplan building, this space seems to have largely been filled by “innovation.” It’s in the building’s name and serves as an implicit mission statement. By moving its emphasis from experimentation to innovation, the school narrows its scope from holistically using design as a tool of self-expression to using it as a tool for technocratic managers. That, too, is a measure of the Bauhaus’s influence, which has been absorbed and re-interpreted through the day’s economic value system.

The best art and design schools are those that can take the bumps and scratches that come with an endless parade of young minds carrying bizarre and messy ideas, and it remains to be seen if the precise and tidy Kaplan Institute will be called into action this way, and if so, how it will bear the smudges. Its writeable walls are so far mostly filled with lecture talking points and assignment due dates. It doesn’t feel like a place to scribble yet.

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