Sustainability is one of the most pronounced words in the past few months. Many people still think it is only related to something you do after. You use then recycle – which isn’t a bad case at all -; but the order should be actually in reverse. You design something so you don’t even have to get to the after part. The most obvious example is just now starting to be questioned: You don’t recycle a plastic cup, you just don’t use plastic. (period)
100 Years ago (yes, 100) Walter Gropius founded Bauhaus, the cradle school of modern design in all its disciplines: Architecture, industrial, graphic, photography and so on. In the beginning the school went through an experimental/expressionist phase focused on the knowledge of materials to later become the apotheosis of functionalism. Gropius and Marcel Breuer were masters in sustainability, criterion that led to the maximum of design thinking from zero to finished product. The genuine success of a functional piece and its selected aesthetics are deeply rooted in the process of the making involving the reason to design said piece as the true concept. This reason may be based on many different levels of need, from a war aftermath housing project to a not very significant merchandising product.
It seems as if one of the few good results of having had two world wars is that the devastation of populations led to an extreme “design solution” campaign, which gave us a school like Bauhaus and the whole design history that came from it. At times when there was no budget whatsoever, the design process and its resources had to be extremely minimal but not less successful than any highly financed endeavor. Now this was absolutely based on one word: Sustainability, which means you don’t need to replace it, update it, re-decorate it for trending reasons as it’s so much ahead of its time aesthetically speaking; hence you don’t need to throw it away and buy something new. Even though this wonderful evolution was given because of the wars, once a general recovery happened in the 1950’s, there was also a downside to it, which felt like WWII had been the last big problem the world had suffered in all aspects such as human, ecological, political and so on. It wasn’t. The world needs permanent care and protection. There was no reason to forsake the planet and industrialize waste.
What do we do now? We need to move on 100 years backwards and re-install in each and every one of us a sense of community and environment care just like Bauhaus started in 1919.
Hopefully we won’t have any evil leader who will shut down the school and movement just like it happened in Germany during the 1940’s. So, let’s think, observe, focus and once again use design as a resurrection tool.
Hats off to the Bauhaus crew and congrats for the centurial anniversary!!
Left: Josef Albers chair, 1926-1927.