The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in the city of Weimar by the architect Walter Gropius. His objective was radical: to reimagine a material world that would reflect the unity of all the arts. He explained this vision for a union of art and design in the Bauhaus Manifesto, which described a utopian craft guild combining architecture, sculpture, and painting into a single creative expression. The school’s motto was then ‘art and craft – a new unity’.
The new teaching methods of the school were based on workshops in which craft and design were intersected with the functionality and aesthetic of objects. To this end, students were taught by both a Master of Form and a Master of Craft to allow, as the Manifesto stated, 'new building of the future', in which the habitat was considered in its entirety, from an aesthetic, functional, social and economic point of view.
After being immersed in the Bauhaus theories, the students would join workshops specialising in a variety of trades and materials including metalwork, carpentry, weaving, pottery, and graphic design. If the initial unification of the arts had to go through crafts, this approach quickly proved to be financially impractical. In 1923, while still emphasising craftsmanship, Gropius reviewed the intentions of the Bauhaus and the outcome was a renewed initiative focusing on the importance of design for mass production. The motto of the school was renewed in 1922 to 'art and technology – a new unity’.
In 1920, at the age of 18, Marcel Breuer joined the carpentry workshop. It was here that he was influenced by the founding member of the Dutch movement De Stijl, Theo Van Doesburg, who lived in Weimar from 1921 to 1923. In parallel with the Russian Constructivists, whose first congress was held in Weimar in 1922, Breuer's first designs bear close comparison to those of Gerrit Rietveld who started exhibiting at the Bauhaus from 1921.
The starting point of his Lattenstuhl armchair, dating from 1922, a wood-slat ensemble, was to promote a comfortable and ergonomic seated posture within an easy construction which Breuer intended as a prototype for industrial mass-production. This aerial structure, pared back to an essential form on which cloth strips (made in the weaving workshops of the school) create the seat and back, can be viewed as a three-dimensional interpretation of a De Stijl painting.
With this first armchair, Marcel Breuer created the embodiment of his concept for modern furniture: ‘a light and aerial sketch in space’, creating a chair that was both comfortable and simple in design. The resulting chair has no expensive upholstery, merely simple cloth supports for the skeleton. This leaves the spine free and the body resting on a stable frame and fulfilled economic requirements relating to the construction price for factory production.
The Lattenstuhl is based on principles which examined the sitting function through anatomical research, and is one of the most striking designs developed by Marcel Breuer. It was produced in small numbers between 1922 and 1925 by the Bauhaus carpentry workshop in Weimar. Due to its construction and form, the Lattenstuhl was never offered widely for sale, perhaps too avant-garde for its time.
A brilliant pupil, Breuer proved himself at the Bauhaus in Weimar, progressing from student to professor. He then took charge of the carpentry workshop when the school moved to Dessau in 1925. Observing his architectural and design work, one can clearly visualise a continuous thread of the Bauhaus mantra of reuniting art and industry. Inspired by the construction of the bicycle, Breuer revolutionised the modern interior with his tubular metal furniture. His first mass-produced designs, especially the Wassily armchair, remain today amongst the most identifiable icons of modernist furniture.