By Audrey Gordon (MDes 2020)
See a performance of Futura Fractals, described below, Saturday, September 21 at 5pm in Chicago. Details and registration.
The founders of the Bauhaus saw their world ending after World War I. Political turmoil, tens of millions of people dead, whole cities turned to ash — the world they knew was demolished. They saw the time after the war as their opportunity to rebuild a more ideal world. They viewed direct manipulation of materials as essential to the process of design, and they developed many methods and techniques to do this. These techniques often used abstraction to break down the process of world building into discrete building blocks for designers. These methods have evolved and changed over time, particularly with the integration of new materials.
Our vernacular has changed, but the core intentions are related. In October 2018, five IIT Institute of Design (ID) graduate students (including myself) had the opportunity to experience the original Bauhaus methods directly. We participated in a collaborative design workshop to create a performance piece with Hedwig Dances, a modern dance company in Chicago. The piece, Futura Fractals, was performed as a prologue to Hedwig’s original work, Futura. We created a new world with characters and an environment to show to the audience.
We will perform the piece again in September 2019 in Dessau, Germany as part of the Bauhaus centenary celebration.
So what is the value of practicing the original methods of the Bauhaus? How can they be translated into the contemporary design vernacular?
Bauhaus Methods Today
- Paper folding and embodying
The students and dancers were instructed by Torsten Blume, a choreographer from the Bauhaus Foundation, to fold a piece of paper however they liked. Then we had to recreate the paper form with our bodies and move in a way that the paper might. This equates to the contemporary craft of understanding form and affordances, often seen in product design.
- Character building and costuming
We abstracted the characteristics of our paper forms into building blocks — were they round, angular, springy? This became the basis of how the character would behave and appear visually. This relates to the modern concept of understanding stakeholders and empathizing with their needs. Our costume pieces, made of foam core, were the medium to communicate these attributes to our audience.
- World building
When designers create new products, services, or systems, we are creating a vision of a world that does not yet exist. The way that we visualize this future aesthetically through images, videos, and animations may be different than in the days of the original Bauhaus, but the practice of creating an environment is aligned. In Futura Fractals, we used lighting as a key element. We collaborated with Jason White, CEO of Leviathan, to create visual tableaus of the character shapes and project them upon us while performing.
- Understanding interactions
For me, the most interesting exploration was how our characters interacted with each other and with the space we created. What happens when an aggressive angular shape interacts with a calming round shape? What about becoming self-aware of your character when seeing the shapes projected in front of you? This is where the methods of the past and the design disciplines of the future are very much aligned. Designers today must constantly consider how stakeholders and systems interact.
In 2019, we at Illinois Tech celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus, together with institutions worldwide. In the spirit of this celebration and IIT Institute of Design’s (ID’s) heritage as the New Bauhaus, student group mediaID produced a Bauhaus newsletter. A collection written, photographed, designed, and curated by students at ID and Illinois Tech, in the newsletter students reflect on the influence of the Bauhaus, examining its relevance and impact today while also looking toward the future.
This project was sponsored by Chicago’s Goethe-Institut. ID students also collaborated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where students created a companion newsletter.