Building Red, Yellow & Blue

By Jasmine Gillanders

As children red, yellow and blue are the three colours we don’t just learn about but are the first three primary colours we are taught. How many early toys like simple wooden blocks can you remember, tools to play with and also to learn from? But few of us learnt that in fact, it was an Irish scientist who first labelled these three colours as primary colours and that later they would play such a big part in the world of art and architecture. The architectural and design movement of Bauhaus was amongst other things inspired by this simple trio of colours through the association of yellow with the triangle, blue with the circle, and red with the square. Find out more in Building Red, Yellow & Blue here

As we all know, colour is an extremely strong emotive force in life. Over time it has been studied, picked apart and associated with class, emotions, historical periods, and other factors. Artist Wassily Kandinsky for example believed the more pointed a shape was, the warmer it was; and the more blunt the angle of the respective shape, the colder it was. Thus he assigned the colours yellow, blue and red to the shapes of triangle, circle and square according to this principle.

However, colour has also been an extremely important factor when it comes to art and design. Thanks to Irish philosopher Robert Boyle the term primary colours (which included the colours red, yellow and blue, which can be mixed in different ways to make almost all colours) was coined. These colours remind us of our childhood but also strongly evoke one of the philosophies of the Bauhaus movement. 

To give context, Bauhaus or “House of Buildings” was founded in 1919 by German architect Walter Gropius who started a school and had a worldwide impact on art, architecture and design. Stripped back, clean and minimal design overrode the ideals of decoration and ornamentation which had been present until then. 

Johannes Itten, one of the many innovative teachers at the Bauhaus school present in Germany from 1913 to 1933, declares that 

“Colour is life; for a world without colour appears to us as dead. Colours are primordial ideas, the children of light.” 

Johannes Itten.

Similarly to how many of us view colour today and possibly thanks to Bauhaus, Itten saw reactions to colour as either aesthetic, emotional or symbolic. 

Interestingly, The Bauhaus school had a spiritual take on art and related colour to objects, teaching their students how to live in harmony with movement, shape and colour. In addition to this, it also encouraged ideas of form follows function, less is more, spirituality and art into creative industries.

So, what is Bauhaus as a creative point exactly? And how has it influenced our perception of colour, art and design over time?

Their manifesto read that different disciplines would come together to create the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Here, artists were trained to turn their hands to anything instead of focusing on one specific medium, as you would say today to ‘multitask’. 

The main aim was to improve the living conditions of the population through modern design after the trauma and destruction caused by World War One. 

According to them, buildings, should not only respond to the needs of society but also liberate and elevate it. Bauhaus fought against traditional art, education and lifestyle in the hope of creating a better world, free from restrictions.

However, this only lasted for 14 years as in 1933 the school was forced to shut down by the in-power Nazi party because of their concern of rising “socialists and radicals. The Nazis condemned the movement as a symptom of a disease spread by the Jewish community and communists. Despite this, Bauhaus lived on, outliving the Nazis and bettering the future.

The school was revolutionary because it taught students to look at the world differently and to design for it accordingly. In particular, the design process started by studying the nature of an object: 

“In order to design it to function properly, one must first of all study its nature. For it to serve its purpose perfectly, it must fulfil its function in a practical way”

Walter Gropius.

In 1923 Walter Gropius added to the goals of the Bauhaus the importance of designing for mass production and started adopting the slogan “Art into Industry” in a time when the concept of industrial was becoming more and more relevant.

This concept is especially interesting as it offered a different approach to art compared to previous artistic movements such as Arts and Crafts which highlighted the importance of engaging directly with the creative process from start to finish. For Bauhaus, good design could be mass-produced and made available for a new society. 

Red and Blue Chair – Gerrit Rietveld

As well as being a school and a working practice there were rules and ideals that are not so commonly known, some of which are in some cases misunderstood or misquoted:

Form follows function

Stripping a product down to its bare essentials in order for it to cater to its original function is a design process present to this day. Apple products for example follow this principle, their form, their design follows their function. Their design is simple, minimal, and functional and has gained popularity because of it. 

Many artists today also admit the influence of Bauhaus on their work. In particular, they emphasise the importance of not getting lost in the details of one specific field, rather to explore the art world as a whole. 

Less is more 

Just like the idea of form follows function, the idea of less is more is a crucial turning point for the 20th-century industrial design period. The motto derives from the last director and architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, whose directorship became even more strongly linked with architecture. The world-renowned idea of Less is more is translated in his work but also strongly resonates with the work of the Bauhaus. 


The Bauhaus under Walter Gropius was linked to spirituality and it searched for harmony within art, shapes, colour and movement. Teachers such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee had a very spiritual approach to art which in turn influenced the students. Wassily Kandinsky, for example, established emotional associations between specific colours and forms and wrote about it in his book “On the Spiritual in Art”. In addition to this, different rituals were performed before classes to prepare body and spirit for the act of creative production through forms such as the recitation of a poem, the singing of a song, or the rhythmic repetition of gymnastic exercises. Only then the spirit was ready to create the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk). Wouldn’t it also be nice for us to start our days by letting go?

The consequences of the closure of the Bauhaus school left room for a wider range of interpretation and similarly to the way an artist’s work becomes popular after his passing, it was in part the reason why it influenced so many other artists moving forward and became so popular. In addition to this the fact that it survived even after moving from Weimar to Dessau and from Dessau to Berlin says a lot about its influence. 

After the Bauhaus was shut down, artists fled the country which in turn allowed for its influence to spread worldwide. Amongst other cities, Tel Aviv is an example of one of the best-preserved Bauhaus collections created by German-Jewish architects who immigrated to the region after the rise of the Nazis. Directors Gropius and Mies Van der Rohe on the other hand fled to America where they were joined by other Bauhaus teachers. Here, in 1937 Moholy Nagy, artist and previous teacher at the Bauhaus school, founded the ‘New Bauhaus’ in Chicago. Overall, when the school came to an end in Berlin in 1933 it enabled its ideas to expand within society and to be fully absorbed. It sent talent worldwide and influenced new designs. 

Bauhaus has had a great role in establishing industrial design and in opening a way to “new typography” thanks to figures such as calligrapher Jan Tschichold. In addition to this Bauhaus has now acquired its own font thanks to graphic designer Sascha Lobe who created the font as part of the new visual identity for the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum für Gestaltung in Berlin.

Bauhaus Archiv & Museum of Design, Berlin

Even geometrical and minimalistic fashion which presented itself increasingly throughout the following years can be interpreted as reminiscent of Bauhaus. Today, artists such as Hannah Waldron have admitted the influence of Bauhaus on her work. In particular, she claims to have started weaving in 2010 after admiring woven works from the Bauhaus archive. 

Trends coming for 2023 see a move away from the minimal greys, beiges and neutral tones and we will see the re-introduction of explosions of colour, textures and decoration into the home and workspaces.

We will see the use of light, pure and intense shades and how the roots of Bauhaus will present themselves through a new interpretation of “unexpected, never boring and simple in its originality” as stated and starting from the upcoming Salone del Mobile in Milan. More than 100 years later and we can still find echoes of Bauhaus in our everyday life. 

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