Last week in Berlin, I headed eagerly to the exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of Bauhaus. A few days before, I had read an article in The Design Observer criticizing the association of IKEA with Bauhaus:
"In the first half of the twentieth century, design reacted to industrialization, world wars, poverty, inflation, and class divisions. The Bauhaus arose out of a reaction to disastrous world politics and the inhumanity of urban living conditions, from the bullying architecture of the powerful to the class divisions perpetuated by luxuries only the rich could afford. By contrast, IKEA has evolved over time to refine a much narrower, and perhaps humbler, mission: to make home furnishings look good and cost less. The Bauhaus responded to the social urgencies after the First World War. What has succeeded the social inspiration of the Bauhaus is the business inspiration of retail giants like IKEA, which pursues a business model for the global marketplace.
Today, with the crash of world markets, design must more fully confront and re-evaluate its role in global business. This is what Bauhaus principles are all about: taking stock of the present states of technology, business and culture and crafting reasonable designs for the way we live now. A glut of cheap, uniform products in the marketplace can no longer be a virtue of global business. To pursue Bauhaus principles in the future, IKEA will have to increase the personalization of its products, improve ergonomics, reduce wastefulness and increase quality in order to create lasting value for the consumer."
Yet, the exhibition in Bauhaus, especially Christine Hill's DIY Bauhas installation, took on a lighter spirit. Focusing on the proclamation "People's needs instead of luxury needs" by the second Director of Bauhaus Hannes Meyer, she takes a less harsh view of IKEA.
"Some mostly leftist designers may protest, but IKEA had and has achieved the pioneering influence on a broad spectrum of buyers that, as one of its central goals, the historical Bauhaus would have liked to achieve."
Perhaps the danger comes when we believe that the pioneering influence Bauhaus wanted to achieve was merely a specific design style, rather than the manifestation of political and social goals that would in turn shape design principles and the consumer's mentality.