RIBA goes beyond Bauhaus with its latest exhibition in London

RIBA goes beyond Bauhaus with its latest exhibition in London

In a year rich in Bauhaus inspired offerings, as institutions across the globe celebrate 100 years from the foundation of the famous German school, it might be hard to catch the public’s attention. Yet the latest show at London’s RIBA headquarters, ‘Beyond Bauhaus: Modernism In Britain 1933-66’, succeeds in stealing the spotlight with a show that explores what Bauhaus’ principles meant for Britain. 

Featuring rare treats and information on lesser-known projects of the era, such as drawings produced during a short-lived partnership between Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry, the exhibition focuses on the British legacy of three Bauhaus émigrés – Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Maszlo Moholy-Nagy. Using the few years (1934-37), when all three were in Britain, as a springboard, ‘Beyond Bauhaus’ delves into drawings, photography, film and illustration to uncover how the movement inspired and influenced, and eventually changed British architecture.

Designs for a house by Sir Leslie Martin and Sadie Speight, 1935. Image: RIBA Collections

‘It is a survey of what was happening in British architecture at the time’, explains RIBA curator of exhibitions Pete Collard. It is about these modernist ideas that travelled from Europe ‘and how they gestate and developed here.’ 

Chilean architecture firm Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s ingenious exhibition design is crucial to that. Taking what effectively is a show of archival material – mostly two-dimensional prints of photography and drawings – and giving it a third dimension is one mean feat, but the studio’s clever set up of coloured pillars and cut out peep-holes does the trick, attracting the eye and helping you move through the show. 

In terms of content, the exhibition is divided – quite discreetly – into three parts. The first section ‘doesn’t contain built projects’, says Collard. ‘It is more about the excitement about this new movement,’ and takes the visitor through theoretical schemes and visionary but unbuilt work, following the teachings and networks of those three Bauhaus tutors. 

In the second part of the exhibition however, this changes. ’Chapter two is all about the house,’ explains RIBA curator of photographs Valeria Carullo. The journey here guides us through buildings in the domestic scale, but also looks at interiors and furniture. Maxwell Fry’s Sun House and Connell, Ward and Lucas’ High and Over House are among the offerings.

Finally, chapter three expands and zooms out to look at the larger scale, including projects such as multi-family housing, healthcare and education, focusing on the point when pioneering modernist ideas went beyond private houses and involved the public sector and more sociologically-minded work. ‘This section is much about the legacy of those ideas and opportunities that hadn’t had the chance to be put into action as yet,’ says Collard.

A four-month programme of events has been curated to accompany the show, spanning film screenings, talks and workshops. §

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