I’ve just got back from a week in Berlin. What a city. On the one hand, a place that’s so full of its own history that it is close to choking; on the other, a city that prides itself on a vibe that puts coffee and cake above the daily grind of work – in my Berliner friend’s words: ‘we’d rather be poor and sexy’. Too true.
There were many thoughts sparked by my time there. One of the main ones came from a trip we made to the Bauhaus museum. Despite a wholly disappointing exhibition, the book we bought about the Bauhaus movement is really exciting and has made me wonder what a ‘social Bauhaus’ for the 21st century might look like. I’ve been busy writing a longer document about this, but it seems to me that the core principles might be:
- A clearly-articulated worldview that drives the work, is recognised externally, and that forms the basis of all project focus and design: in the 1920s, the Bauhaus movement was characterised by an exhausting but exhilarating series of debates about their worldview and the meaning of modernism
- A small cadre of seasoned professionals from a range of disciplines, collaborating together on practical projects: from the outset, Bauhaus people were united in their worldview, but skilled in many inter-related things – textiles, architecture, product design, art
- An explicit emphasis on ‘policy education’, where the core staff would use the projects to give skills, approaches and methods people aspiring to change the world within and beyond government: Bauhaus was always a school as well as a business. Modern thinktanks often end up educating their young graduate staff, but by accident, and badly
- The investment in maintaining a network of ‘graduates’ as they move into jobs across the sector: you didn’t just work at the Bauhaus, it was a way of life, a philosophy that you carried around with you forever.
One of the things that made me start writing this blog was a sense that we have a deficit in bold ideas currently. The Bauhaus movement is exciting because of its passion, its willingness to be idealistic as well as practical. Most importantly, it is exciting because it dared to dream of alternative futures rather than simply sticking to the art of the possible.
The original meaning of ‘ideology’ was ‘the science of ideas’. We desperately need to fall in love with ideas again, to recognise that the relationship between thought and action is not a one way street – and in those terms, my dream think-and-do-tank of tomorrow might have a lot to learn from Walter Gropius and his colleagues at the Bauhaus.