Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building is not a friendly building. It is a building that tells you what to do and how to behave. We can brush those claims aside but they are real. Bauhaus tableware dominates its surroundings. It doesn’t go well with anything else. It doesn’t get along with other styles. You can’t put Bauhaus furniture in a room with other kinds of furniture. It looks wrong and it feels insane. A Bauhaus room wants to be all Bauhaus.
This brings up another undeniable fact. There is something deeply satisfying about an all- Bauhaus room in an all-Bauhaus building. The scary fact about Bauhaus is that its practitioners made the claim to totality and then damn near pulled it off. A Bauhaus city might really be a better city, maybe the best city. But you’d have to destroy everything else to find out. No one ever had the balls to try. No community has ever been able to live up to the demands of Bauhaus. The closest we’ve ever gotten is in the widespread infiltration of Ikea. A hybridized stepchild of Bauhaus, Ikea designs manage to blend the basic utilitarianism of Bauhaus with an accommodation to color and ornament that allows an Ikea room to contain non-Ikea items.
But the original Bauhaus was not interested in that kind of compromise. Whenever I look at original Bauhaus creations I thus feel an essential fear. I am being challenged, attacked, called out. That is a side of Bauhaus that doesn’t go away, no matter how ecumenical a tale of the movement we try to tell. Bauhaus is a 20th-century beast. It will tear you apart and reconstruct you if given half the chance. Appreciate its brilliance, but don’t forget to be afraid, very afraid.