Chicago Institute of Design owes its existence

to the creative genius of one man. A talented visionary, a gifted artist, a dedicated teacher - Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was one of the early masters of The Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, Germany. Banned by the Nazis in 1933, The Bauhaus philosophy lived on in the professional work of a few core members who emigrated, leaving behind their homelands and native cultures, but not their convictions and allegiance to Bauhaus principles. (4)

After a spell in London, Bauhaus master Moholy-Nagy, at the invitation of Chicago's Association of Art and Industry, moved to Chicago in 1937 to start a new design school, which he named the New Bauhaus. The philosophy of the school was basically unchanged from that of the original, and its first headquarters was the Prairie Avenue mansion that architect Richard Morris Hunt, designed for department store magnate Marshall Field. Due to financial problems the school briefly closed in 1938.

However, Walter Paepcke, Chairman of the Container Corporation of America and an early champion of industrial design in America, soon offered his personal support, and in 1939, Moholy-Nagy re-opened the school as the Chicago School of Design.

In 1944, this became the Institute of Design, headed by Moholy-Nagy until 1945. Moholy authored an account of his efforts to develop the curriculum of the School of Design in his book Vision in Motion. Archival materials are held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago. (1)

New Bauhaus on South Prairie Avenue, Chicago
Photo by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, c. 1938

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In spite of its name, and the fact that its founder was an architect, the Bauhaus did not have an architecture department during the first years of its existence. Nonetheless it was founded with the...
Moholy frequently encouraged his students to view the world as through the eyes of a child, holding no preconceived notions of the "right" way to do something. Classes designed specifically for young children were a significant part of the School of Design’s program almost from the beginning. (4)

One significant outcome of the new Bauhaus in the United States

is the International Style architecture. The term International Style was applied to the American form of Bauhaus architecture. The name came from the book The International Style by historian and critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson. Bauhaus buildings have flat roofs, smooth façades and cubic shapes. Colors are white, gray, beige or black. Floor plans are open and furniture is functional. While Bauhaus architecture had been concerned with the social aspects of design, Americaʼs International Style became a symbolism of Capitalism. (2)

The focus on natural and human sciences was increased, and photography grew to play a more prominent role at the school in Chicago than it had done in Germany. Training in mechanical techniques was more sophisticated than it had been in Germany. Emerging from the basic course, various workshops were installed, such as "light, photography, film, publicity", "textile, weaving, fashion", "wood, metal, plastics", "color, painting, decorating" and "architecture".

The most important achievement at the Chicago Bauhaus was probably in photography, under the guidance of teachers such as György Kepes, Nathan Lerner, Arthur Siegel or Harry Callahan. (3)


New Bauhaus - names and locations

New Bauhaus - American School of Design
1938: 1905 South Prairie Avenue, Chicago

The School of Design in Chicago
1939–1945: 247 East Ontario Street, Chicago

The Institute of Design
1945–1946: 1009 North State Street, Chicago
1946–1956: 632 North Dearborn Street, Chicago
1956–1989: S.R. Crown Hall IIT campus on South State Street
1989–1996: 10 West 35th Street (ITRI on IIT campus)
1996–present: 350 North LaSalle Blvd, Chicago

New Bauhaus on LaSalle Blvd, Chicago, Chicago
Photo by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, c. 1938

Whereas, in addition to Moholy Nagy,

Hin Bredendieck and Marli Ehrmann, it was initially other emigrants from the Bauhaus that came to teach in Chicago, the staff was slowly supplemented by Americans. Teachers included art by Archipenko and Werner Drewes, interior design by Marianne Willisch, architecture by George Fred Keck, and many others, basically, the "who's who" of architecture and design in mid-century Chicago. The method and aim of the school were likewise adapted to American requirements.

Moholy Nagy's successor at the head of the Institute of Design, Serge Chermayeff, however, remained still quite true to the original Bauhaus, aiming at the education of the widely oriented universal thinker and designer. This changed step by step in the 1950s and through the merge with the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Institute of Design is even now still part of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and rates as a respected and professionally oriented school of design.

The New Bauhaus/Institute of Design continues to be the source of the most influential design curriculum in the US, if not to most of the world. A note of architectural trivia: the Institute of Design was located from 1946 - 1956 in the castle-like building at 632 North Dearborn St. built as the Chicago Historical Society in 1892 (architect: Henry Ives Cobb) which currently houses the Excalibur night club.(3)


  Sources and related Links
  1) wikipedia.org - New Bauhaus
2) Wang Phan - "Inside Bauhaus" Page 6
3) chicagobauhausbeyond.org - New Bauhaus
4) www.iit.edu - Moholy Nagy
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