The Bauhaus was founded by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. In 1928, he withdrew as the director of the academy, which had by then achieved its greatest impact in Dessau, and appointed the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer as his successor. On Gropius’s suggestion, Meyer was succeeded in 1930 by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who directed the school until its enforced closure in Berlin in 1933.

The Berlin architect Walter Gropius (1883–1969) had already endeavoured, with the greatest of ambition, to establish a reformed art school during WWI. The Staatliches Bauhaus was ultimately founded in Weimar in 1919 according to his concepts. The school’s manifesto, programme and statutes were all drafted by Gropius. Its unconventional teaching methods were geared to reuniting the arts and the crafts at the Bauhaus. The goal of the educational concept, where teaching took place in workshops instead of the conventional academy, was the building as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art).

There were no students or professors at the Bauhaus Weimar; instead, there were journeymen and masters. For the teaching modules, which began with the now legendary preliminary course, Gropius employed renowned artists such as Johannes Itten, Lyonel Feininger, Gerhard Marcks, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy. With the 1923 exhibition Kunst und Technologie – Eine Neue Einheit (art and technology – a new unity), Gropius changed the orientation of the school, moving away from the individual work of art towards the concept of well-designed utilitarian objects that were to be produced in collaboration with industry.

Forced to close in Weimar due to politically motivated cost-cutting measures implemented by the State of Thuringia, Gropius in 1925 moved his school, which was now known as the Hochschule für Gestaltung (school of design), to Dessau in the federal state of Anhalt. Here, he designed and built the famous Bauhaus Building and the Masters’ Houses. After renewed political conflicts with the city and the state, Gropius retreated to his private architecture office in Berlin. In 1928, he appointed the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer (1889–1954) as his successor.

The Marxist Hannes Meyer, who had been head of the newly established architecture department from 1927, reformed education at the Bauhaus by promoting collaboration with industry. Motivated by a cooperative mindset cultivated in Switzerland, Meyer called for the school to meet “the needs of the people instead of the need for luxury”. Meyer also involved the students in “vertical brigades” where they would work through all the phases of commissioned projects.

The students, who included an influential group of Communists, became polarised during Hannes Meyer’s period as director. At the instigation of the city and with Gropius’s backing, Meyer was dismissed without notice in 1930.

Gropius was able to recruit Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) as the third director of the school. Mies van der Rohe had garnered international acclaim following the world exhibition held the year before in Barcelona. Mies van der Rohe’s primary interest was the education and training of architects; he was less interested in sociopolitical concerns. Neverthless, because of the National Socialist majority on the Dessau city council, he was forced to close the school in 1932. The school relocated to Berlin under Mies van der Rohe, who attempted to continue teaching in the vacant building of an old telephone factory. However, due to increasing restrictions essentially directed against the the Bauhaus’s content and its teaching staff, it became impossible to continue teaching. After a raid on the building and the subsequent sealing of the classrooms by the police and the SA, a paramilitary branch of the NSDAP, the Bauhaus disbanded in the summer of 1933.