Detrimental to Progress


Armchair F 51 by Walter Gropius

“Although Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus and a leading advocate of the modern movement, gave full credit to the influence that Ruskin, Morris and the British Arts and Crafts Movement had on his own development, this acknowledgement was not generally shared. For many years whilst the Modern Movement reigned supreme and concrete machines for living and working were filling our cities, Morris and the handcraftsmen were rather ridiculed as being sentimental and irrelevant, or worse, in some circles, as being detrimental to progress.”

— Alan Peters, “Cabinetmaking: The Professional Approach, Second Edition” (Linden, 2009)

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24 Responses to Detrimental to Progress

  1. OK, so sign me up as both an anarchist and a detrimentalist.

  2. lblack2x4 says:

    Gropius was really interesting. His house is in Lexington and if you get a chance you should go. It’s always fun to see designers that lived with what they designed.

  3. Brian Hall says:

    Inspired by LEGOs…no thanks

  4. abtuser says:

    Most likely, Lego was inspired by Bauhaus. Lego was started by a Dane roughly just after the Bauhaus movement came to a close. You have Bauhaus and Danish Modern. I’ll tell ya, those Teutons…inspirational. I love the piece.

    • abtuser says:

      To be clear, I’m not suggesting the creator of Lego’s was directly influenced by Bauhaus, just that there’s a time relationship there between Bauhaus and Lego, and of course other design movements that were influential too.

      • jenohdit says:

        Lego blocks were ripped off from an English company named Kiddicraft which produced a hard plastic version of an earlier rubber product called Minibrix which were produced by another English company. Both were almost certainly influenced by Froebel’s “gifts” as was John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank and inventor of Lincoln logs. F L Wright was himself inspired by the “gifts” and it has long been part of his story.

        Froebel developed the idea of kindergarten in early 19 century Germany and almost certainly had some influence on early German modernists like Gropius.

        Re: this chair in particular, Gropius was a believer in the “total work of art” and designed it not for mass production, but for a particular spot in a particular room. It’s hard to judge it in isolation, particularly without being able to sit in it. It’s not an especially radical departure from a typical Biedermeier sofa although it has tossed out the Egyptian, Greek, and French influences in favor of something more Germanic (Karl Friedrich Schinkel et al) and more typical of the avant garde of his era (De Stijl). Red, black, and white have long been common colors in German heraldry, graphic arts etc. That may not be the original color scheme but if so may have some vaguely political or nationalistic significance.

  5. The celebration of work and the human context of work, the men and women who made things was a fundamental aspect of John Ruskins and later William Morris s ideology. It was a direct response to the Victoria Industrial revolution and the concept of workers as “hands” to use and dispose of when not needed. Morris celebrated for the first time the whole human being that made stuff. Acutely political this idea was at the very front of a developing political consciousness, a thought process that evolved into socialism.

    Little wonder this struck a cord with Alan Peters who started life as an apprenticed cabinet maker in the workshop of Edward Barnsley. Little wonder that the middle class intellectual collective that became Bauhaus didn’t get it.

  6. raney says:

    That chair is just so inviting. nothing screams comfort like sharp corners and Diablo color schemes.

  7. robert says:

    This is a very interesting piece. Not crafted as a bland, background blending object, but rather one that screams for attention. Like it or not, it forces you to have an opinion. Definitely not your lowest common denominator presentation. Kind of like Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout versus Budweiser.

    • Paul Murphy says:

      The notion that being forced to have an opinion is a virtue of some sort is absurd.
      If somebody orders a coffee table from me, and I deliver 20 board feet of rough sawn poplar, setting it on their floor, I’m forcing them to have an opinion. Their opinion might be something like, “This guy is a ripoff!”
      I might counter with some foolishness like, “I’m making a statement about things that are undone.”
      Reasonable people can discern the difference.

  8. rk says:

    If chair in this shape was comfortable it could have been made eons ago, but for a good reason chair makers made chairs match human body. Came along designers and made chair shaped object not really meant for sitting, a waste of space in a normal sized home or a somewhat use-able decoration for a public space. Modernism is so sterile perfect match to the spirit that also gave us “better living through chemistry”:)

    • jenohdit says:

      Chairs throughout most of history haven’t been about comfort, they were status symbols. Poor folks had benches. Even eons ago they were making chairs just like Gropius’s.

      Modernism changed things by making well made, durable, and generally comfortable chairs available to the masses. Thonet is arguably pre-modern (also arguably the beginning of modern furniture production) and they really kicked things off, but most of what we sit in today in cheap restaurants etc is derived from designs of early Bauhaus associated designers like Mart Stam and Marcel Breuer who came up with the first really successful tubular steel chairs.

      • raney says:

        Status is hydrant; comfort is dog.

        Visually, there’s plenty to appreciate about the artwork colloquially known as ‘cantilevered blocks in Incredibles costume’ here. but for my money that object is a chair in exactly the same way a yard wagon is a car. Shares a couple basic feature, but so completely misses its fundamental Raison d’etre is that it screams out for air quotes. As in:

        “Armchair” 51

        I kid a bit. I get the notion and validity that chairs serve an number of purposes ancillary to comfort. And as an artistic statement and point along the timeline of social development, I also think Bauhaus and early 20th c. “Modernity” are fantastically important. However, in the context of furniture design, I think it It fails in a very instructive way. It fetishizes the novelty of its ‘context’ so much at it misses its core function. A toilet with a 2″ seat opening is a fascinating statement in its way, and might well be quite valuable as an artwork. But if what you want is to empty your bowels, it’s rather a messy failure.

        I’m not saying it isn’t interesting, thoughtful, or lacking in taste. Given its context it makes as much sense as most design movements do. But I AM saying that as a way station in furniture design evolution, it was a dead end. Because it gave up way too much of its utility in service of its ‘statement’. To me, that relegates it to the arena of art, not furniture, and the criteria of evaluation there are quite different.

      • jenohdit says:

        quoth the Rainey, “it was a dead end. ”

        Maya Lin’s Stones series, Le Corbusier’s Grand Comfort armchair, Kazuhide Takahama’s Suzanne Lounge Chair, Vladimir Kagan’s Serpetine Sofa, Pierre Guariche’s ARP Daybed, several of Jean Royère’s armchairs, Joe Colombo’s Tube Chair and Multichair, and a whole host of others beg to differ…

  9. tpier says:

    I can definitely see the influences of the Morris chair in this design. If we unload from the word “progress” connotations of betterment I think the chair is progression from earlier chairs. It sort of reminds me of the progression of Picasso’s “The Bull” series.

    Gropius builds a chair that definatly communicates “chair”, regradless of usefulness as a chair. Does it have value as a chair for the masses, probably not. Does it fulfill a certain aesthetic that may be useful in a particular setting, probably. Its probably not the chair of neccesity.

  10. abtuser says:

    Great thread. Reminds me of a similar article/discussion in Metropolis Mag years ago. I wish I still had the copy…

  11. Otis Webber says:

    I see soft foam under all the red, ahhhh.

  12. Vaughn Webber says:

    I feel soft foam under all the red parts, ahhhh.

  13. As far as dedate over the comfort of the F 51… I’m not sure everyone realizes this is an upholstered chair.

    • I have tried to like “modernism.” Growing up in life of “Artists” and a mother that would argue/debate with Andy Warhol (et al) and Grandmother that was a pragmatist traditionalist in many ways from the 1800’s herself…I was torn between both worlds…

      Now, I can say for myself, I am a “form follow function” appreciator … I have visited this house of Gropius, and Wright’s “Falling Waters” more than once among others…They may well be “artistic” in the eye’s of many…They are not functional and are desperately “kept alive” as there “designs” in the area of “function” (and I personally would say form too) is a complete and utter failure. Give me a timber frame Barn, Japanese Minka, or Korean Hanok, et al, and their furnishings any day! These are both functional in form, enduring in testaments to craft, and go lightly on the land they sit because they are made of it…

      In a word (to me) modernism…”sucks.” (sorry)

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