As I was reading it, a strange feeling came over me. I had studied Bauhaus at University, and so I knew most of the things I was reading about. So what was it then? I closed my eyes and suddenly a fast, yet very clear image appeared in my head. My dad explaining to me why that chair was different form all the others we had. To me it was just a chair, but apparently that one had a mysterious value.
Before I continue, I must say that my father is what we can call the ultimate collector. Since he was little, he has made so many different collections, that most of them I can’t now recall. So, just like an arrogant 9 or 10 year old boy can be, I thought, “well it’s just a black chair, and it is the perfect launch pad for my hot wheels!”. The chair was indeed a Wassily chair, designed by Marcel Breuer, a fact only perceived by me a few years later, when my fascination for the artistic world had finally developed.
> Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair. My favorite launch pad.
I have a strange relationship with the Bauhaus school. Strange not because I’ve developed some strange fetish, but because I understood its philosophy over the years, in the most empirical way possible. And it was marked by three important moments.
1. When I was a little boy
The first moment I heard about the importance of this school was at home, when I was just a little boy. When you have two architects at home, both my parents in my case, there are some things you just absorb osmotically. You hear them, you see them, and many times you just feel them. They are not alien to you because they were already there, most of the times even before you were.
2. When I was an illiterate student
A few years later, I intensified my relationship with Bauhaus, as my art history professor was explaining us the importance of this early 20th century school of design. At this time I was a young fashion-victim, not like one of those which find in the fashion world the origin of life, but still influenced enough to look at those Bauhaus objects as something obsolete that my grandparents could have at home. I slowly started to decode the backstage of this strange movement. So it was the “house for all”, or “the furniture available to all”. But I still couldn’t understand what this ruckus was all about.
3. My journey to the North
My third Bauhaus moment came when I lived in Berlin for one year, as an Erasmus student. Berlin transformed me in many ways. I learned, for instance, that the Latin-American people weren’t actually “discovered” by the Portuguese, as they were already there; that the German students don’t learn about most of the Second World War period at school; that you can’t write something against one influent Jew, or any Jew at all, because you most probably would lose your job; and that some of my German friends, coming from East Germany, had never seen an orange before the fall of the Wall.
> Marcel Breuer's Cesca chair. My grandparents' dinner chairs at our family's summer house.
I also learned that history can be alive within the city walls. I come from an ancient city, Lisbon, rich in History, but in Berlin the urban needlework is still visible. You can still see the signs left by decades of segregation. And you can still hear the voices within the buildings.
Only there could I understand what was behind Mies van der Rohe’s glass walls, in a way that I never could in Barcelona. Those transparencies weren’t just an aesthetic achievement; they were, above all, a new way to build.
As every student abroad probably knows, one of the main issues of living in a foreign city with with little more than pocket-money is the comfort of your home. Usually you live with other students, in the University campus or in a rented house. The first thing one usually does, after finding a place to stay, is to embark on a search for cheap and comfortable furniture. In some cities that could be a problem. But not in Berlin, as I was about to discover in that slow Fall of 2003.
Berlin was becoming the new Mecca for creativity. Everyone that wanted to be a credited creator was going there. The new Punk-electronic movement was being polished with a vintage atmosphere, and wrapped in the decadent, but increasingly fashionable, East Germany buildings, legacy from the Soviet domain. The “stock markets”, every Sunday mornings, are the fastest way to get unique objects and clothing, but they are not cheap. You cannot decorate your entire house with those kinds of things.
> Le Corbusier's Chaise Longue. Where I used to read my comic books of "Les Aventures de Tintin".
On a sunny Sunday morning, as I was discussing the high prices of such objects with some of my new friends there, one of the German girls that was showing us around told us, in the calm tone that only the Germans can use: “Why don’t you guys go to IKEA?”.
In the year of 2003, there wasn’t an IKEA in Portugal, so that word didn’t mean a thing to me. In fact, those letters put together weren’t a word at all. I ended up going there, more than once, and this became the third, and up until now, the last, Bauhaus moment of my life.
“The house for all”
Suddenly this famous school, apparently killed by the Nazi, was alive. The IKEA mega-stores, with hundreds, or thousands of square meters of endless home styles, were the living proof that the “house for all” was more than alive. It actually was becoming even stronger.
IKEA is now a legend and the similarities with the Bauhaus movement do not end with those nearly Spartan design-influences. With that avant-garde system of do it yourself packages, IKEA could sell cheaper furniture, therefore representing the true spirit of the “house for all”.
Even though people might not notice it, it fights for the democratization of furniture. It is the opposite of the luxury tendencies, coming from the 18th century, which persisted throughout the 19th and most of the 20th centuries. So far so good.
Bauhaus survival was made possible because it was not only about the design. It was about a lifestyle, which is becoming more and more suited to the so-called “disposable” generation.
> Ikea's Fusion Dining Table and Chairs. One of my favourite pieces ever.