The bauhaus bookshelf is a bilingual (German-English) online resource created by Andrea Riegel, a partner at the Düsseldorf-based communication design agency Riegel+Reichenthaler. Riegel also created Design is fine. History is mine, a popular blog on design and art history. The beautifully designed bauhaus bookshelf, a labor of love launched in 2019, combines access (for personal use) to reproductions of original Bauhaus publications with a timeline, excerpts, photographs, and other contextual information. Libraries, archives, and museums have made most of the reproductions that are gathered on the bookshelf available under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses, and users are advised to download materials from the site for personal use only. While many events and publications in 2019 celebrate the Bauhaus centennial, the bauhaus bookshelf is the only comprehensive online gateway to original Bauhaus publications and sources.
Interview with Andrea Riegel, the virtual bookshelf’s creator and curator
What inspired you to develop the bilingual bauhaus bookshelf?
Some time ago, I began teaching design history as a lecturer alongside my regular career. I had worked for various design companies during my career in communications consulting. However, studying and teaching design history was a new field for me, even though it had been a long-standing passion of mine. As an initial step, I began creating an image database for my students, and decided on using tumblr as an English-language platform in order to reach a larger, international audience. After more than five years and 15,000 posts, the blog Design is fine. History is Mine. now has around 160,000 followers from all over the world.
The Bauhaus as a German institution has always been close to my heart; it fascinated me even as a child. I grew up in Stuttgart and during my school years, our art class made annual visits to the museum where Oscar Schlemmer’s figures from the Triadic Ballet are on exhibit to discuss or draw them. That was my first encounter with the Bauhaus and it left a lasting impression, thanks to good art teachers.
Last year, I began collecting my Bauhaus discoveries on my own website; first there were a few books and interesting publications, then it became more and more of a mission: a collection of sources that can be downloaded free of charge. Bauhaus knowledge for everyone. The anniversary was an additional incentive to launch the project in a timely manner.
How did you proceed with your research? Which publications and sources were you looking for? Did you research only online or also in analog collections?
The original sources from the Bauhaus period formed the basis for the site, complemented by publications by Bauhaus members or affiliates, or other contemporary witnesses. Initially, I relied on online research, as availability on the Internet was a mandatory prerequisite. Once the framework was set and my passion could dive into details, I was able to fall back on my own small Bauhaus library. The catalogue of the 1968 Stuttgart exhibition, for example, was an excellent source, and since I also own a copy of the English-language edition, this proved to be of great help in translating the typical Bauhaus terms. This catalogue, by the way, is not available online, so sometimes you can’t get around the analog versions.
Which discoveries did you particularly enjoy, or which ones particularly surprised you?
A highlight was the first catalogue book on the exhibition in Weimar, whose title page and contents I had seen frequently. Under the umbrella of the SLUB Dresden, I finally found what I was looking for: browsing through and studying the entire work at my own pace for the first time, and the whole thing available in rather good quality, was a wonderful moment – many thanks to Dresden!
Also, the complete edition of the journal “Form,” provided by the University of Heidelberg, is a great way to immerse yourself in the bustling twenties, including the world of advertising.
I am also happy to note that my work resulted in the online publication of the original English-language version of a lecture held by Ise Gropius at Harvard in 1978. I had first discovered the text in a German translation published by the GDR magazine “form und zweck.” With the help of the Harvard archives, I received the original script, which I diligently typed before placing it on my virtual bookshelf. It is certainly worth reading the article by “Frau Bauhaus,” as she was called back then.
One of the focal points of the centennial is on highlighting the history of the women associated with the Bauhaus. What challenges did you notice in the course of your research?
Of course, the theme of the Bauhaus women is a topic close to my heart. In general, it is important to me that I introduce and revive those women in my history lectures who have been “forgotten” for centuries, be it Sappho or Sofonisba Anguissola. As far as the Bauhaus is concerned, Anni Albers, Gunta Stölzl and Marianne Brandt have been among the well-known personalities for quite some time, and there are new publications on Ise Gropius, for example. While studying Bauhaus books and magazines I noticed works by Hilde Hubbuch, Rosa Berger, Hilde Horn or Lotte Burckhardt, but little or no information about these individuals is to be found. Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp and the architect Wera Meyer-Waldeck are known only by small circles and deserve more attention. Initial results of a study about Michiko Yamawaki, who studied (alongside her husband Iwao, an architect) in the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus and later made the “bauhausu” known in Japan, were presented at the beginning of 2019 in the context of the anniversary. To date, not much has been known about Yamawaki in German-speaking countries. But there is widespread interest in learning more about these women, who have remained relatively unknown thus far, and in honoring their work.
Your site is not only a list of links, but also a small online exhibition with short portraits and excerpts from original publications. Which themes did you want to emphasize when conceptualizing your website?
Presenting the diverse spectrum of the Bauhaus was a matter of concern to me, at the same time, the focal points are just as important for orientation purposes. The Bauhaus was a school. Artists taught at the Bauhaus. There were many strong personalities at the Bauhaus (and thus there were conflicts). The Bauhaus was arts and crafts, theory and practice. At the Bauhaus, there were many new developments – not only in architecture or product design, but also in photography, typography, advertising, PR. While the Bauhaus in Dessau was forced to cease operations in 1933, in some ways this was just the beginning. If there is just one takeaway for visitors to my site, then my mission has already achieved a lot.
What were the particular challenges in developing and designing the chronology?
Designing the structure of the website chronologically seemed obvious and sensible, as it provides a helpful thread leading through the entire range of topics. Since I did not proceed strictly according to plan, I always ended up interspersing something thematically that was situated “in between,” which suddenly opened up different contexts – the work certainly was never boring. Visually, in this context, infographics are important to me, and they have been included, for example, on the pages “Bauhaus Chronology” or “Bauhaus Masters.” Who was active at the Bauhaus? How active and for how long? The 1968 exhibition catalog, which was compiled and coordinated by Bauhaus members still alive at the time, provided a perfect model for this infographic.
Which principles inspired your web design?
At the beginning there was no defined concept, the website was created according to the principle “learning by doing,” for fun. The layout was developed in the process; as more and more content was integrated, the appearance emerged in the process of creation. One inspiration for the graphic design was, for example, the photo of a bookshelf that Josef Albers designed in Weimar at the beginning of his Bauhaus period (reproduced in Bauhaus book no. 7/page 18). It was supposed to look just as geometric, balanced, and solid as it does. Even today, one can still learn a thing or two from Moholy-Nagy’s graphic art.
What are the challenges of transferring the historic Bauhaus design into a digital environment?
It is actually easy to design in the Bauhaus style, the modern look still corresponds to our viewing habits, “Less is More” is timeless. What matters is a clear and consistent grid as the basis, a nice and tidy arrangement, no frills. The primary colors serve as accents, or one can choose the combination black-white or black-red. Square and circle as style elements are, of course, a must, whereas I neglected the triangle, just my personal taste.
What do you particularly enjoy about curating the Bauhaus bookshelf?
It’s fun that it’s actually a story that never ends; I don’t feel that the work is “finished” yet. There are so many protagonists, texts, or events that are interesting, my folders on the hard drive are filled with content. I will expand the shelf throughout this year, at least, whenever I get to do the work. The work on this virtual library is a hobby, which is limited to the evening hours, unfortunately. It would be nice if I could earn money with it, being a freelancer, then I’d be able to work on it even more. At the same time, that’s also a lucky advantage: having the independence to work on my library as I please, while certainly serving the cause of sharing the best Bauhaus sources with the public.
Sources: All screenshots are from Andrea Riegel’s bauhaus bookshelf site.
Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919-1923. Published by the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar and Karl Nierendorf. Weimar-München: Bauhausverlag, 1923. Cover page designed by Herbert Bayer. More information and link to the digital surrogate.
Translation of the interview by Katharina Hering, assisted by Atiba Pertilla, Kelly McCullough, and DeepL.