2019. május 8. Ekaterina Kochergina: Bauhaus propaedeutic and contemporary architectural education (through the prism of Russian practice)

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Introduction
The degree of worldwide impact of Bauhaus on international design is unmeasurable. Principles of functionality and clearness of the form has influenced several generations of architects, designers, and artists. Developed shapes are easily recognizable and reproduced by many followers.

Among thousands of texts, written in honor of school competence, innovations and impact, however, not so much literature penetrate deep inside of the theory, giving detailed explanation and interpretation of basic elements, which helped to construct such specific Bauhaus vision. Particularly, it relates to the preliminary course of Johannes Itten and his exercises on contrasts. Even some schools still try to follow and promote contrasts on the beginning steps of professional education, they usually left forgotten after preliminary stage. As a result, that important bridge or connection between preparatory course and implementation of its basic principles into real design process left without attention. Meanwhile, in the context of architecture and urban design of the 21st century, the theory of contrasts gets incredible relevance. Analytic of integration of these principles into design practice and observation of the results in real projects show the very anatomy of the creative process. It provides practical ways of operation by visual tools and mosaic of technological tricks or manipulations by professional language, which can bring design into significantly high level, meeting pragmatic expectation of customer, developer, public and professional philosophy in multiple layers.

The article presents results of personal study and attempts to integrate theoretical knowledge into everyday architectural practice. Manipulation of the space and form by categories of contrasts was discussed with practicing Russian designers, researchers and teachers – assoc.prof. Alexander Shvets and Vera Samokhina (Volgograd, Russia). Their comments, based on decades of propaedeutic work with students of architectural, urban, graphic design and polygraph schools, became a foundation for statements, presented below. Classification of contrasts is aimed to clarify complexity of each category and their use in education and practice.

Proposed in Bauhaus by Johannes Itten propaedeutic studies are compared to the elements of spatial theory, developed in USSR by Nikolai Ladovsky in VKhUTEMAS (Moscow, 1920-1926). The article presents an overview of the attitude to contrasts in two schools, there use in student’s projects of that time and nowadays. Due to the requirements of short format for the publication within “Budapest100”, scientific data and references are omitted, however the most crucial statements are pointed and can be studied in other works of the author. The article is based on publications of the following authors: Itten J., Raleigh Henry P., Wagner Ch., Skukair K., Gelernter M., Forbes M., Ladovsky N.A., Chan-Magomedov S.O., Bokov A., Gromik S.S. and others.

Classification of contrasts
Among 23 pairs of contrasts (black/white and colors are not considered in this article), some have obvious implementation in spatial arts, while others, appear on more abstract level of perception. Thus, all proposed pairs of contrasts, by complexity or ease of understanding and application, could be divided into several groups.

1.) The first group – primary contrasts – supposed to be studied in the beginning. They give elementary understanding of the dual relationships, natural for any life or art forms. Already on the first steps, manipulation by such contrasts helps to reach an expressive form or consciously shape the space, by simple modifications. Thus, in practice-based education, A.Shvets proposes to group such contrasts into two pairs. For example, one of the basic group is couple of two pairs: large-small vs mush-little. Here students can make the first try in understanding of substantial difference between the size of singular form and quantity, as also a big size, but in plural. Analysis of another group: high-low/horizontal-vertical shows difference between dimensional and infinite categories. Other categorical features can be considered through such combination as: long-short/high-low; broad-narrow/thick-thin; etc. Basic understanding of these fundamental differences between two pairs should establish the first connection between creator and spectator, designer and user. In this case, contrast performs as universal alphabet, available and readable for anybody, despite religion, race, age or cultural diversities.

2.) The second group – advanced contrasts – presents more independent pairs. They still keep high capacity for visual presentation, however can be studied deeper and with involvement of additional knowledge and sensations.

3.) The third group – intangible contrasts – has the most minimal capacity for visual representation. From the first look, these contrasts appear as very distanced from architectural and design practice, therefore usually stay unused. “Due to complexity and difficulty of visual representation, in education it is not easy to reach the stage of intangible group.“ (A. Shvets, V. Samokhina). Work with them takes longer time and requires maximally deep penetration into the anatomy of each category, involvement of mixed techniques, and multidisciplinary approach. In practice of architectural studios, use of such pair as, for instance, sweet-sour is amenable to discussion in a very narrow circle of professionals.

Thus, the group of primary contrasts contains: large-small, much-little, long-short, high-low, horizontal-vertical, broad-narrow, thick-thin, area-line, area-body, line-body. The group of advanced contrasts includes: still-moving, light-heavy, transparent-opaque, continuous-intermittent, hard-soft, smooth-rough, straight-curved, pointed-blunt, diagonal-circular. While, intangible contrasts are: liquid-solid, sweet-sour, strong-weak, loud-soft.

In practice, contrasts have 3 levels of application:

1.) Study and teaching process
2.) Design process
3.) Development of the philosophy

It should be mentioned, that in less famous but no less influential, especially for architects, workshop of Nikolai Ladovsky in VKhUTEMAS, in his psychoanalytical approach, the number of contrasts was extended to such as weight-mass-density, mass-stability, mass-balance, grandeur-lowness, etc. – categories, particularly relevant for architecture as spatial art. In contrast to classical studies, based on analytic and copy of Ancient Greek Order and its elements, Ladovsky in his avant-garde program refers to THE SPACE as a fundamental element and basement of the architecture.

Correlating two theories of J.Itten and N.Ladovsky and situation in contemporary architecture A.Shvets thus proposes:

| „In the attempt to summarise the work of contrast in architecture and design of architectural medium, may be assumed that all contrasts perform on two levels:

  • APPLIED level: particular tasks on compositional organization of different building elements. In such case “contrast” plays role of a tool (technology of visual language);
  • CATEGORIAL level (or conceptually-formative): complex issues of creation of the form per see and relationships of this form with the space (surrounding/medium). In such case “contrast” gets a philosophical meaning, becoming a fundamental category.”


“Market” by G.Bleek. A student’s task of creation of new combinations of forms by distanced overlook and structuring of a chaotic system. Mostly Primary category. J.Itten, the book “Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later”. Berlin, Germany, 1931.


Composition of contrast forms different by character. Primary (+Advanced) categories. J.Itten, book “Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later”. Weimar, Germany, 1920.


M.Korzhev. Student’s task for the identification and expression of mass and weight. Primary, Advanced (+Spatial) categories. S.Khan-Magomedov, book “The architecture of the Soviet avant-garde”. Moscow, Russia, 1922


Y.Spassky. Student’s task for the identification and expression of mass and weight. Primary, Advanced (+Spatial) categories. S.Khan-Magomedov, book “The architecture of the Soviet avant-garde”. Moscow, Russia, 1922


L.Komarova. Student’s task for the identification and expression of mass and weight. Primary, Advanced (+Spatial) categories. S.Khan-Magomedov, book “The architecture of the Soviet avant-garde”. Moscow, Russia, 1922


V.Petrov. Student’s task for the identification and expression of mass and weight. Primary, Advanced (+Spatial) categories. S.Khan-Magomedov, book “The architecture of the Soviet avant-garde”. Moscow, Russia, 1922


M.Korzhev. Student’s task for the identification and expression of mass and weight. Primary, Advanced (+Spatial) categories. S.Khan-Magomedov, book “The architecture of the Soviet avant-garde”. Moscow, Russia, 1922


Student’s work. Illustration of the meaning and ideology of the Roman emperor Nero (rus: НЕРОН) by use of contrasts. Text is chosen consciously, as the most abstract source for the form. Intangible category. Workshop of A.Shvets, Volgograd, Russia, 2019.

Conclusion
Based on the discussed above examples of application of contrast into education process, real design practice and theoretical philosophy, can be concluded the following:

1.) Developed by J.Itten and N.Ladovsky contrasts perform as a basic level, alphabet or elementary knowledge in design education. Such understanding also explains the fact that some people even studied alphabet, can only combine its elements into simple words or phrases, and use the language in a primitive way. Thus, just naming of primitive actions of facts is possible (fact here is used as a metaphorical illustration of the form). While, others using the same contrasts can create so-called visual poetry, bring the simple fact into artistic expression. Here, the knowledge of basic alphabet should be combined with wide outlook, experience, ability for observation, and personal interpretation. Thus, propaedeutic is a complex tool for visual formation and expression in the project all of the collected experience, technical and emotional, in form of graphic, painting, three-dimensional form and space.

2.) The presented above illustrations show that the most interesting and successful examples usually present the use of several contrasts. Involvement of only one cannot fully complete as compositional aims, as purposes of art impression or ideological message. Additionally, the operation by these contrasts should have character of musical composition, or play of orchestra. Professionals sometimes also compare design process with cooking – when creativity and author’s combination of different ingredients give unrepeatable recipe. It means, that rough use of only one contrast (like one musical instrument) may not provide a wide range of orchestral sound, it looks dry and cannot make deep impression. Therefore, combination of several contrasts is preferable. In this case, harmonization is crucial. Division on solo and background players should be consciously planned. While, one or maximum two of involved contrasts must play the main role, be used as an accent. Such harmonized space will create specific feeling, catalyse curiosity and provoke emotions – features, so relevant for the design of high-quality architectural space as in the 1920s as in contemporary architecture in the 21st century.

 


Budapest-Volgograd, 22.04.2019.
Ekaterina Kochergina, architect, researcher
Main image: “Market” by G.Bleek. A student’s task of creation of new combinations of forms by distanced overlook and structuring of a chaotic system. Mostly Primary category. J.Itten, the book “Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later”. Berlin, Germany, 1931.