Last week, I filmed my latest course for In, Graphic Design History: The Bauhaus. I discuss all aspects at the Bauhaus from the modernist philosophy to Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten’s personal differences. But, while working on it, I kept returning to the images of life at the Bauhaus. The students and masters (“professors” in Bauhaus talk) working, eating in the canteen, sleeping on tables, and just hanging out. They all look so carefree and hopeful. They have the same vibrant and enthusiastic energy I see in design students today working, eating in the cafeteria, sleeping on tables, and hanging out.

But, we know what was to come. By 1933, the Bauhaus was closed. Many of its students and masters fled Germany to escape persecution as Jews, artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, and radical thinkers. Some were trapped and died either in the camps or as enlisted German soldiers. Others, like Marianne Brandt ended up on the wrong side after World War II, in East Germany under a Soviet-controlled government. Fortunately, some immigrated to the United States like Marguerite Wildenhain, Herbert Bayer, Josef Albers, and Mies van der Rose, bringing Bauhaus modernism to run through the American filter.

It is the nature of photography to capture a moment in time and create a personal relationship between the viewer and subject. Looking at a photograph has that small sense of voyeurism as if we are seeing the details too closely. 

The images of life at the Bauhaus are especially haunting. It is not possible to separate what we know when we see Bauhaus students enjoying a sunny afternoon on the balcony. We have the terrible truth of knowing their future. Perhaps it is difficult to look at these images without the sense of tragedy because they remind us too much of today. We question, “will someone in the future see similar photographs of today and think the same?”

These people believed in a future of good design for happy people living in peace. The photographs speak of the unexpected, sudden change, and fleeting small moments in life. 



Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

In My Own Little Corner

Florence Knoll Bassett, CBS, 1954

I have a horrible guilty pleasure, Tabitha’s Salon Takeover. I stumbled across it over the holiday break and was riveted. There’s something wonderful about unruly and terrible business owners going head to head (no pun intended) with the hard-boiled, no nonsense Tabitha Coffey. Strangely, I think I’ve gotten some good advice from her show. Typically she visits a salon that has awful management, out of control hair stylists, and filthy working environments. I’m pretty sure we’re decent at management, and everyone on my staff is smarter than I am, but the office was starting to look a little ragged. We’ve been in this space for 10 years and the carpet shows it. I suggested today that a section by the kitchen looked like someone threw up and then walked away. Of course, everyone denied this, and then it might have been me. So we’ve decided to freshen things up.

I immediately thought about Florence Knoll’s designs for CBS in 1954. My office should look like this, but it would mean moving everyone out of the space except me.  Florence Knoll is an American furniture designer who studied at Cranbrook and worked with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. She was instrumental in the hiring of architects to design furniture. Her work is minimal and rigorous. The construction is more closely related to Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building than traditional furniture. The materials are what they are: metal, wood, simple textiles. Somehow all of this combines to create a harmonious effect. But, I don’t think I’ll be getting my 1954 CBS executive office. I get to keep my Knoll lounge chair, but nobody is willing to move their desks into the storage room.

Florence Knoll Bassett, CBS, 1954

Florence Knoll Bassett, General Life Insurance Company, 1954

Florence Knoll Bassett, Knoll Showroom, 1955

Florence Knoll Bassett, Knoll Showroom

Florence Knoll Bassett, CB Credenza, 1954

Florence Knoll Bassett, Lounge Chair

my little corner