Legendary Design Schools or: The shoulders on which we stand – Part 1


What must design education look like today if it wants to empower students to shape the changes in business and society? The iF Design Foundation has been addressing this question for several years as part of its intensive research work. It is always worthwhile looking back at what happened in the past. Which historical design schools are still shaping design studies today? A retrospective look at five of the most important among them.

Glasgow School of Art ©John Peter Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Glasgow School of Art ©John Peter Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

One of the first: The Glasgow School of Art

Established 1845 in Glasgow, Scotland, as one of the early Government Schools of Design, the GSA is one of the oldest of all the design schools that continue to influence us. Art, design and architecture are still taught there today. The school already enjoyed an excellent reputation when, in the 1870s, the Glasgow School, a circle of influential artists and designers, was founded: Among others, the young architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others in the Arts and Crafts Movement invented the geometric “Glasgow Style.” With the new GSA school building, built from 1896 to 1909, Mackintosh established his own style of Art Nouveau, which had a lasting influence on Europe in the years that followed. To this day, Mackintosh and the GSA are synonymous with the courage to think in new ways and to air this new thinking in novel spaces.

Art and design talent forge: The Royal College of Art (RCA)

The place where countless renowned designers and artists started their careers. The RCA was founded almost 200 years ago, in 1837, in Somerset House in London. It was initially called Government School of Design. Since 1896 it has borne the present name Royal College of Art. Influenced by the Arts and Crafts philosophy in its early years, after 1900, the RCA became the birthplace of the New Sculpture movement. Teaching of graphic design, industrial design and fashion design began in the mid-20th century. A short time later, the RCA became the center of pop art culture. To this day, the school is considered one of the most influential post-graduate universities for art and design. Designers who studied there include Richard Seymour, Dick Powell, Ross Lovegrove, James Dyson, Philip Treacy, Christopher Bailey, Thomas Heatherwick, Zandra Rhodes – to name just a few.

Grant Smith-VIEW / ©Alamy Stock Photo
RCA Grant Smith-VIEW ©Alamy Stock Photo
Cooper Union, New York, 2016 ©Mizoula / iStockphoto.com
Cooper Union, New York, 2016 ©Mizoula / iStockphoto.com

A radically new vision: Cooper Union, New York City

Open to men and women, to young people from the working classes and of every color: In 1859, inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper created something unique and unprecedented in New York City with his school of art, architecture, engineering, humanities and social sciences. Cooper’s vision: “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” Excellent educational opportunities went hand in hand with sociopolitical ideas. To this day, Cooper Union exists in Manhattan, firmly based on the values Peter Cooper so boldly and presciently proclaimed.

Pioneer, Legend, Brand: The Bauhaus in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin

“The ultimate goal of all artistic activity is the building!” stated founder Walter Gropius. A return to craftsmanship in architecture, sculpture and painting in order to shape the future. At the Bauhaus (1919 to 1933), the most influential art school in the 20th century, ideas were new and radical, work was interdisciplinary, forms and ideas were fought for. Thoughts, inventions, products, works of art and buildings conceived at the Bauhaus are still influential today. This also applies to the legacy left by former teachers and students, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Josef Albers, Marianne Brandt, Gunta Stölzl, Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer and many others.

Bauhaus Dessau, Studio Building (Picture: 1925/26)©Erich Consemüller
Bauhaus Dessau, Studio Building (Picture: 1925/26) ©Erich Consemüller
MIT ©HalzhanZheng / iStock
MIT ©HalzhanZheng / iStock

New impulses for design: MIT and MIT Media Lab

Impulses not only, but also, for design through research in the fields of new technologies, engineering and the natural sciences: As early as 1865, the first students completed their first term at the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Initially located in Boston, the school moved to Cambridge in 1916. It has produced almost 100 Nobel Prize winners and is considered the world’s leading university for research into technology-based teaching and new forms of communication. Founded in 1985 by Nicholas Negroponte and Jerome Wiesner, the MIT Media Lab concerns itself with research into new technologies, their development and creative application. The focus here is, among other things, on human behavior in virtual reality as well as novel forms of communication and ways of distributing information.

Even more legendary design colleges from around the world we present here.