Legendary Design Schools or: The shoulders on which we stand – Part 2

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.

Credit: VCHUTEMAS MOSKAU (FOTO: 1927) Entwurf / Design: Alexander Vesnin, Copyright: Schusev State Museum of Architecture (MUAR), Moskau

Laboratory of Modernity: VChUTEMAS, Moscow

Vkhutemas, the “Higher Art and Technical Studios” in Moscow which existed from 1920 to 1930. The so called “Russian Bauhaus” was the driving force behind the modernization of an entire country and was open to anyone who wanted to enroll. In the first year alone, 2,000 students did so. The list of artists who taught there ranges from Aleksander Rodchenko to Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitzky, Wassily Kandinsky, Vladimir Tatlin and Vera Mukhina. The school had a defining influence on the European avant-garde. The students of Vkhutemas were encouraged to analyze and think independently ­– an innovative teaching principle at the time.

Reforms across the board: Black Mountain College, North Carolina

Black Mountain College, 1933 to 1957. Founded in North Carolina in the same year the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in Germany. At a time when the effects of the Great Depression were being felt in the USA, while, simultaneously, cultural life was receiving new input from European artist immigrants. Characterized by a great desire for reform, the teaching was entirely oriented toward democratic ideals. One was convinced that artistic education would lead to social competence. The school brought together important artists, designers and architects, including Josef and Anni Albers, Walter Gropius, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Buckminster Fuller, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and many more.

Black Mountain College Credit: Black Mountain College, Studies Building (Photo: ca.1949)Photo: Harriet Sohmers, Courtesy of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
Black Mountain College Credit: Black Mountain College, Studies Building (Photo: ca.1949) Photo: Harriet Sohmers, Courtesy of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
S0256Y Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
S0256Y Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Cranbrook University: a timelessly beautiful campus

Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan is one of the most significant higher education institutions in the United States. The Cranbrook Educational Community was founded in the early 20th century by newspaper tycoon George Booth. In 1932, Booth appointed none other than the Finnish architect and urban planner Eliel Saarinen as director of the renowned academy. The latter designed the university campus in the style of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and today it is one of the most beautiful campuses on the entire American continent. But Cranbrook is not only renowned for its campus, but also for its famous teachers and graduates, including Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen.

Yale School of Art: the first art school in the U.S.

“Yale” is one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world and one of the “big three” in the United States. But, the elite institution is not only known for those of its graduates who have made it to the top of politics and business: the associated Yale School of Art, founded in 1869, was the first professional fine arts school in the USA. It offers teaching in graphic design, painting/printmaking, photography and sculpture. One famous name associated with the school is the legendary graphic designer Paul Rand, who taught there. His work “Thoughts on Design”, published in 1947, had a significant influence on the future of graphic design and contributed to the excellent reputation of the Yale School of Art. From 1950 to 1959, the former Bauhaus master Josef Albers headed the art department. His work and publications, as well as some of his students – including Eva Hesse and Richard Serra – have influenced modern art to this day.

Yale Credit: f11photo / iStock
HfG Ulm Credit: Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (Foto: 1955) Photo: Hans G. Conrad, Copyright: René Spitz
HfG Ulm Credit: Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (Foto: 1955) Photo: Hans G. Conrad, Copyright: René Spitz

Its influence prevails to this day: The Ulm School of Design (HfG Ulm)

HfG Ulm, 1953 to 1968. A place of intellectual reorientation after the Nazi dictatorship – that was the explicit mission of the new school founded by Inge Scholl, Otl Aicher and Max Bill. Former Bauhaus students and teachers were among the first faculty. Younger ones such as Otl Aicher, Walter Zeischegg, Tomás Maldonado and Hans Gugelot developed their own ideas. The “ulm model”, as the concept was referred to, began to take shape: “a model of design based on technology and science, the designer no longer as a superior artist, but as an equal partner in the decision-making process of industrial production,” according to Otl Aicher. From then on, the HfG focused on complex solutions and systems, pioneering fundamental research in design theory and method. The profession of design is still shaped by these ideas today.

Even more legendary design schools of this world we present here.