“ugliness corrupts not only the eyes, but also the heart and mind” – henry van de velde

17/06/2011 § Leave a comment

wolfgang siol, dorm room at hfg ulm (via)


whenever the name max bill appears, the name bauhaus is not far away.  from reading certain accounts you’d almost expect to find “bauhaus” lovingly adorning the flowing banner atop the heart tattooed on his shoulder; never mind his relationship with his mom, he clearly loved bauhaus.  truthfully, max bill did attend the bauhaus school taught by hannes meyer.  but he also spent significant time visiting and talking with le corbusier.  and in an interview with angela thomas [1], the dirty secret comes out: max bill was more interested in those who influenced mies van der rohe than in the man himself.  angela reveals that max bill was driven by the concepts espoused in the work of henry van de velde, charles henry mackintosh and walter gropius (whom mies had worked for early in his career).  it’s as if max were restarting mies’ career and taking an alternate path.  so, max’s fictional heart shaped tattoo must be emblazoned with “gropius”.


photo’s by binia bill, max bill’s house in bremgarten (1942) [2]


by examining these earlier influences max bills character becomes less of a thin miesian plane and more of a fat rounded mobius strip-like-plane turning in on itself.  van de velde is famous for stating that “ugliness corrupts not only the eyes, but also the heart and mind.”  clearly this utopian concept of design as the means of social reform is reflected in max’s own sentiments.  while visiting the palace of industry for sao paulo, max claimed that

in a street here in sao paulo I have seen under construction a building in which pilotis construction is carried to extremes one would have supposed impossible.  there I saw some shocking things, modern architecture sunk to the depths, a riot of anti-social waste, lacking any sense of responsibility toward either the business occupant or his customers…. for such works are born of a spirit devoid of all decency and of all responsibility to human needs.  it is the spirit of decorativeness, something diametrically opposed to the spirit which animates architecture, which is the art of building, the social art above all others.  [3]


model of hfg ulm [4]

images of hfg ulm (via)

bill max, hans gugelot, and paul hildinger, ulm stool (1955)

ernst hahn, max bill and charles eames at ulm (1955) (via)


max obviously has a hate relationship with decoration, but his modernism is more humanist than mies.  in a way, certain of his efforts strike me as being closer to the work of his contemporary alvar aalto.  take for example his own house built during the war.  it’s a humble structure balancing rational systematic design and a soft material palette composed of a concrete foundation, wood posts atop large stones found on site, and prefabricated durisol panels.  this house represents a mix of machine and nature.  even the way he sited the buildings for the hfg ulm indicates a response to site and ecology – what robert irwin would call a site conditioned building [5].  even the ulm stool represents a softened response to the hand and the need for an economical solution.  the rod providing structural stability also acts as the handle used to tote the stool from place to place around the school.  it could function as a stand, a tray, or a seat.  while these examples all have an austere aesthetic, each of these examples represents a concern and response to ecology, economy and society.


enjoy the weekend

a young hare




[1]     Thomas, Angela. “Max Bill: The Early Years an Interview.” Trans. Susan Ernst-Peters. The Journal of Decorative and  Propoganda Arts 19.Swiss Theme (1993): 98-119. JSTOR. Web. 31 May 2011.

[2]     Ibid

[3]     Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture: a Critical History. London [u.a.: Thames & Hudson, 2007. Print.

[4]     Ibid 1

[5]     Irwin, Robert. Being and Circumstance Notes Toward a Conditional Art. Larkspur Landing, CA: Lapis, 1985. Print.

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