A university lecture by a professor of Art History

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Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of Art History

Professor: You know, one of the most significant movements in modern architecture and design took place in Germany in the ninteen-twenties and -thirties. It was called the 'Bauhaus Movement'. 'Bauhaus' just means 'Building School', and the Bauhaus was an art school, started in 1919. The Bauhaus program was the first model for our contemporary art schools, as we know them today. Its program was the first attempt to integrate the artist with the craftsman, and its philosophy was heavily influenced by William Morris, the great nineteeth-century English designer. Morris's theory was that form should follow function, that Art should serve the needs of society, that Art has a social function.

Of course, Modernism in art had already appeared some time before this- the great expressionists, like Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, had been working since the late nineteenth century. But now, the horrors of World War One, along with the poverty and inflation that followed it, caused the German art community to turn to what they called the 'New Objectivity'. The Bauhaus design innovations reflected this with imaginative but very practical, simplified forms, with an emphasis on functionality and efficiency, and with the idea that mass production and artistic creativeness could work together. They were practical planners for the modern lifestyle.

The post-War government of the German Weimar Republic permitted a surge, an outpouring, of radical experimentation in all the arts- but at the same time, Germany was trying hard to remain economically competitive with Britain and the United States, even though it was suffering financial privation and even though it lacked natural resources. The Bauhaus movement recognized these difficulties and offered solutions to them, and in this way it contributed to both social and artistic change.

Bauhaus designs were pure and simple. The buildings, the interiors, and the furniture that the school created could all be built cheaply and efficiently. They emphasized straight edges and slim, smooth shapes, and a modern, hygienic freshness. In particular, the Bauhaus designers discovered steel. Steel furniture is cheaper, lighter, cleaner, and less bulky than the traditional stuffed, upholstered furniture, and steel has what they called 'the magic of precision'- it can be used in precise, definitive forms and measurements. In spite of this emphasis on practical functionality, many famous, creative designs emerged from the Bauhaus. If we look only at their chairs, four very original designs were created at the Bauhaus- the Wassily chair, Le Corbusier's 'Lounge Chair Number Four', the cantilever chair, and the Barcelona chair- and all four chair designs are very popular and are found everywhere today.

The 'Wassily chair' was designed by a Hungarian designer, Marcel Breuer, who was the director of the Bauhaus carpentry shop. It's made of a simple, cubical tubular steel frame, with canvas straps for the seat and back, and it has been in continuous mass production since the early 1950s. Breuer said he got the idea for the Wassily chair's design from the handlebars of his bicycle.

Le Corbusier's 'LC4 Lounge Chair' is probably the most popular and most comfortable lounge chair ever built. Le Corbusier's idea was that 'a chair is a machine for sitting on', and this chair, which is gently curved to fit all the curves of the body, is still a popular design in spas and living rooms.

The 'cantilever chair' was designed by Breuer and Mart Stamm, a Dutch designer. It has no rear legs, but is supported by the tensile strength of the 'S' curve of its steel-tubing frame. This little chair is still an extremely common design for kitchens and restaurants.

And Mies van der Rohe's 'Barcelona chair' uses leather or cloth straps to suspend its seat cushion on a folding, 'X'-shaped tubular steel frame. His design became a symbol of the elegance of avant-garde living, but it's so simple that it's now seen in the luggage racks in most every hotel room in the world.

The Bauhaus movement is not really important for its chairs, though. It's important because it came along at the right time in history to popularize many key modern concepts of design. Many outstanding artists of that period lectured at the school- Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian. These great artists and their students were to lead contemporary design into daily life. Unfortunately, the rise of Adolph Hitler cut short the Bauhaus's exciting experiments. It was closed down by the Nazis after only 14 years of existence, in 1933. Hitler accused it of being a front for Jews, communists, and 'UnGerman' social liberals. However, the Bauhaus lecturers and students fled Nazi Germany to the US, Russia, Israel, and western Europe. They continued to teach far and wide, and in this way, their ideas on contemporary architecture and design spread even faster throughout the world.


What is this lecture mainly about?


Which designer did NOT work at the Bauhaus?


Judging from the lecture, how would we most likely stereotype the Bauhaus artists?


About how long was the Bauhaus School in operation?


Who designed the Wassily chair?


According to the lecturer, what is the main significance of the Bauhaus Movement?


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