The Deutscher Werkbund (German Association of Craftsmen) is a German association of artists, architects, designers, and industrialists, established in 1907. The Werkbund became an important element in the development of modern architecture and industrial design, particularly in the later creation of the Bauhaus school of design. Its initial purpose was to establish a partnership of product manufacturers with design professionals to improve the competitiveness of German companies in global markets.
The Deutscher Werkbund emerged when the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich left Vienna for Darmstadt, Germany, in 1899, to form an artists’ colony at the invitation of Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse. The Werkbund was founded by Olbrich, Peter Behrens, Richard Riemerschmid, Bruno Paul and others in 1907 in Munich at the instigation of Hermann Muthesius, existed through 1934, then re-established after World War II in 1950. Muthesius was the author of the exhaustive three-volume “The English House” of 1905, a survey of the practical lessons of the English Arts and Crafts movement. Muthesius was seen as something of a cultural ambassador, or industrial spy, between Germany and England.
The organization originally included twelve architects and twelve business firms. The architects include Peter Behrens, Theodor Fischer (who served as its first president), Josef Hoffmann, Bruno Paul, and Richard Riemerschmid. Other architects affiliated with the project include Heinrich Tessenow and the Belgian Henry van de Velde. The Werkbund commissioned van de Velde to design a theatre for its 1914 Cologne Exhibition in Cologne. The exhibition was closed and the buildings dismantled, ahead of schedule, because of the outbreak of World War I. Eliel Saarinen was made corresponding member of the Deutscher Werkbund in 1914 and was invited to participate in the 1914 Cologne exhibition. Among the Werkbund’s more noted members was the architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, who served as Architectural Director.
- 1907, Establishment of the Werkbund in Munich
- 1910, Salon d’Automne, Paris
- 1914, Cologne exhibition
- 1920, Lilly Reich becomes the first female Director
- 1924, Berlin exhibition
- 1927, Stuttgart exhibition (including the Weissenhof Estate)
- 1929, Breslau exhibition
- 1938, Werkbund closed by the Nazis
- 1949, Reestablishment
The Deutscher Werkbund expanded dramatically, from 491 members in 1908 to 1,972 in 1915 to almost 3,000 members in 1929, growing into a formidable coalition of artists, designers, architects, craftsmen, teachers, publicists and industrialists. Its members represented a wide variety of different types of art and commercial concerns, from craft workshops to industrial giants such as AEG, Krupp and Daimler. There were constant debates about whether design should be dictated by the needs of industry or individual artistic expression.
Throughout the 1920s the Werkbund moved further away from handicraft and Expressionism towards industry and functionalism. Members interests focused on the social aspects of architecture and urban planning. A number of new exhibitions were staged: the first, entitled “Form ohne Ornament” (Form without Ornaments) occurred in Berlin in 1924. This was followed in 1927, by a major Werkbund exhibition “Die Wohnung” (The Apartment) organized by Mies van der Rohe and held in Stuttgart to showcase the latest developments in domestic architecture and construction. A number of the participating architects – including Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe – made a point of using as much standardization (in materials and design) as possible. This approach allowed urban planners to construct housing units on a large scale while minimizing their unit-costs. A similar show, “Wohnung und Werkraum” (Home and Workplace), was staged in Breslau, in 1929. After this, in 1930, came the project “Das vorbildliche Serienerzeugnis” (The Ideal Series Product) in Hanover.
The Deutscher Werkbund was also involved in the 1930 Paris Exposition of industrial design and building. This was organized by Walter Gropius, together with Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer. As in Stuttgart, the Werkbund’s display – “Gemeinschaftsraume im Wohnhaus” (Recreation Rooms in Apartment Buildings) – focused on the increased convenience and reduced costs to be gained from employing standardized materials and design. In 1931 the Werkbund show “Der billige Gebrauchsgegenstand” (The Inexpensive Object of Utility) was staged in Berlin, and a year later the exhibition “Wohnbedarf” (Living Neccessities) was held in Stuttgart.
Like the Bauhaus design school, the Deutscher Werkbund did not survive the coming of the Nazis. It was disbanded in 1933. However, it was revived in 1949 after World War II. In 2008, a joint meeting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Deutsche Werkbund was held in Berlin, under the joint auspices of the Bund Deutscher Grafik-Designer (Federation of German Graphic Designers, or BDG-Mitte), and the Verband Deutscher Industrie Designer (Association of German Industrial Designers, or VDID).