From Bauhaus to Our House

by Tom Wolfe

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

From Bauhaus to Our House was originally published in 1981. The author was the journalist and social and cultural critic Tom Wolfe (March 2, 1930 – May 14, 2018). Wolfe, who had a PhD in American Studies, worked as a reporter rather than a scholar, and is considered a key figure in the movement called New Journalism.

From Bauhaus to Our House is a work of nonfiction that is a social critique of a type of modernist architecture known as the International Style. The major figures associated with this style of architecture were Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius. The main characteristic of the style is its insistence that form should follow function and that buildings should avoid excessive ornament. For many people, the style is typified by the large rectangular glass block style of the office buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Wolfe traces the evolution of this style from its origins in the Bauhaus movement through the emigration of the major European architects of the movement to the United States and what he sees as the dominance of this style in major North American cities. Wolfe argues that the International Style is visually unappealing, and does not provide a pleasant environment for those who live in buildings designed according to its principles.

Wolfe argues that the International Style is actually more a product of a certain type of Marxist ideology than a response to the real needs of communities. He sees it as driven by theory more than practicality and having succeeded due to its cult-like status and intellectual prestige.

The style of the book is entertaining, including the lively prose, vivid descriptions, pointed satire, and gossipy anecdotes which are the hallmark of Wolfe's style. Although the work was widely criticized by architects, it succeeds as a pointed critique of the way art functions as a prestige marker in elite urban American society.

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