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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349

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From Bauhaus to Our House is a nonfiction book by American journalist and essayist Tom Wolfe. The book is an example of Wolfe's attempt at art criticism, particularly discourses on modern architecture. Tom Wolfe gained prominence as one of the pioneers of New Journalism, a sub-genre of journalism and nonfiction that combines factual reportage with the narrative style of fiction.

The book was initially written as a response to the art world—i.e. art critics, collectors, artists, curators, et al.—after it derided Wolfe's first attempt at art criticism with the book The Painted World. Motivated by the hostile reaction he received, Wolfe decided to focus on architecture, which was becoming a serious art genre during the 20th century. Before, architecture was perceived as its own field that combined engineering with design, but was not studied as a pure art form like painting or sculpture. When architecture finally became a booming field in the art circle, two styles became dominant: International Style and Modern Architecture.

Wolfe criticized these two styles that became the mainstream. He opined that the buildings lacked ornate designs on their exteriors and was not appreciated by the masses who had to view such large skyscrapers everyday as part of the cityscape. He praised architects such as Louis Sullivan, who designed buildings that were outside of the International Style and Modern aesthetics. Wolfe also implied that the new architectural forms were simply gigantic trophies of the wealthy elite; a permanent monument to self-glorification polluting the American landscape.

Another criticism Wolfe articulated in the book was the architecture mainstreams obsessive adherence to various theories, such as political philosophies of Marx, that were out of place in America. For instance, Wolfe uses the example of a school building modeled after the housing arrangement of proletariat workers in Eastern Europe. Wolfe criticized the elitist institutions that dictated the aesthetics and practice of modern architecture. He opined that the general public did not like the style of the modern buildings because the elite architects who control the direction of the field are busy competing to be the most avant-garde

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675

On Sunday, April 28, 1974, as the result of an article in The New York Times about a Yale University art exhibition, Tom Wolfe came to an interpretation of the nature of twentieth century art and architecture that would eventually characterize two of his books, The Painted Word (1975) and From Bauhaus to Our House. “Then and there,” Wolfe wrote in The Painted Word, “I experienced a flash known as the AHA! phenomenon, and the buried life of contemporary art was revealed to me for the first time. The fogs lifted! The clouds passed!” The thesis that Wolfe adapted in The Painted Word is that twentieth century art “has become completely literary.” Artists have conformed to the theories of art critics. Thus, painting is a reflection of the current artistic theory or philosophy, instead of philosophy or theory arising from and explaining the nature of art. In the world of art, essence precedes and determines existence and not the reverse. In From Bauhaus to Our House, Wolfe extended this view of art to the world of architecture. Thus, twentieth century architecture is a reflection of a philosophy or theory: The philosophy that explains architecture, according to Wolfe, is Marxism, and that central vision was translated into the major architectural forms of the century.

The format or structure, content, and language of Wolfe’s books are designed to support his thesis. Without pedantry, Wolfe takes his readers on a lighthearted, charming romp through the history of modern architecture. He uses wit, satire, and good humor to poke fun at and deflate the arrogance of twentieth century architectural gurus and pundits and to show how public taste has been shaped and comfort thwarted by the pretension of architects and their minions.

The structure of the book is admirably suited to the task of elucidating the history of architecture since World War I. Logically organized into seven parts, From Bauhaus to Our House begins with an analysis and description of the development of the Bauhaus and its tradition. The description is marvelously evocative of the ambience of the Bauhaus school, the courageous manifesto-wars of the architect competitors, and the visions of brave new worlds that all sought to create. Dominating the Bauhaus was its founder, “the Silver Prince” or “White God No. 1,” Walter Gropius. Almost as important to the movement was Le Corbusier, the rationalist of the movement. Out of this context emerged the theory of architecture that was to dominate Europe and the United States for more than the next half century.

The second part of From Bauhaus to Our House describes American architecture during the period between World War I and World War II. Early in the period, American architects held sway, but according to Wolfe an American “colonial complex” or feeling that anything American was bound to be inferior developed. Into the context of this colonial complex came the advocates of the Bauhaus tradition, who, in the late 1930’s, were fleeing Nazi Germany. They brought the International Style with them and accepted major teaching posts at the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions, enabling them to control subsequent generations of American architects.

The fourth part considers the way that International Style became the single dominant American architectural style since World War II. Especially important was the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wolfe’s “White God No. 2,” whose buildings seemed to sprout, like mushrooms, throughout the American hinterland. The fifth part describes the work of Edward Durell Stone, Eero Saarinen, John Portman, Morris Lapidus, all apostates who profited from their repudiation of International Style. Despite their success, they encountered the disdain of the style’s advocates and were ostracized by the architectural world. The sixth and seventh parts of the book describe permissible dissent within the Bauhaus tradition and note that such dissent was virtually no dissent at all. Thus, the Bauhaus tradition by the 1980’s remained the single pervasive architectural style in the United States. In the world of International Style, major innovation or deviation was heresy or apostasy. The Bauhaus gospel had banished all sin.


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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 62

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