The ABC’s of Triangle, Square, Circle: Bauhaus and Design Theory
Ellen Lupton, J. Abbott Miller
Princeton Architectural Press, March 2019
Hardcover | 9 x 11 inches | 72 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1616897987 | $29.95
The Bauhaus, the legendary school in Dessau, Germany, transformed architecture and design around the world. This book broke new ground when first published in 1991 by introducing psychoanalysis, geometry, early childhood education, and popular culture into the standard political history of the Bauhaus. The ABC’s of The Bauhaus also introduced two young designers, Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, whose multidisciplinary approach changed the field of design writing and research. With a new preface by Lupton and Miller, this collection of visually and intellectually stimulating essays is a must-read for educators and students.
The Bauhaus existed for only 14 years (1919-1933), but the school’s influence on architecture and design over the last century is huge and lasting. I’m no expert on the Bauhaus, but it seems to be that much of this influence is merely attributed to the Bauhaus, as if the institution is a stand-in for all things Modern. Much of this has to do with the personalities that started, ran, and taught at the school: Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, and László Moholy-Nagy, to name a few. It also stems from Gropius’s Bauhaus complex in Dessau, which facilitated the move from Weimar in the mid-1920s, and other designs that came from the people involved with the school. Furthermore, the closure of the school under pressure of the Nazi regime and the ensuing diaspora of “Bauhauslers” spread the school’s “gospel” to North America and other parts of the globe. With the centenary falling this year (more precisely, on April 1), there’s plenty of attention being levied once again at the Bauhaus and its influence.
Like International Architecture by Walter Gropius, The ABC’s of Triangle, Square, Circle has been reprinted to coincide with this 100th anniversary. While the former was published in 1925, the latter came out in 1991 as a companion to an exhibition at the Cooper Union in New York. This year’s reprint is the first hardcover edition. Even though I haven’t seen the 1991 edition, the hardcover is a thing of beauty. The book focuses on the Bauhaus’s graphic design, particularly the introductory class taught by Itten. Its production nearly 30 years ago was literal cut and paste, done by a young and unknown Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, both of whom trained at Cooper Union. They used a hybrid of digital and manual techniques, though the 2019 edition looks entirely digital. I’m not sure if it is or not, but it doesn’t really matter; the book is a visual feast that uses text and grids and lines and images to explain the revolutionary thinking born a century ago.
Ellen Lupton is the senior curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and founding director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. J. Abbott Miller uses design to explore and interpret art, architecture, performance, fashion, and design. As a partner in the New York office of Pentagram, he combines the work of editor, writer, curator, and designer. Lupton and Miller are both recipients of the AIGA Medal for lifetime achievement.