Walter Gropius (1883 - 1969) was a leading German architect and the founder of the fabled Bauhaus, the art school that sought to merge craftsmanship and the fine arts. In 1919, he wrote a manifesto for this ground-breaking institution.
In his manifesto, Gropius defends the school’s mission. He calls the art of his age isolated and self-indulgent. In his eyes, it can only be freed through a concerted effort by all artisans, while maintaining close ties with society. This builds on the principles formulated by William Morris, and in the Bauhaus (which was actually named after the masons’ lodge in the mediaeval guild system) Gropius has an opportunity to put these ideas into practice. Artists and craftsmen are not only expected to work together during lessons at the school, but also in producing the designs that come out of them. This would supposedly “remove the separation between fine and applied arts”.
Gropius tries to find an answer to low-quality industrial products that disingenuously imitate the artisanal qualities of old-fashioned visual languages. Whereas Morris had turned toward a mediaeval past, Gropius posits that technology can still bend to Man’s will and keeps his sights firmly on the future. He emphasises items’ functionality, and moves production to the front of the development process – resulting in a new visual language defined by clarity of design.
I can well imagine the feverish excitement felt by the various artists and designers working to develop a new visual language for a new age. Futurists, Expressionists, Constructivists – and in the Netherlands, a group that went under the name De Stijl – issued a number of radical manifestos, in which they attempted to formulate fresh standards of design for their times.
One such artist who sought to develop a new language – which he called ‘De Nieuwe Orde’ (‘The New Order’) – was Hendrik Wijdeveld (1885-1987). As an architect, Wijdeveld designed in the style of the Amsterdam School, to which he added elements from early Modernism. In the maelstrom of new movements, with time-honoured practices being gradually supplanted by new dogmas, Wijdeveld maintained an ambiguous position. He worked as an architect, editor-in-chief, typographer, designer of books, theatre scenery and costumes, jewellery, toys, furniture and utility items – even bathing caps. The year 1918 marks the publication of the first issue of ‘Wendingen’, with Wijdeveld as editor-in-chief. The contents of this magazine, which runs for 116 issues, are as multifaceted as Wijdeveld himself. ‘Wendingen’ pays attention to almost every contemporary movement in art, architecture, typography, theatre design and applied art. Wijdeveld usually commissions other artists to design the publication’s covers, including contributions by members of De Stijl, Expressionists and Constructivists. Wijdeveld focussed on what lay between; marshalling moveable type, letters, blocks and decoration into a playful mix of elements referred to by his contemporaries as ‘typographic masonry’.
Which is why I’ve actually dedicated the first ‘Pavilion of Honour’ in the Palace to Hendrik Wijdeveld. For me, the ‘typographic mason’ Hendrik Wijdeveld serves as a prime example. His versatility – both in his work and his interests – shows how seriously he took design itself as a philosophy of life. But particularly in his tolerance as an intermediary, Wijdeveld shows himself to be a ‘master mason’, working to assign a place to the various extremes that cross his path and organise this heady mix into a cohesive new whole.