Bauhaus: Modernist Toy Icons


Bauhaus Building Blocks designed by Alma Siedhoff-Buscher

Bauhaus, founded in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius, was the most influential school of avant-garde design, art and architecture of the 20th century. In the 1920s, a series of toys were designed at the Bauhaus to reflect a growing interest in the educational impact of good design on children.

Bauhaus Building Blocks

The Bauhaus Building Blocks Set was designed by Alma Siedhoff-Buscher at Bauhaus in 1923. It consists of 22 wooden pieces of different shapes, sizes and colours. It was designed to stimulate children’s imaginations through exploring the unlimited combinations of forms and colours available. The proportional relationships between the parts, from the biggest, ark-shaped block to the smallest flat square, allows them to be fitted together in infinite combinations to make a boat, a house, a bridge or anything at all.

Alma Siedhoff-Buscher was involved with Bauhaus between 1922 and 1927. Along with Marianne Brandt of the metal workshop, she was one of only a few women to be successful at the Bauhaus outside the textile workshop. She believed strongly in the educational impact design could have on children, and all her early work was in this area. She rejected fairy tales as “an unnecessary burden for small brains” and tried to create toys that were “clear and specific” and “as harmonious as possible” in their proportions. The blocks were created after she had designed a children’s room and furniture for the Bauhaus exhibition of 1923.

Bauhaus Spinning Top

The Bauhaus Spinning Top or “Optischer Farbmischer” was designed by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack at Bauhaus in 1923. It consists of a wooden top with seven different 10 cm discs made from cardboard. Each disc is printed with different colours and patterns, and has a small hole in the centre to insert the rod onto the spinning top. When the top is spun, each disc creates an interesting effect of mixed colours.

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack studied at the Bauhaus in the 1920s where he was taught pictorial form and colour theory by Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky asked Hirschfeld-Mack to co-organise the colour seminars and together they developed a series of exercises to investigate the nature of colour, light and dark, black and white and the relationship between colour and form. Hirschfeld-Mack also investigated the connections between colour, light and music. This Spinning Top can be seen as a summation of his work and a symbolic of his achievements.