“Preliminary Course: From Bauhaus to Silicon Valley”

The Bauhaus sought a synthesis of knowledge in which the various forms of knowledge—technical, scientific, emotional, creative—would be interconnected. This concept of knowledge was combined with a new pedagogy to emancipate the people, release their potential, and ultimately lead to the creation of a “new man.” Which spaces encourage creativity and innovation? Which sites of knowledge does society need today? Do advanced laboratories of computer, internet and media companies represent the Bauhaus of the twenty-first century?

Technologies of Knowledge

The Bauhaus was concerned with design at the junction of craft and industrial production, the emergence of the “First Machine Age” (Reyner Banham), Fordist industrialization, and the associated consumer society. Gropius’s slogan “Art and technology—the new unity” was at once a diagnosis of the crisis and a promise for the future. The workshop structure of the Bauhaus was one response to the practical challenges confronting design as industrialization and technology advanced. Today we are experiencing the emergence of the “Second Machine Age” (Martin Pawley), the conclusion of the transition from the analog to the digital, from the physical to the virtual, from consumption to coproduction. What practices can be observed with respect to this development? How does technology challenge design today? How can technology be designed? Or should we perhaps be asking the other way around: How does technology design? In this context, too, the question of progress arises. Whereas the classical avant-garde still believed in progress, in a better future, and in improvement through innovation, the new has since lost its innocence. These days, “utopias” increasingly pursue ambitions of decelerating and preserving. Whereas ever-accelerating capitalist transformation is often experienced as problematic, a (largely conservative) critique aims to negate or reject it. Is progress still emancipatory and preservation reactionary, or are things in fact fundamentally very different?

Spaces of Knowledge

Responding to the needs of the industrial demands, the Bauhaus dedicated spaces of production that were oriented toward the democratization of the design process, fostering experiential knowledge and skills and facilitating the dialogue between disciplines. It spread the word of the New Man, operating between the priorities of technology, industrialization, and society. At the same time, these spaces also paved the way towards the professionalization of design pedagogy in line with modernist ideals. With the growing commodification of culture and the rise of cognitive capitalism in the second half of the 20th century, design, creativity, and experimentation regained popularity within new interdisciplinary spaces of production. The current success of medias labs, hackerspaces, fab labs, and incubators enriches the production landscape, fosters interdisciplinarity, destabilizes the notion of authorship, and champions the democratization of knowledge and expertise. Subsequently, new attempts for contemporary pedagogic models and spaces of knowledge production emerge in response to current production schemes—be that within universities, the corporate sector, or cultural institutions. Through those spaces, the need to invent new economic strategies based on immaterial values in line with cooperative modes of production has become a necessity. Creative collaboration and cultural criticality are often bound to the development of technology and have themselves become a cultural logic of legitimization (Marina Vishmidt). Looking at contemporary examples of spaces of production and knowledge diffusion, how are these spaces fostering an updated vision of the New Man? What are the qualities of these new spaces of knowledge? What are they telling us about the future of knowledge production and knowledge exchange, in both digital and physical terms? What kind of encounters are sought within these spaces? And what experiences and encounters do they in return dismiss or prevent?