Spanning Boundaries and Transgressing Disciplines: Insights for Post-Pandemic Innovation

By | August 6, 2022

“The Bauhaus School was deliberately designed to foster innovation by crossing boundaries, including boundaries between school and work and disciplinary boundaries. The School faced ongoing criticism because its innovative approaches and activities were seen to be transgressive (Bayer et al., 1938). Yet transgressive practice disrupts established knowledge and can generate new knowledge (Haraway, 2008). Despite resistance, the Bauhaus continued to innovate and spread its influence globally throughout the century (Droste, 2019)”. (White-Hancock, 2022)

Reading White-Hancock’s excellent paper contextualizing the lessons of the Bauhaus for innovation in a post-pandemic world, I can see the influence in the curriculum of the two different graduate programs in design that I attended in two different continents in two different centuries. There is great irony in sitting here today in August 2022, decades after walking out of all these creative learning opportunities, and musing upon their transformative power and the deep thinking behind the activation of creativity that the Bauhaus faculty put into the simplest colouring exercises. Then again, pursuing a doctorate in  one’s 50s means going back to the basics and deconstructing the first principles.

reproduction of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius’ original diagram of the Bauhaus curriculum (source)


“…learning emerged at the Bauhaus through cross-boundary practices that transgressed established norms and cultural orders (Bayer et al., 1938). At the School, a work organization and an environment were created to support people who were expected to engage in risky, transgressive work and to innovate.” (White-Hancock, 2022)

My current university, born less than 15 years ago, reflects this spirit as well, in both its form and its function. Far more obviously and explicitly, yet without the merest mention of the word Bauhaus. One must read analyses of innovation in the workplace and in education, like White-Hancock’s paper linked to in full above, in order to recognize the legacy and heritage of the Bauhaus that continues to influence innovation thinking today. The reality and bureaucracy is never as smooth or functional as the vision and the wishful thinking, but I have sampled some of this in the early days, more than ten years ago.

This blogpost is not intended to be a reflection of a practitioner. It is a first step towards elaboration on the concluding thoughts from  yesterday’s post to navigate my way to articulating the ‘new’ design thinking that seems to be needed for today’s turbulent conditions. I need to start from scratch is what I am discovering. And in this case, wherever I scratch, I see the Bauhaus. The influences on the principles that guided the Bauhaus include Constructivism, which, as we saw in yesterday’s post, seems to be one of the 3 missing pieces in a design paradigm for industry today.

Bauhaus mirrored society. The world at the time was transforming, as the rise of industry and “the machine” reshaped every aspect of one’s being. The artists who called themselves part of the movement reflected society’s changes in their creations, including how they looked, worked, and even how they created these works of art. Artists from this period were thinking economically and were interested in using resources wisely. They were questioning, retaliating against, and accommodating mass production all at the same time. Source

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