Dr Matthew Holt

UTS Insearch, Sydney

Dr Matthew Holt is a design historian. His research interests are in the history of the concept of ‘environment' in design theory and pedagogy, and the origins of design management and design governance. Currently, he is the academic manager of all transnational programs offered by the University of Technology Sydney's international college. He has taught interdisciplinary design studies at the University of Technology Sydney and lectured in the history of art and design at the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney. He has a PhD in Art History and Theory from the University of Sydney. He is also a practising graphic designer. Three of his plays have been produced, and he has published a collection of short fiction.

“Is the Bauhaus Relevant Today?”: Design Theory and Pedagogy at the Hochschule für Gestaltung, Ulm (1953-1968).


The post-war German design school, The Hochschule für Gestaltung, Ulm (1953- 1968), has long lain in the shadow of its more famous predecessor. Indeed, the the school was initially conceived—at least by its first Rector, Max Bill—as a new Bauhaus rising from the ashes of the war, a home to bring back the scattered Bauhäuslers. Walter Gropius opened the purpose-built campus and Bill modelled the first year of its curriculum on the famous Bauhaus Vorkurs or foundation year. But many members of Ulm led by its second Rector, the Argentine Tomás Maldonado, challenged this revival and questioned the scope and purpose of any presumed institutional inheritance. This paper examines this challenge that in turn produced an equally influential program of design education, the "Ulm Model" (Ulmer Modell). To explicate the Ulm Model, this paper explores three aspects of Ulm's reinvention of the Bauhaus legacy: 1) The critique of Bauhaus pedagogy; 2) The School's concept of environmental design (Umweltgestaltung) and environmental knowledge or science (Umweltwissenschaft); and, 3) The critique of the conservative canonisation of the Bauhaus in favour of what Maldonado called the "other" Bauhaus. Like its precursor, the HfG Ulm closed prematurely and under controversy, and its members underwent their diaspora. This paper concludes by looking briefly at the HfG’s transnational legacies to pose anew the question the Ulmers themselves asked, is the "Bauhaus relevant today?"