One hundred years ago, a radical artistic utopia was born in Germany’s Weimar Republic. Founded in 1919 by Berlin architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus school of art decreed that “form follows function,” emphasizing collective wisdom and looking to art to solve society’s problems.
The school’s brick-and-mortar experiment was short-lived, lasting only 14 years before folding under pressure from the Nazis in 1933. But the ideas that Bauhaus artisans generated—which championed a return to craftsmanship, simplicity, and functionality— soon spread worldwide. From furniture to fashion, film, typography, and urban planning, its legacy can still be felt today. Now, as Germany commemorates the centennial with hundreds of events across the country, Bauhaus makes its mark in a Buddhist corner of the world.
The Artisans, Artists, and Architects Guild (AAAG)—a new platform headquartered in the north Indian Tibetan enclave of Leh, Ladakh—will be a way station where artisans and intellectuals can collaborate. This summer, the AAAG will roll out a Bauhaus-inspired curriculum, offering workshops in carpentry, woodworking, and weaving, among other crafts. Still in its early stages, the project will continue to raise funds to expand the center and repair two houses for classrooms, studios, and artist residencies.
The “Little Bauhaus” initiative was developed by Tibet Heritage Fund (THF) and its local affiliate, the Leh Old Town Initiative (LOTI), two NGOs that have been recognized by UNESCO for their community-based restoration work.
“Art and architecture should serve the public,” said THF co-founder Pimpim de Azevedo. “Cultivating urban planners with a focus on sustainable design and creating new jobs are a few of the ways that we will meet today’s needs.”
Over the last 50 years the number of traditional homes in Leh has reached all-time lows. Instead of using locally available materials with a lighter carbon footprint and better insulation for harsh Ladakhi winters, “new construction is being done quickly and cheaply by using concrete, and labor is often outsourced from other parts of India,” according to Tsering Dorje, 61, a senior carpenter in the area. “Many carpenters have had to change their profession and become taxi drivers or contractors for modern buildings. It is sad to see, but there aren’t a lot of alternatives.”
Related: Architecture of Awakening
“The guild will provide a much-needed place to practice traditional craftsmanship,“ said Dorje, who hopes to get younger generations excited about studying arts and crafts. After attending previous THF workshops, a number of students have gone on to pursue higher degrees in conservation studies. Once the campus is more established, university students will be invited to master classes with carpenters, masons, painters, metalsmiths, and weavers.
Rigzin Dolma, 48, specializes in weaving woolen products and has been working with LOTI for many years. She sees the platform as an opportunity for Ladakhis to market their handicrafts and earn extra income during the winter season, when tourism dwindles.
The center will also serve as a meeting ground for artists across faiths to collaborate, which is especially important in a region that has historically been prone to sectarian violence.
“Their rituals and architectural styles may differ, but Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus in Ladakh all share a common past,” de Azevedo said. Architecture, too, is about “combining disparate elements into a harmonious whole,” a definition that squares with Bauhaus and Buddhist ideals.
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