The Public Paperfolding History Project

Joseph Albers and Paperfolding at the Bauhaus

This page attempts to record what is known about the history of Joseph Albers and Paperfolding at the Bauhaus. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you.

The Bauhaus was a German school of art and design that existed from 1919 to 1933. During this time it moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1925 and then to Berlin in 1932. In 1933 the school came under pressure from the Nazi party, accused of being a centre of Communist idaes, and was closed as a safety precaution by its own leadership.

At the age of 32, in the spring of 1920 , Joseph Albers enrolled in the Bauhaus school’s introductory course, known as the Vorkurs, which was then run by Johannes Itten on expressionistic lines. In late 1922, following disagreement with Walter Gropius about the course’s direction, Johannes Itten left the Bauhaus, creating an opportunity for Albers to be appointed as a Vorkurs instructor alongside Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

According to the article 'Experimentation, Not Replication: Josef Albers and the Vorkurs' by Oliver Barker, available at 'Albers focused his energies primarily on teaching the materials and design components of the course. As a Bauhaus educator Albers approached this role with characteristic intensity, immediately removing the expressionistic tendencies that had characterized Itten’s teaching of the course. Instead, Albers instigated a methodology categorized by problem solving in which no single method existed for the resolution of the exercises, encouraging students to find their own solutions to the tasks presented.'

'Albers challenged his students to investigate the internal properties of materials, exploiting their structural possibilities and limitations. Working with a wide range of materials – paper, wire mesh, corrugated cardboard, glass, plastic, sheet metal, tin foil, matchboxes – students were encouraged to examine the dormant possibilities of these substances. These exercises defined what Albers identified as “…learning to see both statically and dynamically…” and further encouraged students to learn experientially through their own exploration and practice, placing emphasis on the need for “…intimate contact with the material through one’s own fingertips…”

'As an initial exercise Albers had his students begin their exploration of materials by studying the three-dimensional potential of paper. By folding and fastening paper in ways that would place “emphasis on the edge…and test its performance under tension and pressure,”  the resulting creations were varied and diverse. While there was no one way to approach each exercise, Albers encouraged students to plan their folded paper models in advance, ensuring that the economy of form was measured in relation to the anticipated expenditure of material and labor. The resulting studies, captured in an iconic series of photographs by fellow Bauhausler Erich Consemüller, show architectonic structures achieved through the cutting and folding of paper without any loss or waste placing emphasis on the previously unrecognized potential of paper as a material. The textural and malleable properties of this material were also explored through repeated folding to create prismatic structures and fluid, organic forms. By pushing the Vorkurs in these new exciting directions, Albers enabled his students to explore the hidden three-dimensional aptitude of paper. The resulting forms from these studies inhabited the realms of positive and negative space thus revealing the latent potential at odds with paper’s traditional applications.'

Thes images are from 'Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago' by Hans M. Wingler, MIT Press, 1969 and 1978. They show a number of folded objects produced by Joseph Alber's students during the years 1927/8.