100 years of the BURG

With its range of courses and teaching and its workshops in its Art and Design faculties, Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle combines continuity with a permanent focus on new needs in an ideal manner. In our anniversary year, the “Stations of the BURG” project – a dynamic, synoptic history platform – will be created.

When the architect Paul Thiersch was appointed as the new director of the Craft School in Halle in 1915, the gradual transformation of this training institution into a modern, practice-oriented art and craft school with training and production workshops began; indeed, this appointment is regarded as the starting point of our history. Thiersch’s ideas in this regard were in line with the goals of the German Association of Craftsmen (Deutscher Werkbund), of which he was a member. His aim was for a systematic re-organisation: in his eyes, “craft training” also had to be “artistic training too from the very beginning”. Thus a class specialising in women’s arts and crafts and a class in sculpture– under the guidance of Gustav Weidanz – were established in the new arts and crafts department. In 1918, the school was renamed the Art and Craft School of the City of Halle.

Further systematic expansion of the workshops up to 1933 (including the establishment of workshops for metalwork, building ceramics, pottery, bookbinding and textiles) delivered visible results: the school acquired a lasting positive reputation as one of the most influential art schools in Germany alongside the Bauhaus thanks to the products emanating from its workshops and, in particular, the contributions of its specialist classes to various major furnishing and fitting projects. When the Nazis came to power, the BURG went through a difficult period; many teachers (including all former Bauhaus artists and designers) were fired and many classes were discontinued.

A turbulent phase of re-orientation followed after the end of the Second World War: the impacts of the prescriptive cultural policy that accompanied the so-called formalism debate in the GDR hindered continuous development. In 1958, the BURG was granted university status as the University for Industrial Design Halle – Burg Giebichenstein. In the years that followed, design departments with increasingly broad focal areas were established. With its theory-based and practice-oriented training and teaching, the BURG gained a reputation as the most influential educational institution for designers alongside the School of Art and Design in Berlin-Weissensee over the next few decades. It played a decisive role in the particular artistic quality of craftwork in the GDR with its training in applied art disciplines. In 1972, the opportunities for training in graphic design, painting and sculpture – which had previously been limited under the constraints of “applied art” – were broadened and the quality of artistic education was thus strengthened. In academic terms, the BURG also established its reputation with the design studies colloquia that were held regularly from 1977 onwards.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the university was again re-organised and, after various phases of internal and external evaluation, was allowed to retain its status as an art and design university. The education and training programmes of all courses areas were revised. As a reaction to the changed patterns of use of new media in society as a whole, the use of new media was actively promoted first in the Design faculty and then later too in the Art faculty. Specialised media-oriented disciplines were subsequently established. In addition, the disciplines of Art Education and Art Pedagogy were established. From 1992 onwards, the first publications were produced by the university publishing office.

With the opening of the Gallery in the Volkspark in Halle in early summer in 2000, the university now has its own exhibition spaces that host ‘Diplom’ project presentations as well as other teaching-related exhibitions with unifying themes. From 2005 onwards, the university intensified its international contacts and activities. It is a member of the Cumulus International Association of European universities and of ELIA (European League of Institutes of the Arts). Within the framework of the ERASMUS programme, the BURG has cooperation agreements with 53 partner universities in 20 countries in Europe, and we also have direct contacts with art schools in countries such as Canada, Japan, the USA, China, India, Vietnam and Cuba. In 2010, the university changed its name to Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle with the publishing of the amended Higher University Act of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt in July of that year.

The anniversary celebrations to mark the BURG’s centenary are an opportunity to showcase the current artistic, design and theoretical potential of the university in a regional and international context, and also to refer back to the most important strands of the school’s traditions from today’s viewpoint, to extrapolate into the future, and to develop and present new ideas.

More about the history of the BURG (only in German):