Altro and Bauhaus both came to be in 1919. While the Bauhaus was only operational for 14 years, its influence over design, even 100 years later, is all around us. Today we retain the belief set out by the Bauhaus, and adopted by designers worldwide; that there is no distinction between ‘form and function’. It means we have a responsibility to engineer our products to meet real-world needs and ensure our products meet requirements for style, as well as substance.
In the early 1920s Walter Gropius established the Bauhaus movement to bring art, craft and technology together, with the view that creating something functional can be approached in the same way as fine art. It gave craft and art equal importance, changing the way its followers approached design.
Bauhaus literally means ‘construction house’; many knew it as ‘school of building’. Initially based in Weimar, the school moved to Dessau in 1925, a short distance from our German manufacturing site and offices. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and remains a striking and inspiring place to visit.
The Bauhaus movement is thought by many to be the most influential modernist art form of the last century. Bauhaus teachers and students searched for new ideas, questioned the traditional rules, experimented with new materials and brought about building innovations. They were also pioneers when it came to the use of synthetic interior fittings. It was during the construction of the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s that Walter Gropius arranged for the first generation of artificial flooring to be installed there.
We’re surrounded by everyday objects that are inspired, or created, by the Bauhaus designers: chairs with tubular metal frames, furniture on casters and nests of tables to name just three.
As the influence of the Bauhaus grew, so did developments at Altro. We take inspiration from the Bauhaus philosophy, weaving elements of it into our product development, research and innovation. This can be most clearly seen with the Bauhaus approach of bridging the gap between form and function. Today, this is more commonly understood as creating a product ‘fit for purpose’.
We have a long history of firsts that stand the test of time, borne out of turning creative thinking into practical, real-world solutions, including adhesive-free safety floors and floors designed to keep users safer from slips in shoe and bare foot, wet and dry. We invented safety flooring back in the 1940s and our very first installation is still in place today, and doing the job it was designed to do, nearly 70 years later. And in 1982 we launched the world’s first integrated safety floors and hygienic walls system, using Altro Whiterock, our market-leading hygienic wall sheet.
In a rapidly changing world it’s incredible that the few hundred architects, artists and craftsmen trained at the Bauhaus still influence the direction of development 100 years on. Yet they do.
Actually, today’s pace of life makes a Bauhausian approach, bold, new and creative, more relevant than ever. We need new spaces that cater for how we want, or need, to live and work but are economically viable. We also have a responsibility to consider environmental impact, meaning design has to enable sustainable construction. It makes design today exciting as it was a century ago, with each generation of visionary designers bringing new ideas.
As Chris Radcliffe, Head of Interiors at Maber Architects says: “In the 1920s the Bauhaus was on the cutting edge on what was happening then. So those people, if they were alive today, would be still on the cutting edge of what is happening right now. The Bauhaus masters, they would be right there - using new materials as they were then, pushing the boundaries.”
So how do we practically use what the Bauhaus has taught us to make spaces work for those using them, and to support those designing and constructing them?
Every product and solution we develop is created to meet the needs of the people using them, whether designing with them, installing them or living with them. It’s not enough to start and end with appearance, or even how it performs.
The possibilities are endless and continually evolving. Areas we have focussed on include how a building can actively influence fall prevention or help keep elderly or people with particular physical or mental needs, in their own home for longer. Another example is developing one of the few worldwide floors, walls and door products to have achieved Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) International certification, supporting hygiene standards for food preparation, with multiple design options. It could be about using colour and biophilia to support learning or wayfinding, lessening the impact of dementia symptoms or ensuring a non-clinical looking hospital ward can be hygienic.
Focussing on economic benefits when planning buildings is no longer enough. Walter Gropius spoke about environmental impact a century ago but it’s taking the world a long time to catch up.
Architects and manufacturers are increasingly under pressure to deliver a sustainable solution. Will what is planned and built today make a positive contribution to the future of our world? Are the methods and materials that are processed artificially sustainable and safe? Are we restricted aesthetically by the need for sustainable materials and practices?
At Altro, we have always focussed on quality. First and foremost, of course, in the production of our floors, walls and doors. We use the highest quality raw materials from regularly monitored sources and manufacture in compliance with the highest quality standards. We also offer some of the longest guarantees in the industry – plus our safety floors are guaranteed to maintain their slip resistance for the life of the floor. Despite continuous development, as a third-generation family business we are proud that our industrial production has never become a faceless, fully automated assembly line production.
Andrew Marshall, Associate Director, 3DReid architecture practice says: “When we talk about sustainability in architecture, besides the processes involved in manufacturing and transporting the materials, one has to keep in mind: How long is this product usable? You cannot use a product that has a short lifespan - this is the worst thing you can do in terms of sustainability.”
Our commitment goes beyond production; after all, it is our customers who work daily with our materials on countless construction sites worldwide. All our products are designed to make installation as simple as possible. We also offer floors and walls installation training, online support and telephone and on-site support where needed. We also co-founded Recofloor, the vinyl take-back scheme that has, to date, helped our customers divert over 4,300 tonnes of vinyl flooring from landfill, and Recowall, a recycling scheme for wall sheets.
Chris Radcliffe says: “As a designer, when putting something into a building I would like to know I am putting something in that comes from a company that acts responsibly. Particularly in interior design we are looking to put more and more sustainable materials in, whether it may be on floors and walls, it is becoming more and more important.”
For more information about our sustainability practices, visit this section on the Altro website.
What makes a building become a space that works for those working and living within, is how construction materials are used. In the same way we recognise and embrace the opportunities that new technology give us, architects use new materials to improve the design and function of buildings. For us this means a focus on wellbeing through hygiene, acoustics, cleanability, colour, reduced downtime, recyclability, and any other way we can achieve a better experience for our end users and customers. From here we develop the materials, technology, guidance, working practices and customer service to do that.
To help question the norm and assess where we can make effective changes, we engage with industry experts to look at emerging trends, sector issues and market variances. We seek opportunities to work with industry bodies, such as Care England, Design in Mental Health and University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) and, of course, customers, to get as much insight into end user needs as possible. There’s no point working within a bubble.
The Bauhaus saw architecture and craftsmanship as a yardstick of society and we are proud to make a difference in this way.
Innovation is at the forefront of what we do, but we don’t do this alone. For 100 years now we’ve known that listening to, and partnering with, our customers is how to meet changing needs and deliver.
How can our building be more sustainable? How do we install better solutions for floors and walls under ever-increasing time pressures? Can simple improvements boost wellbeing, for individuals or on a wide scale? What changes will we see in mental healthcare in the next five years? How important is social media to you in getting installation guidance?
We take every opportunity to hear what you have to say. Since 2008 we have been inviting customers to spend a day with us as part of our ‘voice of the customer’ programme. It’s a day to hear what you have to say about you, about us and our products, and how you want to work with us.
It’s an incredibly valuable insight for us, and according to feedback, for you too. Conversations we’ve had have directly led to the introduction of new products, customer service improvements, and changes to our website, amongst others. If you would like to visit us, please get in touch. We also run regular research programmes, seeking opinions across different sectors on a whole host of subjects.
The needs of people involved in the construction and use of a building have always been important to us at Altro. A good example is the problem of refurbishing spaces that need to be used 24-7 – we invented adhesive-free safety flooring, which halves installation time, with the benefit of no adhesive odour. It means vital spaces can be up and running again within a day.
We ensure that we have an understanding of the challenges for designers, installers and end users – only by doing this can we develop high quality solutions that perform, and look good.
Andrew Marshall’s view: “A lot of trends, as we know, are kind of cyclical. What was fashion in the 1970s and 1980s is now back on trend again. But the great thing about this is: each trend comes back with the technology that exists now and didn’t exist then”.
Taking responsibility goes hand in hand with being bold and stepping forward. Once we do that we can achieve something special, and certainly something that goes beyond mediocrity; something that will be remembered in a hundred years’ time. We’ll take that challenge.