Upon moving to the United States in 1937, Gropius secured Moholy-Nagy an appointment as the director of a new design school sponsored by the Association of Arts and Industries in Chicago. Moholy-Nagy called it the New Bauhaus. Owing to financial difficulties, the school closed down after only six months. Moholy-Nagy did not give up, however. In 1939 he started the School of Design, which evolved into the Chicago Institute of Design, which he ran until his premature death of leukemia in 1946.
Moholy-Nagy's chief patrons during these years were Walter and Elisabeth Paepcke, who through their Container Corporation of America channeled financial resources to his many projects. The Paepckes' patronage is the subject of an excellent study by the historian James S. Allen. Allen shows how the Paepckes championed a more responsible and educated form of capitalist modernization through a nec-romantic interpretation of Goethe's philosophy and the German Bildungsideal. As Allen documents, the Paepckes were among the most important patrons of environmentalism, literature, philosophy, fine art, and music in postwar America, and Moholy-Nagy was one of their first and most important clients.
In Chicago Moholy-Nagy told his new students about the importance of environmental and social concern for Bauhaus design, and he praised Gropius for addressing these issues: "Fearlessly and uncompromisingly he defended the thesis on which the Bauhaus was built: that art and architecture which fail to serve for the betterment of our environment are socially destructive by aggravating instead of healing the ills of an inequitable social system." It was important, Moholy-Nagy stressed, to think of design within the larger framework of social and environmental responsibility. An mban planner, for example, should aim to create "happy and organic cities of which inhabitants have the experience of being amidst gardens and vegetation daily, not on their weekend trips only." Moholy-Nagy's famous book Vision in Motion (1947) was in effect, he wrote, "an attempt to add to the politico-soda! a biological ‘bill of rights' asserting the interrelatedness of man's fund a mental qualities, of his intellectual and emotional requirements, of his psychological well-being and his physical health."
This program was spelled out in an article entitled "Why Bauhaus Education?" published in the journal Shelter as a manifesto for Chicago's New Bauhaus. The article was illustrated with the images of set designs from Things to Come, from Moholy-Nagy's London years. The Chicago students would have to read a great deal of science literature to understand the fundamental biological needs of human society,Moholy-Nagy argued. This program was an effort to develop "a new type of engineer" who would use "an organic approach" in design. The new science of "bio-technique," Moholy·Nagy explained, "deals with transportation of natural forms and design into the media of human production. Nature evolves ingenious forms, often technologically useful. Every bush, every tree, can instruct us in and reveal new uses, potential apparatus, and technological inventions without number." He argued that proper teaching musters creative experiments guided by advances in engineering and science. Learning from nature was thus at the heart of the New Bauhaus program, which aimed at meeting human biological and psychological needs by combining art, science, and technology.
Evoking the Freudian formula, Moholy-Nagy modeled the teacher of architecture as a therapist breaking through the self-conscious into unconscious life forces of the student. "Once the dam of the self-consciousness is removed," he argued, "the creative energies flow with natural and remarkable ease" toward "an organic approach" in design. Moholy-Nagy expressed the same ideas in the catalog for the 1938 Bauhaus show in New York by pointing to the importance of blending science, art, and craftwork. He argued that since people were "biologically equipped to experience space," a building must reflect human biology.'The journal Shelter, in which Moholy-Nagy published these views, was edited by Richard Buckminster Fuller, who lived and worked in Chicago in the 1930s. It is worth discussing his life in some detail, as he taught at the Chicago Institute of Design after Moholy-Nagy's death and in other ways came to represent the second generation of Bauhaus thinking about the unity of art and science by designing with nature.
Anger, Peder. “Learning From Nature In Chicago.” From Bauhaus to Ecohouse: A History of Ecological Design, pp. 40-42.