German-born architect Walter Gropius (born May 18, 1883, in Berlin) helped to launch modern architecture in the 20th century when he was asked by the German government to run a new school called the Bauhaus, in Weimar in 1919. As an art educator, Gropius soon defined the Bauhaus school of design with his 1923 Idee und Aufbau des staatlichen Bauhauses Weimar (“Idea and Structure of the Weimar State Bauhaus”), which continues to influence architecture and the applied arts.
Walter Gropius believed that all designs should be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. His Bauhaus school pioneered a functional, severely simple architectural style, featuring the elimination of surface decoration and extensive use of glass. Perhaps more importantly, Bauhaus is an integration of the arts-that architecture should be studied along with other arts (e.g. painting) and crafts (e.g., furniture making). His “artist’s statement” was set forth in the Manifesto of April 1919:
“Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture, sculpture, and painting, and which one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of the craftsman as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.”
The vision of the Bauhaus school has permeated world architecture. One writer for the New York Times says his designs are “wildly influential.” She goes on to say “it’s difficult today to find some corner of design that doesn’t bear the traces of Bauhaus. The tubular chair, the glass, and steel office tower, and the clean uniformity of contemporary graphic design- so
much of what we associate with the word “modernism”- have their roots in a small German art school that has existed for only 14 years.”
Walter Adolph Gropius was educated at the Technical Universities in Munich and Berlin. Early on, Gropius experimented with the combination of technology and art, building walls with glass blocks, and creating interiors without visible supports. His architectural reputation was first established when, while working with Adolph Meyer, he designed the Fagus Works in Alfred a der Leine, Germany (1910-1911) and a model factory and office building for the first Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne (1914). The Deutsche Werkbund or German Work
Federation was a state-sponsored organization of industrialists, artists, and craftsmen. Established in 1907, the Werkbund was the German fusion of the English Arts and Crafts Movement with American industrialism, with the intent of making Germany competitive in an increasingly industrialized world. After World War I (1914-1918), the Werkbund ideals were subsumed into Bauhaus ideals.
The word Bauhaus is German, basically meaning to build (bauen) a house (Haus). Staatliches Bauhaus, as the movement is sometimes called brings to light that it was in the interest of the “state” or government of Germany to combine all aspects of architecture into a Gesamtkunstwerk, or complete work of art. For Germans, this was not a new idea. Bavarian
stucco masters of the Wessobrunner School in the 17th and 18th centuries also approaches building as a total work of art.
The Bauhaus School attracted many artists, including painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, graphic artist Kathe Kollwitz, and expressionist art groups such as Die Bruck and Der Blaue Reiter. Marcel Breuer studied furniture making with Gropius and then led the carpentry workshop at the Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany. By 1927 Gropius had brought in Swiss architect Hannes Meyer to lead the architecture department.
Not only was Walter Gropius one of the pioneers of modern architecture, but he was also the founder of the Bauhaus, a revolutionary art school in Germany. The Bauhaus replaced traditional teaching methods with a flexible artistic community, focusing on a collaborative approach to learning and the creation of integrated design projects. Later, the Bauhaus also incorporated mass production techniques into its output, designing objects and buildings for a wide audience. The school taught some of the most famous names in modernism as well as attracted established artists working within the fields. Despite its relatively short-lived existence, the Bauhaus and the design styles associated with it were hugely influential on a global scale, but particularly so in the United States where many of the artists moved before and during the Second World War to escape persecution by the Nazis.
Funded by the German State, the Bauhaus School was always subject to political posturing. By 1925 the institution found more space and stability by relocating from Weimar to Dessau, the site of the iconic glass Bauhaus Building Gropius designed. By 1928, having directed the school since 1919, Gropius handed in his resignation. British architect Kenneth Frampton suggests his reason: “The relative maturity of the institution, the unremitting attacks on himself, and the growth of his practice all convinced him that it was time for a change.” When Gropius resigned from the Bauhaus School in 1928, Hannes Meyer was appointed Director. A few years later, architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became the director until the school’s closing in 1933- and the rise of Adolph Hitler.
Walter Gropius opposed the Nazi regime and left Germany secretly in 1934. After several years in England, the German educator began teaching architecture at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a Harvard professor, Gropius introduced Bauhaus concepts and design principles-teamwork, craftsmanship, standardization, and prefabrication to a generation of American architects. In 1938, Gropius designed his own house, now open to the public in nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts. Between 1938 to 1941. Gropius worked on several houses with Marcel Breuer, who had also immigrated to the United States. They formed the Architects Collaborative in 1945. Among their commissions were the Harvard Graduate Center, (1946), the U.S. Embassy in Athens, and the University of Baghdad. One of Gropius’ later projects, in collaboration with Pietro Belluschi, was the 1963 Pan Am Building (now the Metropolitan Life Building) in New York City, which was designed in an architectural style dubbed “International” by American architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005). Gropius died in Boston, Massachusetts on July 5, 1969. He is buried in Brandenburg, Germany.
“We cannot go on indefinitely reviving revivals…Neither medievalism nor colonialism can express the life of the 20th-century man. There is no finality in architecture – only continuous change.”
We at Scarano Architect, PLLC respect and admire the accomplishments of those whose hard work and dedication forged the path to the many fine architectural styles we use today. Please visit our website to see some of our award-winning projects. Feel free to contact us. We can help you with all of your building needs.