Walter Gropius (1883-1969)

German-American architect and educator, Walter Gropius had a major influence on the development of Modern architecture. Most notably, he founded the Bauhaus.

Portrait of Walter Gropius (1919) in black and white with his head resting on this hand.
Portrait of Walter Gropius (1919)

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Gropius’s Life

Walter Gropius was born on 18 May 1883, in Berlin. As the son of an architect father, his studies on the subject brought out a natural talent, completing his first building even before getting a degree. Then, in 1910, he started his architecture firm and spent his early days designing factories and office buildings. During this time, he took a Modernist approach to his work. Unfortunately, Gropius’s firm had to suspend his activities during World War I. However, even before the war was over, he started to conceive his most ambitious project, that would later lead him to international recognition: the founding of the Bauhaus School.

Beginning of the Bauhaus School

Gropius was approached by the city of Weimar, to be appointed as the director of many institutes (the Grand Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts, the Grand Ducal Saxon Academy of Arts, and the Grand Ducal Saxon School of Arts), which were ultimately conjoined as the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar (Public Bauhaus Weimar). In 1934, Gropius left Germany, and after short visits to Italy and Britain, he finally settled in the United States. There he made his own house, following the same design principles used in the Bauhaus School. Then, he moved to Cambridge, serving from 1967 to 1968 as an academician at the National Academy of Design. He died July 5, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Bauhaus Shed Roof (designed by walter gropius) in Berlin: A large white structure with five distinct pillars.
Bauhaus Shed Roof (designed by walter gropius) in Berlin

Image source: by cdschock

His Work

Gropius’ contributions to modern architecture date as far back as the early days of his career. Among his first buildings, are the Gropius’ Fagus Factory (1911-1913, Lower Saxony, Germany), which is a shoe manufacturing plant, considered an essential bit of early modern architecture; the Sommerfeld House (1920), which is largely made of “materials taken from a scrapped ship”; the Staatliches Bauhaus (1925-1932, Dessau), which is commonly known simply as Bauhaus and considered his most notable piece; the Bauhaus Archive Museum of Design (Berlin); the Siemensstadt Housing Estate (Berlin) and the Masters’ Houses (1925, Dessau).

Fagus Factory, Gropius, 1911-1913, in Lower Saxony, Germany: A very pixilated photo of the three-story structure with lots of windows.
Fagus Factory (1911-1913) by Gropius in Lower Saxony, Germany

Image source: by dolma

After Gropius left Germany, his works started touching new horizons. This included the Gropius House (1937, Lincoln), the Alan I W Frank House (1939-1940, Pittsburgh), the Aluminum City Terrace (1941, New Kensington), the U. S. Embassy (1959-1961, Athens), the Pan Am Building (1960-1963, New York), and the Porto Carras Grand Resort.

Walter Gropius' House: A simple white house with a metal, swirly staircase along the outside.
Walter Gropius’ House

Image source: by Nabeel H

Pan Am Building (now MetLife Building), Gropius, 1960-1963, New York.
Pan Am Building (1960-1963) by Gropius in New York

Image source: by roger4336

In 1923, Gropius designed his famous door handle, seen today as an icon of 20th-century design. Often, it is cited as one of the most influential items of applied art produced by Bauhaus. Further, it was first used in his 1925 design for the Bauhaus building in Dessau, and became the blueprint for all its successors, eschewing elaborate, baroque designs in favor of a sleek, purely functional – yet elegant and balanced – aesthetic.

Door Handle (1923) by Gropius.
Door Handle (1923) by Gropius

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His Style

Bauhaus-Dessau. Corner of the workshop wing.
Bauhaus in Dessau – Corner of the workshop wing

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As the director and founder of Bauhaus, Walter Gropius was behind numerous innovative designs, often involving materials and methods of construction directly chosen from the most modern and technologically available of his time. Gropius theorized, as published in a 1913 essay, that all design should be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Using technology, he transformed architecture into a science of precise mathematical calculations. He believed in creating industrialized and efficient buildings, and often his very own displayed the marks of standardization, mass production, and prefabrication. Gropius also introduced a screen wall system, utilizing a structural steel frame to support the floors and allowing the external glass walls to cover a surface, without interruptions.

Bauhaus school, which is a large three floored building with metal bars over the windows.
Bauhaus building

Source: por MCAD Library

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