Walter Gropius (1883-1969)

German-American architect and educator, Walter Gropius had a major influence on the development of Modern architecture, most notably being the founder and director of Bauhaus.

Portrait of Walter Gropius, 1919

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The beginning of the Bauhaus

Walter Gropius was born on 18 May 1883, in Berlin; son of an architect father, his studies on the subject brought out a natural talent, completing his first building even before getting a degree. In 1910, he started his architecture firm,  spending his early days designing factories and office buildings, taking a Modernist approach from the beginning. Gropius’s firm had to suspend his activities during World War I; however, even before the war was over, he’d started to conceive his, as of yet, most ambitious project, that would later lead him to international recognition: the founding 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.

Photographic portrait of Walter Gropius

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Body of work

Gropius’ contributions to modern architecture date as far back as the early days of his career, in his then recently established architecture firm: among his first buildings, we can list the Gropius’ Fagus Factory (1911-1913, Lower Saxony, Germany), a shoe manufacturing plant, considered an essential bit of early modern architecture; the Sommerfeld House (1920) made largely out of “materials taken from a scrapped ship”; the Staatliches Bauhaus (1925-1932, Dessau), 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), composed by three semidetached houses for the Bauhaus masters, and a detached house for its director.

Fagus Factory, Gropius, 1911-1913, Lower Saxony, Germany

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After the shutdown of the school and Gropius leaving Germany, his works started touching new horizons: the Gropius House (1937, Lincoln), his own home; 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), which became the MetLife Building after the airline ceased to be, and the Porto Carras Grand Resort, one of the largest vacation spots in northern Greece.

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

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

Door Handle, Gropius, 1923

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How can we identify Gropius’ style?

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 as a trampoline, 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.

Staatliches Bauhaus, Gropius, 1925-1932, Dessau

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Walter Gropius : The Bauhaus style

Walter Gropius

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