*Gropius, Walter

Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius



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Walter Gropius


Born in Berlin, Walter Gropius was the third son of Walter Adolph Gropius and Manon Auguste Pauline Scharnweber. Gropius married Alma Mahler (1879-1964), then widow of Gustav Mahler. Walter and Alma’s daughter, named Manon after Walter’s mother, was born in 1916. When Manon died of polio at age eighteen, composer Alban Berg wrote his Violin Concerto in memory of her (it is inscribed “to the memory of an angel”). Gropius and Alma divorced in 1920. (Alma had by that time established a relationship with Franz Werfel, whom she later married.) In 1923 Gropius married Ise Frank (d. 1983), and they remained together until his death. They adopted Beate Gropius, also known as Ati. Gropius, like his father and great-uncle Martin Gropius before him, was an architect. But all sources agree that Walter Gropius could not draw, and was dependent on collaborators and partner-interpreters all through his career. In school he hired an assistant to complete his homework for him. In 1908 Gropius found employment with the firm of Peter Behrens, one of the first members of the utilitarian school. His fellow employees at this time included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Dietrich Marcks. In 1910 Gropius left the firm of Behrens and together with fellow employee Adolf Meyer established a practice in Berlin. Together they share credit for one of the seminal modernist buildings created during this period, the Faguswerk, Alfeld-an-der-Leine, Germany, a shoe lace factory. The glass curtain walls of this building demonstrated both the modernist principle that form reflect function and Gropius’s concern with providing healthful conditions for the working class. Other works of this early period include the office and factory building for the Werkbund Exhibition (1914) in Cologne. Gropius’s career was interrupted by the outbreak of the first world war in 1914.

Called up immediately as a reservist, Gropius served as a sergeant major at the Western front during the war years, was wounded and almost killed.[1] Ironically the war provided an opportunity which would advance his career during the post war period. Henry van de Velde, the master of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar was asked to step down in 1915 due to his Belgian nationality. His recommendation of Gropius to succeed him led eventually to Gropius’s appointment as master of the school in 1919. It was this academy which Gropius transformed into the world famous Bauhaus, attracting a faculty which included Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, Herbet Bayer, László Moholy-Nagy, and Wassily Kandinsky. Students were taught to use modern and innovative materials and mass-produced fittings, often originally intended for industrial settings, to create original furniture and buildings. Also in 1919, Gropius was involved in the Glass Chain utopian expressionist correspondence under the pseudonym ‘Mass’. Usually more notable for his functionalist approach, the “Monument to the March Dead”, designed in 1919 and executed in 1920, indicates that expressionism was an influence on him at that time.

In 1923, Gropius aided by Gareth Steele, designed his famous door handles, now considered an icon of 20th century design and often listed as one of the most influential designs to emerge from the Bauhaus. He also designed large scale housing projects in Berlin, Karlsruhe and Dessau from 1926-32 that were major contributions to the New Objectivity movement. With the help of the English architect Maxwell Fry, Gropius was able to get out of Germany in 1934, on the pretext of making a temporary visit to Britain. He lived and worked in Britain, as part of the Isokon group with Fry and others and then, in 1937, moved on to the United States. The house he built for himself in Lincoln, Massachusetts, was influential in bringing International Modernism to the US but Gropius disliked the term: “I made it a point to absorb into my own conception those features of the New England architectural tradition that I found still alive and adequate” (see [1]). Gropius and his Bauhaus protégé Marcel Breuer both moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and collaborate on the company-town Aluminum City Terrace project in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, before their professional split. In 1944, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1945, Gropius founded The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC) based in Cambridge with a group of younger architects. The original partners included Norman C. Fletcher, Jean B. Fletcher, John C. Harkness, Sarah P. Harkness, Robert S. MacMillan, Louis A. MacMillen, and Benjamin C. Thompson. TAC would become one of the most well-known and respected architectural firms in the world. TAC went bankrupt in 1995. Gropius died in 1969 in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 86. Today, he is remembered not only by his various buildings but also by the district of Gropiusstadt in Berlin. In the early 1990s, a series of books entitled The Walter Gropius Archive was published covering his entire architectural career.

Important buildings

Monument to the March Dead (1920) in Weimar, Germany.

A late work of Gropius:The Embassy of the United States in Athens



  1. ^ Interview with Walter Gropius. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved on 2006-08-02.

Further reading

  • The New Architecture and the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, 1955.
  • The Scope of Total Architecture, Walter Gropius, 1956.
  • From Bauhaus to Our House, Tom Wolfe, 1981

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Walter Gropius

The German-American architect, educator, and designer Walter Gropius (1883-1969) was director of the famed Bauhaus in Germany from 1919 to 1928 and served as the chair of architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design from 1938 to 1952.

Walter Gropius was born in Berlin on May 18, 1883. Although he studied architecture in Berlin and Munich (1903-1907), he received no degree. He then went to work in Berlin for Peter Behrens, one of several German architects who was influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement and who attempted to go further by adapting good design to machine production.

In 1910 Gropius set up practice with Adolf Meyer. They designed the Fagus Works in Alfeld an der Leine (1911) and the office building at the Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne (1914), using a combination of masonry and steel construction, from which, in some areas, the external glass sheathing was hung. The plan of the Cologne building was axially designed in the Beaux-Arts tradition, but the major influence was predominantly that of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose “prairie houses” were widely known in Europe through the 1910 and 1911 publications of Ernst Wasmuth in Berlin. Gropius and Meyer were influenced by Wright’s style especially in the horizontality and the wide overhanging eaves, but also in the symmetry, the corner pavilions, and the whole spirit of Wright’s concept. World War I interrupted their architectural practice, and thereafter they designed only one project prior to Meyer’s death in 1924: the unsuccessful entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922.

The Bauhaus

During the war Gropius was invited to become the director of the Grand Ducal Saxon School of Applied Arts and the Saxon Academy of Fine Arts in Weimar, and he took up his duties at war’s end. He combined the two schools into the Staatliches Bauhaus (State Building House) in 1919. The aim of the Bauhaus was a “unity of art and technology” to give artistic direction to industry, which was as lacking in 1919 as in the mid-19th century, when the Arts and Crafts movement began. The greatness of Gropius as an educator was that he did not put forward any dogmatic policies, but rather he acted as a balance between the rational, representative, and physical on the one hand and the spiritual, esthetic, and humanitarian on the other. An artistic community of prima donnas is difficult to coordinate, but Gropius acted as choreographer and exacted the best from his faculty, from the mysticism of Johannes Itten to the Marxist socialism of Hannes Meyer.

When right-wing criticism forced the Bauhaus to leave Weimar in 1925, Gropius designed the structure for the new Bauhaus in Dessau, one of his finest works, which embodied a new concept of architectural space. When criticism mounted there against him as director in 1928, he resigned rather than allow the criticism to spread from him as leader to the whole institution. (Nazism and the Bauhaus stood for diametrically opposing viewpoints, and in 1933 under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe the school, which had moved to Berlin, was forced to close.)

Gropius practiced in Berlin from 1928 to 1934, experimenting with prefabricated housing in his Toerten housing development in Dessau (1926) and dwellings at the Werkbund Exhibition (1927). He went to England in 1934, where he worked with E. Maxwell Fry until 1937, designing mainly individual houses, but also Impington College, Cambridgeshire. This structure partially influenced the post-World War II school design program in Britain.

Works in America

When Gropius went to the United States in 1937, he collaborated with Marcel Breuer, a former pupil, on individual and group housing, including a house for himself at Lincoln, Mass. (1937). Gropius held the chair of architecture at Harvard from 1938 to 1952, a period of his life from the age of 55 to 69, when most architects would have been designing their major works. This was due to his intense commitment to the educational process. “I have been ‘nobody’s baby’ during just those years of middle life which normally bring a man to the apex of his career,” Gropius admitted, when he received the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal in 1959.

Gropius had, however, established The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC), a group-oriented practice, in 1946, and he retired from Harvard in 1952 to devote his full attention to the practice of architecture. TAC and Gropius designed the Harvard University Graduate Center (1949-1950); executed a project for the Boston Back Bay Center (1953), which was not carried out; and designed the U.S. Embassy in Athens (1960) and Baghdad University in Iraq (begun 1962 but incomplete as of 1971).

Gropius also designed locomotives and railroad sleeping cars (1913-1914), the Adler automobile (1930), and a host of everyday products. He believed in “the common citizenship of all creative work.”

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