It was on industrial buildings that Gropius, born in Berlin, founded his reputation. In more than five decades of his creative career he went on to extend his field of operations considerably, and devoted himself to social housing as much as to high-rise designs. Above all, his name is linked with the Bauhaus at Dessau.
Beginnings are often difficult, and this was certainly true of Walter Gropius: “I am not capable of drawing a straight line,” he wrote to his mother when he was a student. But his lack of talent as a draughtsman could not hold him back for long: after completing his studies and after only a few years working woth Peter Behrens, Gropius, still aged only 20, received his first major commision: to build a factory. From 1911 he worked on this project, the Fagus factory, woth Adolf Meyer in the small town of Alfeld an der Leine in Lower Saxony.
The modern materials of glass and metal determined the image of the building, which is reduced to a compact and at the same time transparent cube: only in places are the glass surfaces broken up by areas of wall. In the corners, the two architects rejected the addition of supports, increasing the light and fragile impression created by the building, which also does without pediments. The only decoration of the flat-roofed building are the vertical and horizontal lines with which the facade is uniformly covered.
Not a Matter of Luxury
With this factory building, Gropius had created a masterpiece. He continued to work in the same plain and unpretentious style, his cubical structures determined by clear, white surfaces and severely symmetrical rows of windows. For Gropius, a priority was “that artistic design should not be a matter of luxury, but must be the business of life itself.” Thus many of his designs even for social housing seem severe. Economically priced building meant for Gropius the use of standardized and prefabricated components, put together on the principle of the construction kit. That such mass production did not: necessarily meet the taste of the masses was shown by the criticism of his residential high-rise houses and workers’ settlements, including Gropius City, designed by him in Berlin.
Looking to the Future
It is above all the Bauhaus with which his name is linked. Walter Gropius was a co-founder and first director of the school of arts and crafts in Weimar, which opened its doors in 1919. Artists, craftworke’rs and later also architects worked hand in hand there. When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Gropius planned the new school building, or rather “the new building of the future.” In 1925-1926, three L-shaped wings took shape, linked to each other. The right one accommodated the workshop; on the mainly glazed facade of the four-story building is displayed in large lettering the Bauhaus logo. Wide window areas also characterize the connecting area.
The students’ block, however, corresponding to the individuality within, is designed with balconies and single windows. After the completion of the students’ block, Gropius tackled the living quarters of the Bauhaus teachers, and a whole settlement took shape. Under the Nazi regime, the Bauhaus was violently criticized and finally closed down. In 1937 its creator emigrated to England and in 1937 moved on to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught architecture at Harvard University.
Major works of Walter Gropius
– 1910–1911 the Fagus Factory, Alfeld an der Leine, Germany
– 1914 Office and Factory Buildings at the Werkbund Exhibition, 1914, Cologne, Germany
– 1921 Sommerfeld House, Berlin, Germany designed for Adolf Sommerfeld
– 1922 competition entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower competition
– 1925–1932 Bauhaus School and Faculty, Housin, Dessau, Germany
– 1936 Village College, Impington, Cambridge, England
– 1937 The Gropius House, Lincoln, Massachusetts, USA
– 1942–1944 Aluminum City Terrace housing project, New Kensington, Pennsylvania, USA
– 1949–1950 Harvard Graduate Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA (The Architects’ Collaborative)
– 1945–1959 Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, USA – Master planned 37-acre (150,000 m2) site and led the design for at least 8 of the approx. 28 buildings.
– 1957–1960 University of Baghdad, Baghdad, Iraq
– 1963–1966 John F. Kennedy Federal Office Building, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
– 1948 Peter Thacher Junior High School,
– 1957-1959 Dr. and Mrs. Carl Murchison House, Provincetown, Massachusetts, USA (The Architects’ Collaborative)
– 1958–1963 Pan Am Building (now the Metlife Building), New York, with Pietro Belluschi and project architects Emery Roth & Sons
– 1957 Interbau Apartment blocks, Hansaviertel, Berlin, Germany, with The Architects’ Collaborative and Wils Ebert
– 1960 Temple Oheb Shalom (Baltimore, Maryland)
– 1960 the Gropiusstadt building complex, Berlin, Germany
– 1961 The award-winning Wayland High School, Wayland, Massachusetts, USA
– 1959–1961 Embassy of the United States, Athens, Greece (The Architects’ Collaborative and consulting architect Pericles A. Sakellarios)
– 1968 Glass Cathedral, Thomas Glassworks, Amberg
– 1967– 69 Tower East Shaker Heights, Ohio, this was Gropius’ last major project.
The building in Niederkirchnerstraße, Berlin, known as the Gropius-Haus is named for Gropius’ great-uncle, Martin Gropius, and is not associated with Bauhaus.