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date: 16 August 2018

Gropius, Georg Walter Adolf

Source:
The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture
Author(s):

James Stevens Curl,

Susan Wilson

Gropius, Georg Walter Adolf (1883–1969) German-born naturalized American architect, 

best known for promoting International Modernism both as practitioner and educator. He worked with Behrens in Berlin (1907–10) before setting up his own practice. His earliest significant work (with A.Meyer) was the Fagus Factory, Alfeld-an-der-Leine (1911), a three-storeyed steel-framed structure with glass curtain-walls, one of the first buildings in which the beginnings of the International-Modern style were displayed. For the Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition, Cologne (1914—again with Meyer), he designed the administrative building with curved glazed towers enclosing the staircases (an influential motif throughout the 1920s and 1930s), but otherwise the building had a stripped Neo-Classical simplicity, certain aspects of it were reminiscent of F.L.L.Wright’s work, and its plan resembled the Ptolemaïc temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt. Through van de Velde, Gropius was given the opportunity (1915) to direct the Grossherzoglich-Sächsische Kunstgewerbeschule at Weimar, but was prevented by the war from taking this up. Gropius joined in the euphoria following the collapse of the monarchial system (1918), and, with Taut, was active in promoting Modernist ideas: he was involved in the Novembergruppe and Arbeitsrat für Kunst which combined efforts, out of which grew Die Gläserne Kette. Seeing the Weimar possibilities as a means by which he could promote Leftist ideology, he sought those who might be able to confirm the 1915 offer, and in 1919 became Director not only of the former Grand-Ducal Kunstgewerbeschule, but of the Hochschule für Bildende Kunst, which he amalgamated under the new title of Das Staatliche Bauhaus Weimar. Influenced by the De-Stijl movement and by his own belief in industrialization and mass-production, the Bauhaus moved inexorably away from a craft-oriented ethos.

When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Gropius designed the buildings (completed 1926), paradigms for the International-Modernist style. Even while at the Bauhaus, Gropius continued in practice with Meyer, designing the Sommerfeld House, Berlin-Dahlem (1921–2—made of teak from a scrapped warship); an Expressionist memorial at Weimar (1922); and the Jena State Theatre (1923). He designed buildings for the Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart (1927), resigned as Bauhaus Director (1928), and laid out the Siemensstadt Housing Estate, Berlin (1929–30), designing two of the apartment-blocks himself: with long strip-windows set in smooth rendered walls, they were widely imitated. As an active member of CIAM his proposals for high-rise housing in green areas were disseminated, and became part of Modernist orthodoxy. His own moderate left-wing views and the more overtly Communist political stance adopted by Hannes Meyer at the Bauhaus had repercussions, and even though he registered with the Nazi-created Reichskulturkammer and designed a recreational and cultural centre (unrealized) for the Kraft durch Freude Nazi movement (a project that invoked images of gigantic Party junketings worthy of a Nuremberg Rally), he failed to obtain major commissions.

He settled (1934) in England where he lived in Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, designed by Wells Coates, was involved in the MARS group, and worked with Fry, designing the film laboratories at Denham, Bucks. (1936), Wood House, Shipbourne, Kent (1937), 66 Old Church Street, Chelsea (1935–6), and Impington Village College, Cambs. (1936), the last his main contribution to architecture in England. He was also consultant (1934–5) to the Isokon Company, headed by Jack Pritchard (1899–1992), which had built the Hampstead flats to Coates’s designs. Gropius accepted (1937) the offer of a post in the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, USA, and became (1938) Chairman of the Department of Architecture there, at once expunging all Beaux-Arts traditions, an event followed at architectural schools throughout the USA. With Breuer he designed the Gropius House, Lincoln, MA (1938), the first monument of International Modernism in New England, which was followed by several more private houses, culminating in the Frank House, near Pittsburgh, PA (1939). With Wachsmann, Gropius evolved systems for constructing prefabricated houses (1943–5).

After the 1939–45 war Gropius went into partnership with several younger architects, forming The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC), which produced the Harvard Graduate Center, Cambridge, MA (1949–50). For the Hansaviertel, Berlin, Gropius designed an apartment-block (1957), and in the 1960s the new town of Britz-Buckow-Rudow, Berlin, was laid out to plans by him. He was probably the most influential architectural pedagogue of all time, but many aspects of his pronouncements and teachings were being questioned in the late C20 and early C21, as the environments created as a result of his influence have not proved to be either agreeable or functional.

Bibliography

Argan (1975); Berdini (1994); Fitch (1960); Franciscono (1971); Gropius (1913, 1945, 1952, 1962, 1965, 1968); Gropius & Harkness (eds) (1966); Herdeg (1985); F.Hesse (1964); Hüter (1976); Isaacs (1983–4); K-C (1999); K-C (ed.) (1998); Lane (1985); O’Neal (ed.) (1966); Probst & Schädlich (1986–8); Sharp (1993); H.Weber (1961); Wingler (1969)