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Walter Gropius

(1883—1969) German-born American architect

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German-born architect who lived in the USA for the last thirty-two years of his life. As director of the Bauhaus and, later, professor of architecture at Harvard, he exerted an enormous influence on the development of modern architecture. The Bauhaus building at Dessau was his main contribution to the corpus of influential twentieth-century buildings.

Born in Berlin, Gropius soon decided to follow his father into architecture. After attending technical high schools in Charlottenburg and Munich, he became an assistant to the prestigious Peter Behrens. In 1910 he set up his own practice, his first major commission being the Fagus shoe factory (1911) at Alfeld. This revolutionary industrial building, with its cubic outline and vast expanses of glass, aroused considerable interest. Gropius's last prewar building was the Machinery Hall at the 1914 Cologne Exhibition. War service as an airborne observer, rewarded with an Iron Cross, interrupted his architectural career. However, this was resumed after the war; in 1919 he was appointed to set up the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar. In 1925 this influential school moved into a remarkable building, designed by Gropius, in the town of Dessau. Here, with Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, and Paul Klee, he built up a distinguished team that deeply influenced all aspects of design in Europe and America.

This bud of German culture was nipped with characteristic stupidity by the Nazis. The Bauhaus was closed down in 1933 and the following year Gropius left for England. His three years of private practice in London did not prove particularly fruitful and in 1937 he accepted the chair of architecture at Harvard University. During this period he teamed up with a group of young architects, directing them in the design of a number of buildings, including the Harvard University Graduate Centre (1950) and the US Embassy in Athens (1961). Gropius was certainly one of the most influential architects of the century, chiefly because of his understanding of the role of the architect in modern society and the use he made of modern materials of construction.

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