Walter Gropius (1883-1969)

Das Profil: Walter Gropius aka Walter Gropius in profile (1965)

Walter Gropius was one of the most important architects and educators of the 20th century. The son of a successful architect, Gropius received his professional training in Munich. After a year of travel through Spain and Italy, he joined the office of Peter Behrens, the most important European architect of the day, in Berlin. In 1910, Gropius left Behrens to work in partnership with Adolf Meyer until 1924-25. This period was the most fruitful of Gropius's long career; he designed most of his significant buildings during this time. The Fagus factory in Alfeld-an-der-Leine (1911) immediately established his reputation as an important architect. Notable for its extensive glass exterior and narrow piers, the facade of the main wing is the forerunner of the modern metal and glass curtain wall. The omission of solid elements at the corners of the structure heightens the impression of the building as a glass-enclosed, transparent volume.

In his next major work, the Administration Building for the Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne (1914), Gropius carried the idea further by glazing the entire facade including the corner stairwells. His entry in the Chicago Tribune competition of 1922 was an application of these principles to skyscraper design. In contrast to the winning Gothic design by Raymond Hood, Gropius's solution was free of all eclectic or historical detail. Using the rectangular Chicago window employed by architects like Louis Sullivan, Gropius offered a significant European solution to the design problem posed by America's most innovative structure, the skyscraper.

Gropius's educational philosophy encompassed the designing of all functional objects. His goal was to raise the level of product design by combining art and industry. Although these principles were inherited from English reformers like William Morris, Gropius was able to implement them when he reorganized the Arts and Crafts School in Weimar, which became the world-famous Bauhaus. The unique educational program of the school sought a balance between practical training in the crafts and theoretical training in design. The integration of the arts was stressed, as is evidenced by the faculty who were attracted there--Josef Albers, Marc Chagall, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

In 1925 the Bauhaus was forced to move to Dessau, where a landmark of modern architecture was constructed: the Bauhaus in Dessau (1925-26). Asymmetrical in its overall composition, the Bauhaus consists of several connected buildings, each containing an important part of the school (including administration, classrooms, and studio space). The workshop wing, a 4-story glazed box, is the most striking part of the complex.

With Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Gropius fled to England, where he practiced briefly with Edwin Maxwell Fry. In 1937, Gropius was appointed to teach at Harvard. In 1946 he formed a group called the Architects Collaborative, which executed many important commissions, including the Harvard Graduate Center (1949), the U.S. Embassy in Athens (1960), and the University of Baghdad (1961). He was widely respected as a teacher and designed a number of American buildings, including the Harvard University Graduate Center (1950). He designed the Pan Am Building (1963) in New York City in collaboration with the Italian-American architect Peitro Belluschi. Gropius espoused collaborative effort in the design process and founded a firm that he worked with until his death in Boston on July 5, 1969.