Walter Gropius – Architect of modernism


Walter Gropius was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. He is considered the founder of the Bauhaus movement, which combined art, craft and technology and created a new aesthetic for industrial society. Gropius was not only a visionary designer, but also a dedicated teacher who inspired generations of architects and designers.

Gropius was born in Berlin on May 18, 1883. His father was a renowned architect who instilled in him an interest in building. After graduating from high school, Gropius initially studied architecture in Munich, but soon moved to Berlin. There he met Peter Behrens, among others, who hired him as an employee in his office. Gropius worked with Behrens together with other later famous architects such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.

Gropius soon made a name for himself as a talented and innovative architect. Among other things, he designed the Fagus factory in Alfeld an der Leine, which is considered one of the first examples of the functional and expressionist style. He experimented with new materials such as steel, glass and concrete, and emphasized clear forms, open floor plans and plenty of light. He was also involved in the planning of large housing estates such as Siemensstadt in Berlin, which were intended to meet the social demands of workers.

The First World War interrupted Gropius’ career as an architect. After the war, he returned to Berlin and took over as director of the Grand Ducal Saxon College of Fine Arts in Weimar. He decided to combine it with the neighboring School of Applied Arts, thus founding the Bauhaus in 1919.

The Bauhaus was a revolutionary school of art, architecture and design that made a radical break with traditional academic norms. Gropius wanted to create a new unity of art and life that met the needs of modern society. He formulated the program of the Bauhaus in his famous manifesto: “The ultimate goal of all artistic activity is the building! … Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to the craft! … The artist is an enhancement of the craftsman.”

Gropius recruited some of the most important artists of his time to teach at the Bauhaus, including Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and László Moholy-Nagy. He organized the training into two phases: a preliminary course, in which students learned the basics of form, color, and materials, and a workshop phase, in which they specialized in a particular discipline such as carpentry, weaving, or metalworking. It encouraged collaboration between the different workshops and the development of prototypes for industrial production.

However, the Bauhaus was not only a school, but also a cultural movement that organized numerous exhibitions, publications and events. It developed its own style, characterized by geometric abstraction, typography and photomontage. It designed furniture, lamps, tableware and other utilitarian objects that are still considered icons of modern design.

However, the Bauhaus also faced opposition from conservative and nationalist forces who viewed it as un-German and Bolshevik. In 1925, it was forced to leave Weimar and moved to Dessau, where Gropius designed a new building for the school. This is considered one of his masterpieces and shows his idea of an organic connection between architecture and function.

In 1928, Gropius left the Bauhaus for personal and professional reasons. He returned to his own architectural practice and designed, among other things, the main building of the University of Baghdad in Iraq. He was also politically involved in peace and international cooperation between architects. He was one of the founders of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), an organization that advocated rational and social architecture.

In 1934, Gropius had to leave Germany after the National Socialists came to power. He emigrated first to England and then to America. There he taught at Harvard University and influenced a whole generation of American architects such as Philip Johnson and Ieoh Ming Pei. He also founded, together with Marcel Breuer, the architectural firm The Architects Collaborative (TAC), which realized numerous projects in the U.S. and around the world.

Gropius died in Boston on July 5, 1969, at the age of 86. He left behind an extensive body of work that includes more than 500 buildings. He is considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture, which is characterized by functionality, rationality and simplicity. He also coined the term “Gesamtkunstwerk”, which refers to a synthesis of all forms of artistic expression.

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