Walter Gropius was an architect born in Germany in the early twentieth century who contributed to the founding of the Bauhaus School. He lived in the United States after 1937 and taught at Harvard University, where he continued to defend the principles of Bauhaus, especially the use of functional materials and clean geometric designs.
He combined the roles of an architect and an educator throughout his life. At a time when architecture was at its lowest level, he began his career. The rise of industrialisation in the 19th century and the new pattern of life led to a steady decline in the arts.
In Europe, the revolt against decadence began. In the early years of the 20th century, the new architectural philosophy, now referred to as the modernist movement, flourished. It was mainly in Germany, however, that structures were built that influenced the development of architecture. The new architecture was supported by the architects responsible for these buildings, houses, schools and factories.
In 1911, the architect Walter Gropius built the Fagus factory in Leine. This building used techniques and materials developed by an industrial society but never used in construction. Its walls were glass, the windows not just opened in the wall anymore, but expanded to become the wall itself. The interior was independently supported, and the exterior glass walls were only light-transparent screens.
A few months before the outbreak of World War 1, Gropius conceived a model factory for a Cologne exhibition. Again, the building evolved into a virtually suspended glass-walled box in the air. These two structures underscored the development of architecture throughout much of the 20th century.
After serving in World War 1, Gropius took over the Bauhaus, a technical training experiment for the technological age. In 1925, this institution moved from Weimar to Dessau, where it was housed in a new building designed by Gropius.
Any previous architectural, monumental suggestions were not included in this new design. The buildings consisted of classrooms, workshops and living rooms, giving the first indication of what later became Gropius style for his followers around the world. The Bauhaus group comprised of many different activities, each clearly articulated in its activities, but all composed of a balanced, exciting entity.
During this period, Gropius experimented with the design of residential homes. In the houses he built for himself and others, he became interested in new building techniques, new spatial patterns, his preference for clear, positive but non – aggressive forms.
Without the rise of the Nazi era, the history of architectural development would be dramatically different. Like all dictators, Hitler was fascinated by architecture both as a personal hobby and a means of perpetuating himself. The new architecture was anathema to the new rulers of Germany because of its international horizons, its democratic spirit and its human scale.
In 1933, the Bauhaus was closed. In later years, traditional roofs were built by official decree on the top of the buildings. In the years that followed, when a formal Nazi style of architecture was enforced, Europe’s leading architects continued to emigrate to England and the United States.
Fascist Germany derided the new architecture as “Communistic”. Ironically the very same architecture was unacceptable in the Soviet Union where it was labelled as “Fascist.”
In England, where Gropius lived for several years, he rediscovered his personal and professional freedom. However, even then England still denied him the opportunities for construction and lost him to the United States in 1937. The development of architecture was spectacular in the United States after the second world war. The arrival of men like Gropius, Van der Rohe, Mendelssohn and Chermeyeff in America was the beginning of an architectural revival in that country.
From 1938 to 1952, Walter Gropius headed the Harvard Graduate School of Design and made the school the world’s leading workshop on architecture. Gropius should be considered the most important of the early leaders. Not only an architect but as a teacher, he was able to instruct and inspire others. His students have not developed as pale copies of him, but as creative individuals in their own right.
Harry Siedler as a young Austrian architect was a graduate of Harvard. Siedlers Australian homes have beauty, excitement and serenity of Gropius architecture. Gropius had long campaigned for the return of architectural collaboration. He sees the architect as a consultant divorced from the frenetic construction activity but as a member of a team.
The history of Walter Gropius is the history of modern architecture. In pre-war Germany he, as an individual architect, presented to the world the first modern buildings. Between the wars, he sought asylum and educated a new generation of architects.