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Gropius, Georg Walter Adolf

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 Wright's work, and its plan resembled the Ptolemaïc temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt. Through van de Velde, Gropius was given the opportunity in 1915 to direct the Gross-herzoglich-Sächsische Kunstgewerbeschule (Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts) at Weimar, but was prevented by the war from taking this up. In 1918 Gropius joined in the euphoria following the collapse of the monarchial system, and, with Taut, was active in promoting Modernist and left-wing 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 (High School for Fine Arts), which he amalgamated under the new title of Das Staatliche Bauhaus Weimar (the Weimar State House of Building). 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 to one of industrial design.

When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Gropius designed the buildings (completed in 1926) that became a paradigm 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). In 1927 he designed buildings for the Werkbund Housing Exhibition at Stuttgart, the Weissenhofsiedlung. He resigned as Bauhaus Director in 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 (State Chamber of Culture) and designed a recreational and cultural centre (unrealized) for the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) Nazi movement (a project that invoked images of gigantic Party junketings worthy of a Nuremberg Rally), he failed to obtain major commissions.

In 1934 he settled in England where he lived in Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, designed by Wells Coates, was involved in the MARS group, and worked with Maxwell 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 lost 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. In 1937, however, Gropius accepted the offer of a post at Harvard in the Graduate School of Design, and in 1938 became 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, Mass. (1937), the first monument of International Modernism in New England, which was followed by several more private houses, culminating in the Frank House, near Pittsburg, 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 Graduate Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (1949–50). For the Hansaviertel (Hansa Quarter), 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);
Kentgens-Craig (1999);
Kentgens-Craig (1998);
Lane (1985);
O'Neal (ed.) (1966);
Probst & and Schädlich (1986–8);
Sharp (1993);
H. Weber (1961);
Wingler (1969)

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