CELEBRATING A MASTER[MIND]: WALTER GROPIUS passed 50 years ago, today—and we raise a toast

Walter Gropius standing in front of the rendering of his and Adolf Meyer’s entry in the 1922    Chicago Tribune tower design competition   —an event which brought forth hundreds of submissions from architects all over the world. The design which Gropius and Meyer offered was formally aligned with what later came to be known as the International Style. Photo courtesy of The Charnel-House. Their in-depth article on the competition—and Gropius’ and Meyer’s entry in particular—can be found    here   .

Walter Gropius standing in front of the rendering of his and Adolf Meyer’s entry in the 1922 Chicago Tribune tower design competition—an event which brought forth hundreds of submissions from architects all over the world. The design which Gropius and Meyer offered was formally aligned with what later came to be known as the International Style. Photo courtesy of The Charnel-House. Their in-depth article on the competition—and Gropius’ and Meyer’s entry in particular—can be found here.

HIS INFLUENCE IS EVERYWHERE…

It’s no exaggeration: every day, in every building, over the entire planet, when architects and designers put pen-to-paper (or mouse-to-pad), his effect is felt and seen. Walter Gropius (1883-1969)—whether you like the results-or-not (and they are controversial)—did change the world. A particular approach to design problem-solving and form—one which Aaron Betsky concisely calls “analytic reduction”—has shaped everything: from titanic buildings to teapots, from side-chairs to the “Simple Living” movement, from city plans to chess sets. Many of the alphabets you read and write with today wouldn’t exist without it—and neither, possibly, would Ikea or Pottery Barn (at least in their present forms). Even designers who reject that whole approach are still reacting to what was wrought by Gropius and his associates.

Gropius would probably identify himself as an architect—and he is credited (often with partners) for some intriguing and significant designs.

The Monument to the March Dead (Denkmal für die Märzgefallenen), in Weimar, Germany, designed by Walter Gropius. Conceived and constructed at the beginning of the 1920’s, it is an example of Gropius’ early Expressionist phase—a mode he’d abandon as a more austere style, associated with later years of the Bauhaus, emerged.

The Monument to the March Dead (Denkmal für die Märzgefallenen), in Weimar, Germany, designed by Walter Gropius. Conceived and constructed at the beginning of the 1920’s, it is an example of Gropius’ early Expressionist phase—a mode he’d abandon as a more austere style, associated with later years of the Bauhaus, emerged.

But when we say “mastermind”, we’re mainly speaking of Gropius’ work shaping and leading the Bauhaus—the design school which he led from 1919 -to- 1928—and whose 100th birthday is being celebrated this year.

The Bauhaus in Dessau Germany: the second home of the school which Gropius led. The building complex was also his most famous work of architecture (though it is possible that Gropius worked on the project with others—as he was manifestly devoted to collaboration and had a history of design partners.) Photo: Detlef Mewes

The Bauhaus in Dessau Germany: the second home of the school which Gropius led. The building complex was also his most famous work of architecture (though it is possible that Gropius worked on the project with others—as he was manifestly devoted to collaboration and had a history of design partners.) Photo: Detlef Mewes

The strange thing about the Bauhaus is that while we readily recognize a “Bauhaus style”—or think we do—the school’s faculty was composed of the widest range of teachers: a diverse group who came (and went!) over the school’s 14 year history. Their names are a Who’s Who of Modern design, and each of the teachers was a strong, distinctive personality, with their own aesthetics, philosophies, and approaches to teaching. So perhaps Gropius’ greatest contribution was gathering and managing this disparate and talented set—and keeping the school going during that tumultuous era between the World Wars. Asked about the great—and sometimes conflicting—diversity of the faculty, Gropius quaintly explained:

“There are many branches on the Bauhaus tree, and on them sit many different kinds of birds.”

THE GROPIUS - RUDOLPH CONNECTION

Paul Rudolph first studied architecture at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University), and then went for his Masters at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—where Walter Gropius was in-charge of the architecture program. There, Rudolph became one of Gropius’ favored students. Although Rudolph’s initial work, after Harvard, could be characterized as well within the Bauhausian tradition, his later architecture looks to many like a decisive repudiation of Gropius. Yet Rudolph never belittled his old teacher, and would later say that studying with Gropius had given “a good basis” for architectural work.

After Rudolph’s U.S. Navy service in World War II (and after he had graduated from Harvard), Rudolph was in the US Navy Reserve. He achieved the rank of lieutenant, and in 1951 was ordered to report for duty. This was an especially prolific and fruitful moment in the Florida phase of Rudolph’s career, with numerous projects commencing or under-construction—and Rudolph asked for a deferment. Reaching out to his former professor, Rudolph obtained this letter-of-support from Walter Gropius:

Written in 1951, on the letterhead of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Gropius gives his reasons for supporting Paul Rudolph’s request for a deferment from Naval service. From the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Written in 1951, on the letterhead of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Gropius gives his reasons for supporting Paul Rudolph’s request for a deferment from Naval service. From the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

A TOAST!

We’ve learned that there’s a new way to celebrate Walter Gropius: Gropius House Cider (complete with Bauhaus-inspired graphics). As it is described—

Proceeds from the cider will benefit Historic New England’s efforts to restore the apple orchard that originally surrounded the house. Help us plant new trees with root stock identical to the original Baldwin apple trees . . . Gropius House Cider celebrates simple ingredients — Vermont cider, aged in gin barrels, sweetened with just a touch of honey — and a refined result. This crisp and refreshing cider draws its inspiration from the teachings of Bauhaus, and from the intimate dinner parties and gatherings the Gropiuses often hosted at their Lincoln home.

So, on this half-century anniversary of his passing, join us in a toast to Meister Gropius—influential teacher, and ultimately a world-maker—perhaps with a glass of this namesake cider.

The new Gropius House Cider, sales of which will help restore the orchard at Gropius’ own home in Lincoln, MA. Photograph by    Tony Luong   , from the    Historic New England    page   devoted to Gropius House Cider.

The new Gropius House Cider, sales of which will help restore the orchard at Gropius’ own home in Lincoln, MA. Photograph by Tony Luong, from the Historic New England page devoted to Gropius House Cider.