New Design

Walter Gropius

German Architect

Walter Gropius Photo
Born: May 18, 1883
Berlin, Germany
Died: July 5, 1969
Massachusetts, USA
Main
We cannot go on indefinitely reviving revivals...Neither medievalism nor colonialism can express the life of the 20th-century man. There is no finality in architecture - only continuous change
Walter Gropius Signature

Summary of Walter Gropius

Not only was Walter Gropius one of the pioneers of modern architecture, he was the founder of the Bauhaus, a revolutionary art school in Germany. The Bauhaus replaced traditional teaching methods with a flexible artistic community, focusing on a collaborative approach to learning and the creation of integrated design projects. Later, the Bauhaus also incorporated mass production techniques into its output, designing objects and buildings for a wide audience. The school taught some of the most famous names in modernism as well as attracting established artists working within the fields. Despite its relatively short-lived existence, the Bauhaus and the design styles associated with it were hugely influential on a global scale, but particularly so in the United States where many of the artists moved before and during the Second World War to escape persecution by the Nazis.

Key Ideas

Biography of Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius Photo

Walter Gropius was born in Berlin to Walter Adolph Gropius, a government official and Manon Auguste Pauline Scharnweber, the daughter of the Prussian politician Georg Scharnweber. His parents were wealthy and well connected and Gropius spent his summers on the estates of landowning members of the family. Walter Gropius Senior had a keen interest in architecture and Gropius's uncle, Martin Gropius, was also an established architect, his biggest commission being the design for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin (1881), consequently Gropius's interest in architecture was encouraged from a young age.

Important Art by Walter Gropius

The Fagus Factory (1910)

The Fagus Factory (1910)

Gropius designed the façade of this factory in conjunction with Adolf Meyer in the period after they left the office of Peter Behrens. The floor to ceiling glass creates a sense of light and the large rectangular panes, punctuated by steel mullions and brickwork, wrap the factory in a continuous manner rarely seen in building design before. Of particular note are the corners, where the glass joins at right angles, giving the illusion of not needing support. This works to eliminate the distinction between interior and exterior, a reoccurring theme in modernist architecture. Every element of the building is simple, functional, and cubic in construction and this pre-empts the Art Deco aesthetic of the interwar period. The entrance and clock date from a 1913 expansion to the building, also designed by Gropius and Meyer.

The building was commissioned by Carl Benscheidt, the General Manager of Fagus, a company that specialized in the manufacture of shoe lasts, foot-shaped forms that were used in the production and repair of shoes. Benscheidt was keen for the building to demonstrate a clear break with the past and this provided Gropius and Meyer with a chance to experiment with new ideas and technologies. The influence of their experience at Behrens's office, where they worked on projects such as the AEG Turbine Factory, can be seen in the openness of the aesthetic and the expansive use of glass. Gropius was particularly intrigued by how good design could benefit society as a whole and in this design he saw the use of glass as advantageous for the factory workers, who would be exposed to more light and fresh air than they had been in the enclosed brick factories of the 19th century.

Sommerfeld House (1921)

Sommerfeld House (1921)

Commissioned by the Berlin-based timber entrepreneur Adolf Sommerfeld as his private residence, Sommerfeld House marked the first large-scale example of the Bauhaus method of collaborative design and the unity of art forms. Almost all of the workshops of the Bauhaus Weimar contributed to the design and making of the building and its interiors with the design overseen by Gropius and Adolf Meyer. The interior featured elaborate geometric carvings by Joost Schmidt, stained glass by Josef Albers, weavings by Dörte Helm, wall paintings by Hinnerk Scheper, and furniture designed by Marcel Breuer.

Sommerfeld House is perhaps not instantly recognizable as a work by the architectural avant-garde of the period. The use of wood as the main building material lends it a traditional, rustic look and this reflects the early expressionistic phase of the Bauhaus. The plank-based design also references the owner's occupation and the building utilized a patented system of pre-cut interlocking timbers developed by Sommerfeld's own construction company called the Blockbauweise Sommerfeld (Sommerfled block building method). Despite Gropius's forward-thinking designs, he saw wood as a key material, describing it as "the building material of the present...Wood has a wonderful capability for artistic shaping and is by nature so appropriate to the primitive beginning of our newly developing life". In addition to Sommerfeld House, Gropius and Meyer were tasked with designing four houses on the same plot for employees of the Sommerfeld company. The house was destroyed in World War Two.

Monument to the March Dead (1922)

Monument to the March Dead (1922)

This monument is the result of a competition launched by The Weimar Trades Unions to commemorate those who lost their lives opposing the Kapp Putsch in March 1920. This was an unsuccessful coup, led by the right-wing nationalist Wolfgang Kapp, which aimed to overthrow the Weimar government and establish a right-wing autocracy in its place. The competition committee chose Gropius's design from several submitted, and erected the monument in the Weimar central cemetery. Although Gropius maintained that the Bauhaus should not engage with politics, he agreed to participate in the competition and to involve the school's stone-carving workshop in the project. In doing so, Gropius revealed his increasingly Left leaning political sympathies. The memorial was destroyed by the Nazis due to its design and political overtones, but it was later rebuilt in the post-war period.

The design is abstract and fractured in its form and is considered part of Gropius's short Expressionist period. The lower sections form a circulatory, ascending path which visitors could follow to an enclosed area for quiet reflection. The lightning bolt rising from the main body of the monument suggests dynamism and the continued living spirit of those that died. The design bears similarities to Expressionist sculptures and architectural projects produced by Gropius's contemporaries at the Deutsche Werkbund. Its form is particularly reminiscent of the cathedral design by Lyonel Feininger which featured on the cover of the 1919 Bauhaus manifesto.

More Important Art
Scroll to view more

Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson

"Walter Gropius Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson
Available from:
First published on 20 Sep 2018. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]