The Architecture and Design of Walter Gropius

He was born in Berlin Germany on 18th May 1883 as the third child of Walter Adolph Gropius and Manan Auguste Pauline Scharn Weber. He studied in Technical Universities in Munich and Berlin. He started his career in 1908 as an architect with Peter Behrens who was a German Architect and designer. Noted architects Ludwig Mies and Le Corbusier were his colleagues there. Gropius continued there for two years and left Behrens in 1910and started private practice at Berlin together with Adolf Meyer.

From here Gropius began to grow as a pioneer Architect and designer. In 1914 when the 2nd World War started Gropius was called to serve as a reservist as Sergeant Major and in the war front he was severely injured and reached near dying. But he came back to life. In 1919 Gropius was appointed as the Master in Grand Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimer which he transformed into the famous ‘Bauhaus’ School. At Bauhaus he introduced new and innovative method of teaching. For about 15 years Gropius continued with Bauhaus.

Many innovative structures and designs started to come out from Gropius in this period. He designed the housing projects Karl Sruhe in Berlin and Dessau. In 1934 Gropius left Germany for England and worked there for three years and went to USA. The house he built at Lincoln Massachussetts for him which said to be a prelude to the growth of international modernism in USA. Gropius subsequently joined Harvard Graduate School of design as a faculty in 1938 and continued there till 1952 (Walter Benjamin Research – www. question. com-waler Benjamin).

In 1944 he became a naturalized citizen of America. In 1945 he founded the firm ‘The Architects Collaborative’ together with 7 other architects. Because of the financial problems TAC was officially closed in 1995. Walter Gropius was a man with enormous talents in architecture and design. He began designing buildings with innovative ideas and modern structure. Whatever structures and designs he created were an example to modernism. From 1910-1911 to 1967-69, Gropius has done many projects which are exemplary to modern architecture and design.

The following three major projects done by Gropius depicts the architectural talents and modern vision in construction. Fagus Factory Fagus Factory built in 1911-13 is a shoe last factory in Germany. It stands as a reflection of the modern architecture. The building was designed by architect Eduard Werner and its Facades were designed by Gropius and Meyer. Gropius got the opportunity to design the Facade of the building consequent to the displeasure of the owner the factory building Carl Bencheidt with the design of Werner.

The construction started in 1911 on Werner’s plan and the owner wanted to run the factory in the same winter. To a certain extent this was achieved. While the Facade work was in progress the owners decided to build a small building but it necessitated double the surface due to expansion of the business and the owners decided to go in for a major expansion and Gropius entrusted with the contract for the construction. Now Gropius and Meyer became the sole architects of the project. The expansion work started in 1913 but was interrupted due to the First World War.

After the War the work was restarted and completed. With the assistance of Bauhaus students and teachers the interiors were designed. The main building is referred to as the Fagus building constructed in 1911 according to Werner’s plan but the glass Facades redesigned by Gropius and Meyer and they expanded in 1913. The interiors contained mainly offices. Production hall and ware house were in the other two buildings on the site. The production hall is a one storey building and the ware house a four storey building with few openings. Fagus factory was Gropius’ first major project.

Gropius started the work of this building on the already existing plan. According to the inner functions, the whole operational procedure was reconceived and three-dimensional form was articulated. ‘Gropius designed an attractive Facade for this building in a special way by means of a projected steel skeleton which pulled the function of support to the inside, thereby making possible a broad dissolution of the exterior envelop into glass walls; the idea of curtain wall was at this point first expressed in a consistent manner’ (Udo Kulter Mann – architecture of the 20th Century – page 32,33).

The Glass Facade gave an impression that the main building was made of concrete and steel but it was not like that. The design of the building was in such a way that though it was different unit, it appeared a unified whole. The use of floor to ceiling glass windows on invisible steel frames around the corners of the building made this look. The use of black bricks on the base of all buildings at a height of 40 cms and the use of yellow bricks for the rest gave a feeling of lightness or ‘Etherealization’ as it was called by Gropius. The use of optical refinement of the windows, longer and taller windows enhanced the feeling of lightness.

The design of the building was oriented to the rail road as the owner considered that that will give a good impression on the minds of the travelers who view it while passes there. ‘The animated fluctuation in height, the change between the horizontal structure and vertical rhythms, heavy closed volumes and light dissolved fabrics are indicators of an approach that deliberately utilized contrasts while arriving at a harmony of opposites in a manner best expressed as a pictorial of visual structure created from the perspective of the railroad tracks’ (Anne Marie Jaeggi 2000-page 38).

The Fagus factory was built using a combination of masonry and steel constructions. Gropius is best known for Bauhaus the style of architecture and design but as an architect he earned fame from his first main project Fagus Factory. The design of the Fagus factory has the influence of AEG’s Turbine factory designed by Peter Behrens. The turbine and Fagus factory have corners free of supports. The Bauhaus The Bauhaus is a School in Germany that existed for imparting education in Art, Architecture, Painting and sculpture.

Bauhaus started consequent to the merger of the Grand Ducal School of arts and crafts school. The Bauhaus style of architecture became one of the most sought after styles in the architecture scenario. The Bauhaus could influence the future developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design and typography. The period between the end of o1st World War and Hitler assuming power in 1933 saw the birth of modern architecture in Germany (Eck Hard Bernstein – page 177). Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies, the two German Architects, were the power in revolutionizing the architecture.

The Bauhaus; the architectural and design School where Walter Gropius and Mies are taught, altered the look of things like the chair, the tea cup, the wall paper, the coffee grinder and silver ware in the kitchen, the lamp in the study etc. (Eck Hard Bernstein – page 177). Gropius founded Bauhaus in 1919 in the city of Weimer. The very purpose of Bauhaus existence was to bring a radical concept to re imagine the material world to reflect the unity of arts. Gropius explained this re imagination as the combining of architecture, design, painting and sculpture into a creative expression.

The aim of Bauhaus was ‘Unity of art and Technology’ to give artistic direction to industry. The Bauhaus style of architecture became one of the influential forces in the modern architecture and design. The Bauhaus curriculum consisted in preliminary courses and practical training in the workshop. The school functioned in three German cities examples are, Weimer from 1919 to 1925, Dessau from 11925 – 1932 and Berlin from 1932-1933 under the directorship and three directors. From 1919 to 1927 Gropius was the Director.

The frequent changes in the venue adversely affected in focusing on the important functions of the school. The school continued till 1933 when it was closed by Nazi regime. Gropius founded the School in Dessau and he announced that he intends to combine architecture, arts and drafts. Gropius designed the building for Dessau School. The facilities combined teaching, student and faculty members’ housing, an auditorium and office spaces. ‘The Pin Wheel Configuration when viewed from the air represents in form the propellers of the air planes manufactured in the Dessau area.

This complex embodies various technological and design oriented advancements including a pet chance for glazing, the creation of architecture of transparency with the supporting structure rising behind the facing skins. It was a radical structure populated by progressive minds touting a unique group – oriented approach to learning’ (Darlene Levy – page 54- 56). Due to its location Bauhaus School at Dessau is compared to a Ship Captains’ command bridge. The school and workshop, the administrative block, the architects private office rooms are just like connected wings or bridge.

The technical construction of the school building reveals the utilization of the latest technological development of the time. The whole construction consisting of a total area of 32450 cubic meters was completed for a cost of 902500 marks (Udo Kulter Mann page 37-38). In the new construction technique the separating function of the wall as in a brick built house was abolished and the space saving construction transferred the whole load of structure to steel or concrete frame work. The new construction technique reduced the role of the wall just to screens preventing rains, cold or noise.

The architecture technique brought by Gropius changed the patterns of windows. The changes brought in provided the building flat roof giving space for useful purposes, avoided timber rafters, gave prove provision for additional constructions, eliminated unnecessary surface giving chance for wind and rain to act Walter Gropius – page 25-30). Dessau school’s construction is considered to be one of the finest works of Gropius which brought in a new concept in architecture. Gropius’ architectural mode was very simple avoiding extensive ground decoration and exclusive use of glass.

The Bauhaus school did not offer architecture till 1927. Gropius and Meyer found no distinction between the output of their office and that of the school. Gropius approached the study of design education in different way that allowed combining designing with technology. Students received basic training on craft to acquaint with materials and processes. The new training gave the students much insight into the production process and the high awareness brought in revolutionized the design. The most important thing about Bauhaus school is that it accelerated modernism in architecture and Industry in Germany.

Another important contribution of Bauhaus is in the field of furniture design. The cantilever chair and wassily chair are two examples. Gropius wrote in the Bauhaus manifesto that the ultimate aim of visual arts is building. Visual arts are no more decorative pieces. The visual arts now exists in isolation are to be brought together for the building for which there must be conscious efforts on the part of architects, sculptors, painters and designers. Bauhaus’ school at Dessau became an example for this. Architects, sculptors, painters, designers assembled there and became a training centre and production centre.

Gropius House Gropius house was the residence of Gropius when he settled in USA. It is located in Lincoln, Massachusetts. This was his first architectural project in USA. It was built in 1938. It remind as his home till the end of his life. The construction system for this building was wood, frame and vertical wood siding. The construction system of the building highly influenced the American architecture. The Gropius house was constructed on an international style. The simplicity of the style, well designed and mass produced fittings used for the construction have the root of principles applied in Bauhaus.

Gropius house is designed to work theatrically as a whole. The lighting in the house is like in an art gallery and the exterior flood lights illuminate the trees in the garden. The color combination of the house has got some peculiarities. Only minimalist color scheme is used in the house as whole. Black, white, pale grey and earth colors with red splashes sparsely are the colors used. The house when it was built caught the attention of many. The total simplicity and the landscape the around the building were planned for maximum efficiency.

The house stands on one of the most charming places of USA in the midst of an orchard having 90 apple trees. The structure of the house consist of the traditional materials like wood, brick and field stone and light wood frame covering with white painted clap board siding vertically (S. Giedion – page 71). The house was built keeping in mind utmost economy and the total construction cost came to only 18000 pounds. The pieces of furniture used in the house were design by Marcel Breur; the Hungarian born, American Architect and furniture designer.

On the structure and design of the house its creator Gropius opined that the process of building is splitting into shop production materials and the assembly of such parts on the site. The importance of pre fabricated building components is coming up high rather than the old houses. Terming construction of the house as international style, Gropius commended that he built the house in his own concept mixing with the New England architectural tradition and that he would never build such a house in Europe where the climatic and the technical backgrounds are entirely different (Walter Gropius scope of total Architect 1956).

Walter Gropius is regarded as one of the great Architects in the modern world. He has designed and built a number of buildings in Germany, England and America. He was not only an Architect but he was an educationalist as well. As an educationalist, his greatness was in that he did not put forward any dogmatic policies but he acted as a balance between the rational and aesthetic views. Gropius made innovative building designs using modern technology and he believed in industrial production of building materials and pre fabrications of house materials.

He transformed building construction into a precise mathematical calculation. Gropius married Alma Mahler, the widow of Gustav Mahler; the noted Orchestral and operatic conductor and a daughter -Manon- was born to them. Gropius and Alma divorced in 1920. Three years later he married Ise Frank and that relation lasted till the end. Gropius died in 1969 at the age of 86.

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