Walter Gropius was a German architect and one of the pioneers of modernist architecture. In addition to his progressive designs, Gropius is famous for founding the Bauhaus School in Germany, which incited an architectural movement that connected fine art with function and practicality. He served as the school's director between 1919-1928 before Nazis closed the school for its resistance to the traditional aesthetic that Nazism favored.
Gropius began studying architecture at the technical institutes in Munich and Berlin-Charlottenburg, joining Peter Behrens architecture firm shortly after graduation. Gropius has attributed his penchant for progressive architecture to his time with Behrens, specifically when he solved design problems for a German electricity company.
After working with Behrens for several years, the rise of Nazism drove Gropius to take his modernist ideals from Germany to the United States. Gropius arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1937, where he took a teaching position at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. During his time there, Gropius collaborated with his Bauhaus protege and fellow Harvard professor Marcel Breuer to design influential projects like The Alan I W Frank House in Pittsburgh and the Aluminum City terrace in New Kensington.
Gropius’ modernist architectural style merged fine craftsmanship and fine arts to create sleek, pared-back designs that are incredibly elegant in their simplicity. He sought to create functional structures that were accessible to the everyday homeowner, emphasizing thoughtful attention to detail and progressive materials.
Below are just a few examples of the progressive, modernist structures that Gropius designed during his prolific career.
Alan I W Frank House
As mentioned, Gropius collaborated with Marcel Breuer to design the Alan I W Frank House, a private residence in Pittsburgh. In addition to designing the home, Gropius and Breuer designed the furniture and landscaping, pegging the home as a “total work of art.” Due to the house's large size and Gropius designing every detail from the structure to the light switches, the expansive, multi-story home is often considered the most important of Gropius’ career and is impeccably preserved today.
Gropius designed a house for himself and his family in 1937 near Harvard. True to Gropius’ style, the home emphasized maximum simplicity and efficiency in addition to thoughtful craftsmanship. He combined traditional New England materials of wood and brick with industrial elements, like steel, chrome, and glass to create an expansive design that blurs the line between structure and setting.
When asked to describe the home, Gropius said, "The swelling house should no longer resemble something like a fortress, like a monument of walls with medieval thickness and an expensive front intended for showy representation. Instead, it is to be of light construction, full of bright daylight and sunshine, alterable, time-saving, economical and useful in the last degree to its occupants whose life functions it is intended to serve.”
Gropius collaborated with Adolf Meyer to design the Sommerfeld House in 1922, one of the first examples of Bauhaus architecture. The house is a stunning showcase of Bauhaus principles, combining efficient and simple design with artisanal elements, like weavings by Dorte Helm, stained glass by Josef Albers, geometric carvings by Joost Schmidt, and furniture by Gropius’ frequent collaborator, Marcel Breuer.