Walter Gropius

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Birthplace
Berlin, German Empire
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Taurus
Birthday
Birthplace
Berlin, German Empire

Adolph Walter Georg Gropius was a notable architect born in Germany and raised in the United States. Along with American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, he is considered a pioneer of modern architecture. He rose to popularity after founding the ‘Bauhaus design school in Weimar. The school that gained notoriety for its approach to design was also known for its avant-garde art and architecture. For nearly a decade, he served as director of the Bauhaus in Germany. In 1932, the ‘International Exhibition of Modern Architecture’ included his works alongside those of Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, J.J.P Oud, and Erich Mendelsohn, all of whom were considered to be champions of the ‘International Style of modern architecture. As with his modernist contemporaries, he was concerned with creating modern structures for the modern man. The primary goal was to create efficient buildings devoid of superfluous antique adornment in the Gothic, Romanesque, Neoclassical, or Renaissance styles. Numerous geometric patterned buildings were distinguished for his avant-garde inventive designs. He was the dean of Harvard University’s ‘Graduate School of Design. Among his famous collaborative works are the ‘Harvard Graduate Center’ in Cambridge; the ‘John F. Kennedy Federal Office Building’ in Boston; the ‘Gropius House’ in Massachusetts; and the ‘Pan Am Building’ in New York.

Childhood & Adolescence

He was born in Berlin on May 18, 1883, as the third child of Walter Adolph Gropius and Manon Auguste Pauline Scharnweber. Martin Gropius’s father and uncle were both architects.
He studied architecture in technical colleges in Munich from 1903 to 1904 and Berlin from 1905 to 1907, though he did not earn a degree. After completing his architecture studies, he spent a year traveling across England, Spain, and Italy.

Following that, he joined the architectural firm of Peter Behrens, a co-founder of the German organization ‘Deutscher Werkbund’ and an early proponent of the modernist architectural style. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Dietrich Marcks were among the office’s staff.

In 1910, he formed a business with Adolf Meyer. The firm’s two most successful delegations were ‘Fagus Werk,’ a factory in the German town of Alfeld from 1911 to 1913, and office and factory buildings in Cologne for the 1914 ‘German Labour League Exhibition.’ While the former was heavily affected by Peter Behrens’s’ AEG Tribune’ factory design, the latter is said to be influenced by the work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

He became a member of the ‘German Labour League’ (Deutscher Werkbund) in 1911.
In 1913, he was tasked with designing a vehicle for the ‘Prussian Railroad Locomotive Works,’ an unmatched locomotive that was designed for the first time not just in Germany, but most likely throughout Europe.

His 1913 article ‘The Development of Industrial Buildings, which included photographs of factories and grain elevators in North America, had a profound effect on other European modernists such as Erich Mendelsohn and Le Corbusier.

His architectural career was halted for a few years with the commencement of the ‘First World War’ in 1914, during which he served as a sergeant and later as a lieutenant in the army. He spent four years fighting on the Western Front, was wounded, and narrowly averted death. His wartime achievements were recognized with the ‘Iron Cross’ honor, which he received twice.

Walter Gropius’s Career

Gropius was appointed master of the ‘Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar following the war on the advice of Henry van de Velde, who was forced to resign due to his Belgian nationality.

He progressively transformed the school into the world-famous ‘Bauhaus,’ which attracted illustrious and remarkable instructors such as Josef Albers, Otto Bartning, Paul Klee, and László Moholy-Nagy.
The ‘Bauhaus program was experimental, with a strong emphasis on theoretical components. It aimed to improve the quality and aesthetics of each structure by using industrially designed elements.

‘Bauhaus’ had ties to various European modernist design movements, including Piet Mondrian’s ‘Neo-Plasticism,’ El Lissitzky’s ‘Constructivism,’ and Van Doesburg’s ‘De Stijl’ and ‘Elementarism.
In 1923, he designed doorknobs that became famous and are now regarded as noteworthy and groundbreaking design that exemplifies applied art. It became a paradigm for twentieth-century design.

From 1925 through 1932, when the ‘Bauhaus’ relocated to Dessau, Gropius planned and constructed the school building as well as faculty housing.
Between 1926 and 1932, he planned a number of large-scale housing developments in Dessau, Karlsruhe, and Berlin.
Between 1929 and 1930, he was involved in the design of a section of Berlin’s Siemensstadt project.

The rise of the Nazis in the 1930s and Hitler’s authority resulted in the forced closing of the ‘Bauhaus’ in 1933. Gropius escaped Germany the following year under the guise of attending a film festival in Italy. Later in life, Gropius migrated to the United Kingdom, where he remained affiliated with the ‘Isokon’ design group until early 1937.

He arrived in the United States in February 1937 and quickly completed his home with the assistance of his patron, Helen Storrow, who gave him a portion of her land near Lincoln, Massachusetts, and finances. The house’s extraordinary design, which incorporated elements of New England architecture, quickly gained fame, ushering in an era of International Modernism in the United States.

He was appointed Chairman of the ‘Department of Architecture’ at ‘Harvard University in 1938 and served until his retirement in 1952. Marcel Breuer, with whom he collaborated on projects like the ‘Aluminum City Terrace’ (1942–44) in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, and ‘The Alan I. W. Frank House’ (1939–40) in Pittsburgh, was also inducted into the faculty.

In 1944, he became a citizen of the United States.
He founded ‘The Architects’ Collaborative’ (TAC) in 1945, a Cambridge-based society of young architects that comprised six of his former Harvard students. Robert S. MacMillan, John C. Harkness, Benjamin C. Thompson, Norman C. Fletcher, and Louis A. MacMillan were among the co-founders.

Among the notable designs by Gropius and ‘TAC’ are the ‘Harvard Graduate Center’ (1949-50) in Cambridge; the ‘Pan Am Building’ (1958-63) in New York, designed in collaboration with Pietro Belluschi; the ‘US Embassy’ (1959-61) in Athens, Greece; and the ‘John F. Kennedy Federal Office Building’ (1963-66) in Boston.
He was elected an Associate Member of the ‘National Academy of Design’ in 1967 and was inducted as an academician the following year.

Personal History and Legacies

In 1915, he married Alma Mahler, the widow of Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, whom he had met in 1910 while Mahler was still alive.
Their daughter Manon was born in 1916 and died as a result of polio in 1935.
Alma divorced her husband in 1920 after falling in love with Austrian poet, novelist, and playwright Franz Werfer.

Gropius married Ilse Frank for the second time on October 16, 1923. Beate Gropius was adopted by the Couple.
He died in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 5, 1969.

Estimated Net Worth

Walter is one of the wealthiest architects and is featured on the list of the most popular architects. Walter Gropius’s net worth is estimated to be $125 million, based on our analysis of Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.

Trivia

In 1959, he was awarded the ‘American Institute of Architects Gold Medal.
The ‘Gropius House’ was included in the ‘National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and is now open to the public.