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Design Icon: Walter Gropius

Taken by photographer Louis Held, this photograph shows a young Walter Gropius in 1919, the year that Gropius became the successor to the master of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts, the school which, under Gropius' guidance, became the Staatliches Bauhaus.

Alongside Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, German architect Walter Gropius was a foundational figure in modern architecture design. Best-known as the founder of the German art school Staatliches Bauhaus, where he served as director for many years, Gropius also founded the Architect's Collaborative (TAC) in 1945, and designed the D51 armchair and the F51 armchair and sofa. Before it went bankrupt in 1995, TAC was among the world's most esteemed architectural firms and is credited with works including the Harvard Graduate Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, Germany, and the University of Baghdad in Baghdad, Iraq.

His first wife, Alma Mahler, was the widow of esteemed composer Gustav Mahler. Serving as a sergeant in the first World War, Gropius won an Iron Cross for his service. On a pretext, he escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s with his protege Marcel Breuer and his second wife, Ilse Frank, establishing himself as a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gropius died in 1969 after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. 

Beyond his pioneering work as an architect, instructor and designer, Gropius was a theorist and a visionary. In his 1923 essay, “The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus,” Gropius outlined the governing philosophy of the Staatliches Bauhaus and posed critical, forward-thinking questions that echo visibly through all the subsequent ages of modern design. "But what is space," he asks, "how can it be understood and given a form?"

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