Design Icon: Walter Gropius
By Jacqueline Leahy / Published by Dwell

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.

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.

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. 

The now-landmarked Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, was designed by the architect and his wife Ise when he accepted a teaching position at Harvard in 1937. (Check out some great interior shots here.)

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?"

While the first home Gropius constructed in the United States was his own home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, his first official commission was the Hagerty House in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

While the first home Gropius constructed in the United States was his own home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, his first official commission was the Hagerty House in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

Walter Gropius, TAC (The Architects’ Collaborative) and Hisham A. Munir, University of Baghdad Campus, 1957-, Baghdad, Iraq

Founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus school was housed in the former Grand-Ducal Saxon Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Arts and Crafts by Henry Van de Velde. One of the founding principles of the school was to unify all creative efforts by combining art theory with practical workshops. The building shown here housed most of the classrooms, studios, and workshops. Renovated in 1996, it is now home to a new Bauhaus school, named and modeled after Gropius's original program, which was ended in 1933 due to pressure from the Nazi regime.

Although initially established in the German town of Weimar, the Bauhaus relocated to the industrial city of Dessau. This building, constructed by Staatliches Bauhaus founder and director Walter Gropius, was the second home of the renown school. Learn more about Gropius' ideas on the future of design here.

Walter Gropius designed the F-51 armchair for the director's room at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Filled with polyurethane foam, the armchair fabric or leather coated armchair is supported by an ash or maple frame.

Not all of Gropius's buildings have fared well under public scrutiny. Case in point is New York's MetLife building (originally the Pan Am building), designed with Emery Roth & Sons and Pietro Belluschi.

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