Walter Gropius is a modernist architect remembered as the father of the Bauhaus style of architecture. His exceeding brilliance and perseverance in the face of adversity have left an everlasting tale of personal and professional triumph.
1. Walter Gropius dropped out
With a lineage of architects, it is not surprising that he ended up an architect.
An interesting albeit shocking fact is that Walter Gropius missed out on completing his architectural degree after dropping out of Königliche Technische Hochschule in Berlin.
On receiving a substantial inheritance from his great aunt, a then young Walter Gropius left the course with only the final exam left.
2. Amongst the Greats
A year after dropping out in 1908, Walter Gropius worked for a reputed industrial architect, Peter Behren.
It was during this time that he crossed paths with another architectural great in the making, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. They worked together in Peter Behrens office for nearly 2 years, after which Walter Gropius left to start his venture with Adolf Meyer, in 1910.
Shortly after his departure, Le Corbusier joined Peter Behrens firm in the same year.
Peter Behren is perhaps, mainly remembered for his contribution to the lives of these three architects of the modernist movement.
3. Before Bauhaus
Walter Gropius’ first project after leaving Peter Behrens firm was the Fagus Factory. After much convincing, Walter Gropius managed to take up the project alongside architect Edward Werner.
This project stands out as it is considered a prelude to the Bauhaus style of architecture. The project began construction eight whole years before the Bauhaus movement, and, can yet be considered a template, for many years to come.
The structure was laden with modernist traits. With functionality at its core, materials were left exposed to create an authentic aesthetic appeal.
Through the use of steel, glass, and brick, the structure united mass-production, art, and craftsmanship into one complete design.
4. Walter Gropius a War Hero
Apart from his professional life, Walter Gropius served in the First World War. He served as a sergeant in the signal corps where he is said to have survived after being buried alive.
What’s more, he managed to survive once again when his plane was shot out of the sky.
After infamously escaping death on two separate occasions, he retired due to injury. For his war efforts, he received two Iron Crosses in Germany.
5. The Conundrum of his Personal life
During the turbulent First World War, Walter Gropius even managed to get married.
Walter Gropius had an affair with Alma Mahler, a Viennese music composer. Though she was married, the two of them resonated at an intellectual level.
In 1915, four years after the passing of her husband, the two of them were finally married.
During that time Walter Gropius was drafted into the military and did not see much of his newlywed wife. He even missed the birth of their only daughter, Manon Gropius.
Consequently, their marriage ended after four years, when Alma Mahler had an affair with Franz Werfel, whom she later married.
6. Alma’s influence
Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus school is his tribute to the world. A school with a vision that was definitive and uncompromised in an uncertain time after the First World War.
Though the school was the brain-child of Walter Gropius, Alma Mahler was pivotal in his decision to take up the challenge. History doesn’t give enough credit to the tenacious Alma Mahler who encouraged Walter Gropius to create a school in his image.
“This position is not so grand,” she wrote. “You should enter into it only if they give you all the
authority you ask for in writing.” Her influence gave Walter Gropius the confidence to lay down his conditions for the role even during the First World War.
He strongly recommended that the Grand Ducal School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar should provide artistic guidance to industry, trade, and crafts. In 1919, after the war, he was appointed as the director of the school with the liberties that he desired.
7. World-renowned in his mid-30s
Walter Gropius attained fame rather early in his lifetime. He was in his mid-30s when he gained popularity in Germany.
The timing was impeccable for his career.
He managed to attract the likes of Paul Klee, Marcel Breuer, Josef and Anni Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, and many more to his school.
His open-minded approach to design fell perfectly in line with his faculty. Workshop based education and experimental practices invoked true creativity that would mold future generations to come.
8. Beyond Structures
Walter Gropius’ progressive views towards designs set him apart from contemporary architects. He refused to settle for an ideal approach to design, instead, he accepted it to be an ever changing philosophy that evolved with time.
He did not limit himself to designing only buildings. He treated design as a multidisciplinary subject that had no restrictions. Through these very beliefs, he went on to design an automobile and a railroad car, forever solidifying him as a true pioneer of his time.
9. Escape from Germany
Walter Gropius did not keep faith with Hitler or his government. He secretly left Germany with his wife Ise Frank via Italy to England in 1934.
He practiced architecture in England with architect Maxwell Fry till he left for America in 1936.
10. Taught at Harvard
After being offered a teaching role at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design by Dean Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius left England in 1937.
During his tenure as a professor of architecture, he revised the curriculum leaving out workshop based education.
Walter Gropius’ has had an eventful life that seems straight out of a movie. For all the drama and unpredictability of his life, he managed to live up to his full potential as an architect and a visionary.