Germany's inaugural modernist Walter Gropius, who would have turned 131 yesterday, is best known for founding Germany's Bauhaus, an arts school that churned out so many pioneering architects and designers that it fleshed out an entire artistic movement on its softly curving, glass bones. The formation of the school, a place he founded "to create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist," is enough to declare him a master, though Gropius translated his socialist design sensibilities to many, many other works—factories, residences, hotels, and skyscrapers included. To celebrate his special day, have a look at some of his career highlights, below.
↑ Constructed between 1911 and 1913, Gropius' Fagus Factory, a shoe manufacturing plant, is considered an essential bit of early modern architecture—not to mention the first building designed with a glass façade. As the author of the 1936 book Pioneers of Modern Design noted, "The supporting piers are reduced to narrow mullions of brick. The corners are left without any support, yielding an unprecedented sense of openness and continuity between inside and out."
↑ In 1920, a year after Gropius founded Bauhaus, the school still had no architecture department, so when Gropius was commissioned by building contractor Alfred Sommerfeld to design a residence, he brought in students for hands-on training. According to German History in Documents and Images, the house was made largely out of "materials taken from a scrapped ship," and students and faculty from the school's cabinetmaking, glass-painting, and weaving workshops had a hand in its creation.
Photos via Bauhaus-Dessau
↑ After political upheaval forced Bauhaus to move from Weimar to Dessau in 1925, the city asked Walter Gropius to design three semidetached houses for the Bauhaus masters and a detached house for its director. The next year, Gropius and his family moved into the detached house. Over the next six years the complex became home to graphic designer László Moholy-Nagy, painter Lyonel Feininger, and painter Paul Klee.
Photos via Library of Congress
↑ In 1937, after fleeing Germany's Nazi regime and accepting a teaching position at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Gropius designed and built his own home in Lincoln, Mass. Now a National Historic Landmark and open to the public, Gropius built his residence at least partially as a teaching aid; he apparently brought students there to show them modernist landscape architecture in America. It's a prime example of Gropius' emphasis on both on innovative, machine-like efficiency, simple design, and artisanal decorative arts.
Alan I W Frank House
Photo via The Frank House
↑ The 1939 Alan I W Frank House was commissioned by Pittsburgh industrial engineer Robert Frank, who was enchanted by newness of the cubic, machine-like Neues Bauen aesthetic Bauhaus helped popularize. After seeing Gropius give a talk in Pittsburgh, Frank drove the family to Gropius' office in Massachusetts and asked him to come build them a home from scratch. "Mother and Dad considered Gropius the world's leading architect," the commissioning couple's son remembers. "Everything about this house was created to make it an extraordinarily livable home, and it was […] a wonderful, exciting, happy place." According to the house's official site, "celebrities dropped in on birthday parties" and the house "was frequently the scene of opening night cast parties" populated by performers and producers at the nearby Civic Light Opera.
The structure itself boasts 12,000 square feet over four levels, with an indoor pool, five terraces, 13 bathrooms, and a rooftop dance floor. It's interiors are paneled in pearwood, English sycamore, and redwood while its exterior shell is largely softly curved glass. Design curator Barry Bergdoll happened to be in love with the "sensuously curved cantilevered stair—the first embodiment of all the cantilevered stairs of independent slab risers that Breuer would make a signature of his American work."
Aluminum City Terrace
↑ In 1941, Gropius and once-pupil Marcel Breuer created a federal housing project in New Kensington, Penn. It was designed to house aluminum defense workers, who freshly employed thanks to a skyrocketing need for aluminum products in WWII. In 1948, residents bought it from the U.S. government and converted it into a co-op.
↑ In his home city of Berlin, Gropius oversaw the creation of the Gropiusstadt neighborhood, known as Britz-Buckow-Rudow when it first opened in 1960. Elsewhere in the city he contributed to the the Großsiedlung Siemensstadt quarter, a nonprofit residential community, and Interbau, a housing development (photo!) that opened in July 1957.
U.S. Embassy in Athens
↑ If you've ever wondered what the Parthenon would look like if it was designed by a German modernist, then look no further than Gropius' embassy in Athens, built between 1959 and 1961.
The Pan Am Building
↑ Gropius' Pan Am Building, which became the MetLife Building after the airline shuttered, was unpopular from its 1963 origins. People criticized the way glass block, then the largest tower in terms of square footage in New York, hulked in the middle of the city. The New York Times once wrote that its "dull gray concrete facade punctuates the southern end of Park Avenue like an anvil, blotting out a once-glorious view of Grand Central Terminal."
↑ Construction on Gropius' plans for the Porto Carras Grand Resort, one of the largest vacation spots in northern Greece, did not begin until four years after his death, though the colorlessness and soft curves are recognizable as Gropius', even disguised at is is by Mediterranean climes and 45,000 olive trees.
· All Walter Gropius posts [Curbed National]