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Walter Gropius

Germany's high culture of the late medieval period was followed by a slow decline. In the seventeenth century the Thirty Year's War wrecked her material and political potential for more than a century. In the late eighteenth century, during a period of political importance, classic German literature was produced in the small princely courts. In the early nineteenth century, a thin layer of highly cultivated individuals began to produce Romantic poetry and music, at a time when Germany as a whole was pervaded by a depressing political reaction, which expressed itself in bitter opposition to economic freedom in the development of commerce and industry.

In contrast to the rest of Europe, in Germany the period between 1816 and 1843, which saw the flowering of its Romantic music and literature also witnessed an ever-increasing proportion of the population engaged in handicrafts. Not only this, but the number of employees increased in proportion to employees: a clear indication of a growing number of smaller businesses. The expanding population in Germany was finding its outlet in cottage industry instead of factory employment. This situation only began to alter in 1860. Not even in 1876 the textile industry of the Zollverein (all the German States that had linked themselves together in a common customs union) had only some 219 thousand spindles as against 600 thousand in France and 1781 in Great Britain. The position was similar in other fields including shipbuilding and railways.

The victory of 1870 precipitated a flood of industrialization: Germany changed overnight into a highly industrialized country and in a few decades rivaled France and even England. A new period of prosperity was ushered in; such as she had not known since the heyday of her late medieval cities. This was the period of Walter Gropius' youth. Gropius was a German-American architect and one of the leaders of modern functional architecture. He came from a family of state officials and nothing stood in the way of a successful start in life. When but 28 years old he was able to build the Fagus factory - a coup de genie of the new architectural movement.

His Fagus factory buildings (1910-11) at Alfeld, with their glass walls, metal spandrels, and discerning use of purely industrial features, were among the most advanced works in Europe. After World War I, Gropius became (1918) director of the Weimar School of Art, reorganizing it as the Bauhaus. It was moved in 1925 to Dessau. The complete set of new buildings for it, which Gropius designed (1926), remains one of his finest achievements. He built the Staattheater at Jena (1923), some experimental houses at Stuttgart (1927), and designed residences, workers' dwellings, and industrial buildings.

Driven out by the Nazis, he practiced (1934-37) in London with Maxwell Fry and in 1937 immigrated to America, where he headed the school of architecture at Harvard until 1952. His influence on the dissemination of functional architectural theory and the rise of the International style was immense. Practicing his principles of cooperative design, Gropius worked with a group of young architects on the design of the Harvard graduate center. He continued his architectural activity with this group, the Architects Collaborative (TAC), in such works as the U.S. embassy at Athens, the Univ. Of Baghdad (1961), and the Grand Central City building, New York City (1963). His writings include The New Architecture and the Bauhaus (tr. 1935) and Scope of World Architecture (1955).

The sentimental genre scenes and derivative neoclassic artistic production of the 19th century were replaced in the 20th century by a fresh, more vital sensibility. The Bauhaus, led by Walter Gropius became the chief breeding place of functionalism and encouraged experimentation and abstraction with the ideal of combining artistic beauty with usefulness. The Nazi regime, however, regarding abstract and expressionist works as degenerate, discouraged and destroyed any but heroic, propagandistic art, and the Germany of the 1930s and early 40s produced nothing of artistic significance. The Bauhaus aesthetic was taught and practiced in the United States by European expatriates and their disciples, while German architecture, massive and dull, glorified the Nazi style.

Functionality and the use of appropriate materials, as preached by "Bauhaus" architects (the aim of the "Bauhaus" school was to unite all the visual arts under the leadership of architecture), left its mark on Austrian architecture, too. Construction was taking place principally in the housing and community sectors. Municipal building projects in the city of Vienna were particularly significant in the years leading up to 1934. At first, most of the architects involved in these projects were municipal employees, but after the introduction of a housing tax in 1923, practically all Vienna's free-lance architects were called upon to present designs. The projects included large housing complexes such as the "Reumannhof," "Washingtonhof," "Karl-Marx-Hof," "Engelsplatz," "Karl-Seitz-Hof," and many others.

Teaching at the Bauhaus was a radical departure from existing art-school training, stressing the intimate link between architecture and such crafts as stained glass, mural decoration, metalwork, carpentry, weaving, pottery, typography, and graphics. Gropius initiated a return to first principles in every form and thereby attempted to end the 19th-century split between 'art' and 'craft'. The ideas of the school were subsequently incorporated into teaching programs in Europe and the U.S.A., where many of its teachers and students emigrated. Gropius and Marcel Breuer worked together in the U.S.A. 1937-40 and the International Style (of which Gropius's Bauhaus building 1925-26 is a hallmark) spread worldwide from there. Other artists associated with the Bauhaus include Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Lyonel Feininger.

The Bauhaus school taught three styles of artistic styles:

PREFABRICATION in architectural construction is a technique whereby large units of a building are produced in factories to be assembled, ready-made, on the building site. The technique permits the speedy erection of very large structures. It has been applied to urban housing for more than a century.

FUNCTIONALISM is an aesthetic doctrine developed in the early 20th cent. out of Louis Henry Sullivan's aphorism that form ever follows function. Functionalist architects and artists design utilitarian structures in which the interior program dictates the outward form, without regard to such traditional devices as axial symmetry and classical proportions. Functionalism was subsequently absorbed into the International style as one of its guiding principles.

The INTERNATIONAL STYLE is the phase of the modern movement that emerged in Europe and the United States during the 1920s. The term was first used in connection with a 1932 architectural exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Architects working in the International style gave new emphasis to the expression of structure, the lightening of mass, and the enclosure of dynamic spaces. Important examples include the Bauhaus at Dessau by Walter Gropius (1925-26).

The brief post-war Indian Summer, which had seen the reflowering of German science, art, letters, theatre and music, was to be swept away by the violence of Fascism. With it went the Bauhaus, closed by the National Socialists; now the building is used as a training school for political leaders. Whatever doubts there may have been about the sufficiency of the Bauhaus idea, and however much it may appear that the integrity of Gropius' aim was side-tracked by some of his esoteric artistic collaborators, there is no denying that the Bauhaus was a very real achievement, and the first and only serious school of design for the industrial age. Aiming at a co-ordination of all art and design in a new architecture, "the ultimate, if distant, goal" was "the collective work of art - the Building in which no barriers exist between the structural and the decorative arts." The Bauhaus was not an architectural school; it was a technical college for training and experiment in design in a wide sense.

Gropius was a firm believer in scientific management methods and became one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century. He wished to formulate a new theory of architecture and to develop "practical designs for present-day goods" that could be mass-produced (Buddensieg, 1984: 18; Droste, 1990; Nerdinger, 1990). As director, Gropius managed to attract a dream team of artists to the school, including Mies van der Rohe, Kandinsky, and Klee, among others. He and his colleagues designed industrial and nonindustrial buildings, decorated interiors, and collaborated with many German manufacturing firms on product design.

As early as 1911, Walter Gropius realized the potential contribution of a modernist architecture to the rationalization of industry: "A worker will find that a room well thought out by an artist, which responds to the innate sense of beauty we all possess, will relieve the monotony of the daily task and he will be more willing to join in the common enterprise. If the worker is happy, he will take more pleasure in his duties, and the productivity of the firm will increase" (Banham, 1986: 201).

In 1927 Gropius recommended the "determination of the expenditure of time and energy for each individual part of the production process during manufacture and assembly of the buildings" and the "preparation of flow…[continue]

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