The Victory Of The Modern Approach Is Sure
Walter Gropius (The Architects' Collaborative)


Walter Gropius, 1919

©Louis Held

JP: The Modern Architectural Revolution, Walter Gropius. I was first introduced to Walter Gropius in a book. When I was a youngster in Seattle, I discovered a Bahaus book in a small basement library of the Seattle Art Museum. I was so struck by its astounding ideas that I copied parts of it out on each visit. I even took to hiding the book behind others on the shelf lest other people learn about those revolutionary concepts. I later found that the Bahaus, that atom bomb of modern design, was a poorly kept secret. After World War II, I met Walter Gropius in person through his daughter, Ati, who worked for me. In 1955, I recorded him in his Lincoln, Massachusetts home, which incidentally is now under the care of the Society of the Preservation of New England Antiquities, as well as in his Brattle Street, Cambridge office of TAC, The Architects' Collaborative. Though perfectly relaxed, his bearing was still that of an officer who served the bulk of World War I in the frontline trenches and was awarded the Iron Cross for conspicuous bravery. Yet he was every bit the professor in manner and appearance, with a dark bow tie and a campus tweed jacket. He spoke quietly, with academic precision. Characteristically, in order to assure the accuracy of these recorded remarks, he read a short portion that he had prepared ahead of time. In my judgment, Gropius's educational reputation as founder of the Bahaus in Germany and head of Harvard University's Department of Architecture in Cambridge tends to obscure his talent as an architectural innovator. His Fagus factory with Adolf Meyer in Alfeld and his Dessau Bahaus buildings are remarkable examples of the early international style.


Architect's House, Lincoln, Massachusetts By Walter Gropius (With Marcel Breuer) 1938

©Monica Pidgeon

WG: I think I am one of the pioneers, and I would mention for instance one building of my own - that has been the Bauhaus building which certainly at that time gave a new trend and some other buildings which were built before which didn't exist so far. So I think this whole problem should be approached... who has really touched first... new kind of approaches to these things. The lighter constructions, the open glass wall - these things which were done by some people first and have had a great influence on all the other people. Now the victory of the modern approach in architecture is sure. And when I think only of the last eighteen years I am in this country, how much it has improved, and increased in numbers in good modern buildings; so the new approach has really penetrated. But when we want to look at it historically, we have to find out who did what first. And there are of course some prominent people who have done a lot on that line, well I already before the first world war, I was in it and built a few buildings in 1910, 1914 and so on and then the Bauhaus building. Which has been, I don't say that myself only, but has been recognised by those who have historically built that up, that that was direction giving. And there are of course parallel cases, my teacher from whom I learned most was Peter Behrens; Peter Behrens was the architect of the AEG - that is the big electrical concern in Germany - and he has built some of the factory buildings there, and some office buildings, which really showed the new trend in daring constructions and in different use of materials - at least it was the beginning of this line. I have been his main assistance for many years, and so I learned from this personality most in my life. On the other hand, I learned from the practical man in the field, the foreman and so on of these men I have learned really something in building. I cannot separate building from designing, I think the architect should be well trained with all the technicalities, and know them. And this chapter which you approach here is also something which the architects really know by heart from its technical, specific qualities, in order to use it in a proper way. Now of course the field is so large today that one man cannot know all these things, but the main things he can absorb and then use specific material, and specific constructions, where they fit best. I am always a little bit wary when one branch of the industry wants to make things, discussions as we have them here, and they try then to put their material everywhere, everywhere. But I think the mixture of different things brings even their material better out.

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