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Walter Gropius was an early 20th century architect known for creating the Bauhaus school of design. A second-generation architect, Gropius could not draw well and is better known for designing buildings rather than being able to plan them accurately. His designs married function and design and are known for stark, un-ornamented construction and lots of glass.
The famous architect was born in 1883 in Berlin, the son of architect Walter Adolph Gropius. Despite his poor drawing abilities, he formed a partnership with fellow young architect Adolph Meyer. One of their first designs is remembered as one of their greatest: a shoe factory called Faguswerk, built in Alfeld-an-der-Leine, Germany. The building is considered by experts to be an excellent example of modernism, the style for which Walter Gropius would gain fame.
With the completion of Faguswerk in 1913, Walter Gropius looked poised for a successful career. His work was interrupted only a year later by the beginning of World War I, for which he was conscripted early on in the fighting. He was wounded and nearly killed in battle, but survived and returned to work.
In 1919, he was appointed head of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts, and quickly transformed it into the Bauhaus school of design. Originally, the focus of the school was on modernism as an art form, not focusing specifically on architecture for quite some time. The completed works of the school used un-ornamented design, industrial resources and functionality as its main principles. It became famous throughout the world for its simple modernist design.
As the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s, Walter Gropius fled the country since he opposed the regime. After several years in England, he came to America and began teaching at the prestigious Harvard University. In 1938 he formed a partnership with another architect, Marcel Breuer. Together, they implemented Bauhaus principles in building the Harvard Graduate Center and the United States Embassy in Athens, Greece. With Pietro Belluschi, Gropius also designed the Metropolitan Life Building in downtown Manhattan.
Gropius designed a variety of functional buildings, from factories and housing projects in Germany, to towering office buildings in America. In 1945, he would found The Architect’s Collaborative, a firm that would be a dominating presence in architecture for nearly fifty years. In 1969, Walter Gropius died in Boston at the age of 86.
While the industrial-looking Bauhaus style is hardly universally loved, it has many fans. While some find the functionality and simplicity depressing or ugly, supporters believe it to be harmonious and full of integrity. Walter Gropius, despite his inability to draw his own architectural designs, is an important figure in the history of design. His legacy is far reaching, with buildings by him located in countries all around the world.
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