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Walter Gropius

“Specialists are people who always repeat the same mistakes.”

Walter Adolph Georg Gropius (May 18, 1883 – July 5, 1969) was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School who, along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture.

Born in Berlin, Walter Gropius was the third child of Walter Adolph Gropius and Manon Auguste Pauline Scharnweber. Gropius married Alma Mahler (1879–1964), widow of Gustav Mahler. Walter and Alma’s daughter, named Manon after Walter’s mother, was born in 1916.

Walter Gropius, like his father and his great-uncle Martin Gropius before him, became an architect. Gropius could not draw, and was dependent on collaborators and partner-interpreters throughout his career. In school he hired an assistant to complete his homework for him. In 1908 Gropius found employment with the firm of Peter Behrens, one of the first members of the utilitarian school. His fellow employees at this time included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Dietrich Marcks.

In 1910 Gropius left the firm of Behrens and together with fellow employee Adolf Meyer established a practice in Berlin. Together they share credit for one of the seminal modernist buildings created during this period: the Faguswerk in Alfeld-an-der-Leine, Germany, a shoe last factory. Although Gropius and Meyer only designed the facade, the glass curtain walls of this building demonstrated both the modernist principle that form reflects function and Gropius’s concern with providing healthful conditions for the working class. Other works of this early period include the office and factory building for the Werkbund Exhibition (1914) in Cologne.

In 1913, Gropius published an article about “The Development of Industrial Buildings,” which included about a dozen photographs of factories and grain elevators in North America. A very influential text, this article had a strong influence on other European modernists, including Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn, both of whom reprinted Gropius’s grain elevator pictures between 1920 and 1930.

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