To Build a House

The Gropius House

Last week I had an opportunity to tour the house Walter Gropius designed for himself in Lincoln, Massachusetts.  Fleeting from Nazi Germany, Gropius immigrated along with much of his personal belongings to Boston, a circumstance that eventually led him to become Professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and established the architectural firm The Architects Collaborative (TAC), which forever changed the story of Modern architecture in Boston.

Gropius became the founder and first director of the Bauhaus, one of the world’s most important and influential design schools established in 1919 in Weimar, Germany. The school takes its name from Bau meaning “to build” or “building” and haus meaning “house.” Having attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for a short period of time, I realized how much of an influence the Bauhaus had on other design schools in the world.

The curriculum at RISD and the Bauhaus share many similarities, including the “six month trial period” whereas those who were not “destined” to become true artists were weeded out of their respective program. Although I made it past the six month weeding out period and continued on to the winter session to take classes in film studies, I left RISD for personal reasons, but enough about me, and let’s learn more about the Bauhaus and the Gropius House in Lincoln.

Teachers at the Bauhaus consisted of masters like Wassily Kandinsky, Joseph Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Marianne Brandt and Marcel Breuer among others. Its principles were drawn from the Arts and Crafts Movement, but whereas William Morris and his circle rejected the machine, the Bauhaus embraced it in order to provide everyone in society with access to art and good, affordable design. There is no such thing as a “Bauhaus style,” each and every one of the masters at the school encouraged the experimentation in all the arts.

The influence of the Bauhaus still resonates with us today. The furniture we see for sale in stores like Target, Walmart, Ikea and others have all been influenced by the school. The Gropiuses owned an important collection of furniture designed by Marcel Breuer, Saarinen, Aalto, Marianne Brandt and others. Some of the artwork was created by artists like Spanish Surrealist Joan Miro, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy (whom I’ve fallen in love with), Henry Moore and Ati Gropius Johansen; Walter’s daughter.

 This semester in my seminar on Boston Architecture, I have been learning that Massachusetts was a hot bed for Modernism. This was somewhat surprising to me because when I think of Modernism I think of New York City, California or the Midwest.  The Gropius House speaks to the eloquent vocabulary of modernism created in the New England region.  Lincoln is home to a few outstanding examples of Modernist houses as are the surrounding towns of Lexington, Arlington, Belmont and Cambridge. Sadly, these modernist treasures are threatened by demolition on a daily basis and as recent as last year, we lost an excellent modern house by Eleanor Raymond, one of Boston’s leading modern architects.

The house is owned by Historic New England  and is open to the public for tours.

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