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ART HISTORY - The Architecture of Gropius

The Architecture of Gropius

Fagus Shoe FactoryAfter spending two years in the office of Peter Bebrens, Walter Gropius (1883-1969) established his own practice in Berlin. In 1911 he joined forces with his partner Adolph Meyer (1881-1929) to build a factory for the Fagus Shoe Company at Alfeld-an-der-Leine. The Fagus building represents a sensational innovation in its utilization of complete glass sheathing even at the corners. In effect, Gropius here had invented the curtain wall that would play such a visible role in the form of subsequent large-scale twentieth-century architecture.

Werkbound Exhibition - Model FactoryGropius and Meyer were commissioned to build a model factory and office building in Cologne for the 1914 Werkbund Exhibition of arts and crafts and industrial objects. Gropius felt that factories should possess the monumentality of ancient Egyptian temples. For one façade of their "modern machine factory," the architects combined massive brickwork with a long horizontal expanse of open glass sheathing, the latter most effectively used to encase the exterior spiral staircases at the corners. The pavilions at either end have flat overhanging roofs derived from Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work was known in Europe after 1910, and the entire building reveals the elegant and disciplined design that became a prototype for many subsequent modern buildings.

During the years that he was director of the Bauhaus, Gropius continued his own architectural practice in collaboration with Meyer until Meyer's death. One of the projects, unfulfilled, was the design for the Chicago Tribune Tower in 1922. The highly publicized competition for this tower, with over two hundred and fifty entries from an international assortment of architects, provides a cross section of the eclectic architectural tendencies of the day, ranging from strictly historicist examples based on Renaissance towers to the modern styles emerging in Europe.

Chicago Tribune Tower designThe traditionalists won the battle with the highly effective neo-Gothic tower designed by the American architect Raymond Hood (1881-1934) (probably in collaboration with John Mead Howells). The design of Gropius and Meyer, in the spare rectangularity of its forms, its emphasis on skeletal structure, and its wide tripartite windows, was actually based on the original skyscraper designs of Sullivan and the Chicago School and at the same time looked forward to the skyscraper of the mid-twentieth century.

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Comment by Tome Wilson on November 24, 2009 at 10:47pm
You've been reading ahead! ;-)
Comment by lord_k on November 24, 2009 at 2:37am
Ironically, Hood and Howells were highly influenced by the rival Chicago Tribune designs (notable, Saarinen's - 2nd place at the contest) and expressed this influence in their further work - for example, the NY Daily News Building.

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