Who Was Walter Gropius?

Walter Gropius was the pioneering architect who founded Germany’s Bauhaus school. But he also left behind a vast design legacy.

Nov 28, 2022By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art


German architect Walter Gropius might be best-known as the fearless visionary who spearheaded the legendary Bauhaus School of art and design. Through the Bauhaus he was able to consolidate his utopian ideas around the completed unity of the arts into one whole Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). But he was also an endlessly prolific designer who envisioned some of the early to mid-20th century’s most iconic buildings, both in his native Europe, and later in the United States when he fled to escape Nazi persecution. We pay tribute to the great leader who spearheaded the Bauhaus style.


Walter Gropius Was a World-Renowned Architect

walter gropius
Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus photographed by Louis Held, 1919, via Sotheby’s


Looking back, Walter Gropius was without a doubt one of the finest architects of the entire 20th century. After studying architecture in Munich and Berlin, he found success relatively early in his career. One of his greatest early achievements was the Fagus Factory, a modernist masterpiece completed in 1910 that laid the foundations of Gropius’s Bauhaus style. The building’s emphasis on simplicity and functionality over superfluous decoration became a hallmark feature of his design work.


Other highlights of his architectural career in Germany include Sommerfeld House, 1921 and the Bauhaus building in Dessau. Later, after emigrating to the United States, Walter Gropius brought his distinctly Bauhaus design sensibility with him. In 1926, Gropius completed the design of his own home in the US, now known as Gropius House (Lincoln, Massachusetts). He also designed and oversaw the construction of Harvard Graduate Centre, completed in 1950. 


Walter Gropius Was Founder of the Bauhaus

bauhaus dessau gropius
The Bauhaus Building in Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius.


While the Bauhaus was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, lasting only from 1919-1933, its legacy is vast and long-ranging. It was Walter Gropius who first conceived of the Bauhaus School in Weimar, and became its leading voice until 1928, before passing the reins on to his friend and colleague, the architect Hannes Meyer. During his time as principal of the Bauhaus, Gropius was able to bring together his utopian notion of a school where a unity of the arts could take place, breaking down the barriers between art and design disciplines that had become separated in traditional art schools.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


He taught students to develop strong technical skills in a range of specialist workshops and encouraged a spirit of experimentation and collaboration. This liberal approach has inspired many art schools since, most notably Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the 1930s. In Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus building in Dessau, he created a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), where teaching and creative activities echoed the style and ethos of the building around them.


A Leader of Art into Industry

wassily chair marcel breuer
Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer, 1925, via MoMA, New York


In the mid-1920s Gropius changed track, moving with the increasingly industrialized times by encouraging “art into industry.” He stressed the importance of function and affordability, pushing the Bauhaus closer towards the fields of design. Gropius stepped down as principal of the Bauhaus to set up his own private design practice in 1928, but successive principals who followed continued with this same attitude of functionality and practicality.


bauhaus 1923 exhibition poster
Bauhaus 1923 Exhibition Poster by Joost Schmidt, 1923, via MoMA, New York


Many students produced high quality products that made their way into mass production and had a ripple-down impact on the nature of everyday household objects, proving just how far Gropius’s legacy had come.

Walter Gropius Was an American Pioneer

walter gropius house usa
Gropius House, the home Walter Gropius built for himself and his family in 1926, Lincoln, Massachusetts.


When Walter Gropius moved to the United States in the late 1920s, he took on a teaching post at Harvard University, where he became Chair of the Department of Architecture. Like many of his former Bauhaus colleagues, here he brought his modernist, Bauhaus design ideas to the forefront of his teaching, which went on to shape American mid-century modernism. In the US Walter Gropius also helped found The Architects’ Collaborative, an architectural practice which focused on teamwork and collaboration. Following the success of his teaching and design work, Gropius was elected to the National Academy of Design and was awarded the AIA Gold Medal for outstanding achievements in the field of architecture.

Author Image

By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.