Faces of Berlin: Walter Gropius

As part of our redesign in 2014, the hotel’s architect Jan Kleihues, designed the ‘Faces of Berlin’. This concept celebrates some of Berlin’s most beloved personalities in feature walls through the hotel and every month we present the background on some of these personalities. Previously we profiled Marlene Dietrich, and former heavyweight champion of the world Max Schmeling.  We also learned about the life of playwright, poet and theatre director Bertolt Brecht as well as the life and times of ‘Iron Gustav’ and his extraordinary journey from Berlin to Paris and back. In July we paid homage Berlin’s adorable unofficial mascot – the polar bear Knut and last month we featured German actress, singer and writer Hildegard Knef. This month we bring you a man considered one of the fathers of modern architecture – Walter Gropius.

Reception Faces

Faces of Berlin in the hotel reception

“We want to create the purely organic building, boldly emanating its inner laws, free of untruths or ornamentation.”

Walter Gropius

Born in Berlin in May 1883, Walter Gropius certainly grew up to make his mark on the city and in fact design across the globe, as founder of the Bauhaus movement, the most influential school of architecture, design and art in the 20th century. Gropius, like his great uncle Martin Gropius before him, studied architecture in Munich and Berlin before joining the architectural firm of Peter Behrens, in 1910. Behrens was renowned for his work in industrial design and as a result had attracted highly creative and skilled designers to his team. At the time of Gropius joining the firm, this included Ludwig Mies van de Rohe and Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (better known as Le Corbusier) who Gropius would go on to have strong and vibrant creative collaborations with. Behrens approach was innovative in that he considered the mass production of objects while still retaining good design principles. An ethos that would become a fundamental part of Gropius’s style and would profoundly influence the design that surrounds us still today in everyday life.

2_bauhaus-meister_2 © Bauhaus Archiv

The Bauhaus masters on the roof of the Bauhaus building in Dessau. From the left: Josef Albers, Hinnerk Scheper, Georg Muche, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Gunta Stölzl and Oskar Schlemmer. Image © Bauhaus Archiv

In 1910 Walter Gropius established his own practice in Berlin, designing a range of things that could be produced in great numbers and distributed to the masses. His early works included wallpaper, furniture, household objects and car bodies. The progression for an architect into this space was largely due to the modernism movement that established itself a few years before, by visionaries such as Behrens and other members of the Deutscher Werkbund (DWB). You can see the staggering results of this association’s impact at the Museum der Dinge. Modernism developed some years after the industrial revolution, as technology and materials for manufacturing developed and the value of mass production became evident. Modernism would mark a significant change in architectural style and was the foundation of the Bauhaus philosophy.

Fagus Factory, Alfeld. Disjoined by Walter Gropius. Image © Wikimedia

Fagus Factory, Alfeld. Disjoined by Walter Gropius. Image © Wikimedia

After designing, along with Adolf Meyer, one of the most well regarded buildings of the time, the Fagus Factory (now a UNESCO listed site for its impact on modern architecture), the two went on to design several other successful projects until the outbreak of World War I in 1914 significantly interrupted their careers. Gropius was drafted and like many, his war experience was turbulent and traumatic. This did not impact his creative desires and after the war he was asked in 1919 to head the School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar. This would become the Bauhaus (English: construction – house) and Weimar the first of three locations for what is now a globally renowned school of art and design.

Classic Bauhaus Typeset. Entrance to the Bauhaus building in Dessau. Image © Wikimedia

Classic Bauhaus Typeset. Entrance to the Bauhaus building in Dessau. Image © Wikimedia

Gropius worked with some of the greatest names in modern architecture as Bauhaus teachers such as Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy and Wassily Kandinsky and of course Mies van der Rohe who Gropius appointed director of the Bauhaus School in Dessau in 1930, in the building Gropius himself designed.  It was during the Bauhaus’ second incarnation from 1925 on – the Dessau period – that Walter Gropius began working on large scale residential designs. A great example of this can be seen today at Gropiusstadt here in Berlin. (Easily reached by U9/U7 from the hotel). Most widely renowned however is the Siemensstadt Housing Estate, part of the UNESCO listed Berlin Modernism Housing Estates group, which can also be visited.

Hansaviertal Image © Wikimedia

Gropius designed Hansaviertal Image © Wikimedia

In the mid 1930’s after years of political conflict and disillusionment, Walter Gropius emigrated to England for a short time, then moved to the USA in 1937 where he became a professor for architecture at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University. He went on to curate Bauhaus exhibitions in New York and was unwavering in his commitment to the movement in Germany, and passionately believed in the crossover of disciplines that embodied the ‘form follows function’ ethos of modernism.

The Bauhaus Archiv Image courtesy Bauhaus Archiv. photo: Karsten Hintz

The Bauhaus Archiv/Museum for Design, Berlin Architects: Walter Gropius, Alex Cvijanovic and Hans Bandel. Image courtesy Bauhaus Archiv. photo: Karsten Hintz

One of his last projects was the Interbau, the rebuilding of the Hansaviertel district that was largely destroyed in WWII. The legacy of Walter Gropius’ life’s work can be seen in its full glory at the Bauhaus Archiv which is a fascination collection demonstrating just how influential the movement was. Walter Gropius died in Boston in 1969.


Melinda Barlow is an Australian freelance writer and editor, based in Berlin since 2012. Melinda works with print and online media and has a natural curiosity that informs her work. She is passionate about travel and great content. She loves to write most about the world, its people and why we all do what we do.