“The quality of a man’s creative work depends on a proper balance of his faculties”1.
Walter Gropius wrote The New Architecture and the Bauhaus in 1935 with his life-long knowledge as an architect. What he puts the most effort to is trying to answer what the New Architecture is by explaining, as he clarifies, “my own work, my own thoughts and discoveries”.2 The book was written a little bit as a autobiography of his professional life and, therefore, starts explaining the situation he has to cope with just after the fist world war. A period when many different individualistic manifestos were written and published, with an economic decline, and also when “every thinking man felt the necessity for an intellectual change of front”3.
Therefore, he starts defending the “liberation of architecture from a welter of ornament”4, what will be Modern Architecture, with flat roofs, pillars and bigger windows as a response to the “emphasis of its structural functions”5.
He believes that to do so he must define the “simplified practical exemplar of anything in general use which embodies a fusion of the best of its anterior forms”6 by creating a ‘norm’. To Gropius’s eyes, this could be applied to anything, from teapots, to buildings or even cities. He upholds the idea that this ‘norm’ enhances urban culture by the “increases of their (the final product) quality and decreases of their cost; thereby raising the social level of the population as a whole”7.
He continues to write about rationalization, what architecture was headed to. When, thanks to technical proficiency would allow to rationalize buildings into “a number of component parts”8 in factories, allowing continuous activity and shorter construction periods; making it possible to fix lower prices. All this without “restricting the architect’s freedom of design”9. But not only is he interested in productivity, he also talks about beauty being fresh air, daylight and sunshine.
This ‘laws’ started to form in Gropius’s mind when, in 1908, after his preliminary training, he starts working for Peter Behrens, who introduced him to “logical and systematical coordination”10. After, war will encourage him to rethink architecture, and he will agree with the Deutscher Werkbund “to give the rising generation of artists a practical training for handicrafts and industry”11. He, then, created the Bauhaus.
This school aimed at “standards of excellence”12 was based on the “fundamental unity underlying all branches of design”13, “combining imaginative design and technical proficiency”14, thanks to the creation of different workshops, the most important structure of the institution. And it looks like it worked, as it can be seen from the design of the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1925. Happy for his success, in 1928 Gropius handed over the control.
Finally, he will start thinking about urban planning and concer for the “lowest-paid section of [the] population”15. This led him to designing siedlungs and researching the relation between country and city and, therefore, the benefits of flat roofs. Light and fresh air will be very important to Gropius due to the state of abandonment of big cities.
To conclude, this New Architecture only could flourish if the problems related to national planning, town planning and to the ideal type of building were correctly solved. He also wanted, one last time, to reinstate his respect for tradition:
“Respect for tradition does not mean the complacent toleration of elements which have been a matter of fortuitous chance or of individual eccentricity; nor does it mean the acceptance of domination by bygone aesthetic forms. It means, […], the preservation of essentials in the process of striving to get at what lies at the back of all materials”16.
Prof. C. Humer
1 Walter Gropius. The New Architecture and the Bauhaus. Translated by P. Morton Shand and with an Introduction by Frank Pick. (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1965, reprinted, 1974) 66
2 Ibid., 19
3 Ibid., 48
4 Ibid., 23
5 Ibid., 24
6 Ibid., 34
7 Ibid., 38
8 Ibid., 39
9 Ibid., 40
10 Ibid., 47
11 Ibid., 62
12 Ibid., 54
13 Ibid., 51
14 Ibid., 52
15 Ibid., 98
16 Ibid., 112
Gropius, Walter. The New Architecture and the Bauhaus. Translated by P. Morton Shand and with an Introduction by Frank Pick. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1965, reprinted, 1974.