Groupius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus

By Fiona MacCarthy

 

Architecture has been a notoriously male and ego-dominated profession.  Frequently the architect’s name alone is associated with prominent building projects while the armies of designers, engineers, and junior architects who made the project possible are rarely mentioned.  Many of the most well-known architects  – Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer, and Philip Johnson – lived well into their 90’s and continued to jot down ideas on paper for their studios and students to complete while still taking the credit for the project.  Women and minorities in architecture were often poorly treated and sadly overlooked.

The heyday of modern architecture in mid-century Europe and the United States was a time when famous architects wielded their egos and powers recklessly.  This era brought forth the angular and spare structures of glass and steel that are now common in most cityscapes.  The book, Groupius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus, written by the seasoned design historian Fiona MacCarthy, reveals a very different way of working.  The Bauhaus school, which laid much of the groundwork for architectural modernism, was, MacCarthy argues, fundamentally collaborative.

Founded 100 years ago in Germany by Walter Groupius, the Bauhaus was arguably the single most influential modernist art school of the 20th century. Its approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and in the United States long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933. Unlike many modernist masters, Groupius was far more interested in community and education than in huge projects branded with his own name.  Groupius designed a number of famous buildings – the Pan Am building in NYC, the Fagus Factory in Germany – but his true legacy was the talent he nurtured in others.  The Bauhaus allowed artistic visions to flourish and became the ultimate art school.  Women’s artistic endeavors were encouraged while argument was considered intrinsic to creativity.

Groupius tells the poignant and personal story of the man whose vision for the Bauhaus influenced art education and schools worldwide.  It also offers a fascinating look at the urges that drove European and American modernism that brought forth the architecture we know today with its emphasis on simplicity, primary colors, elemental shapes, and light filled and spare interiors.  If you are a student of architecture or simply interested in architecture, this beautifully written and carefully researched book will be one you will want to read.

 

Fiona MacCarthy, a former design correspondent for The Guardian and architecture critic for The Observer, she has curated exhibits at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in London.  MacCarthy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art.  She has received numerous awards and prizes for her nonfiction works on art and design.

2020 February Book Commentary
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