‘Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus’


Fiona MacCarthy, Belknap Press, 560 pages, $35. The world remembers Walter Gropius as an innovative architect of pared-down modernist buildings and the founder of the Bauhaus, a revolutionary school of art and design. His aim was to bring architects, designers and artists together in a working community to create what he called the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art. Charismatic, gifted, idealistic and well-connected, he wanted to do something new and life-affirming after fighting in World War I. The fabled school lasted a mere 14 years. Hitler’s regime was increasingly hostile to the Bauhaus, branding its output degenerate, and Gropius’ commissions dried up. Starved of funds, it closed in 1933. The Bauhäusler dispersed across the globe. Gropius moved to London but found the artistic climate uncongenial. Soon he was offered the chairmanship of a new graduate architecture program at Harvard, where he made a deep impression on a generation of students. After World War II, with a group of colleagues half his age, he started an architectural practice which was to become America’s largest. MacCarthy, who has previously published books on William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, met Gropius decades ago and determined that she would write his biography. She eventually got around to it in time for the Bauhaus’s 100th birthday this year. The result is a riveting book about a man who nurtured a vastly ambitious project through extraordinary times.