Walter Gropius

Defying gravity and overcoming the earth’s inertia

Gropius’ two-seater F51-2 sofa and the F51-3 three-seater version evolved organically out of the F51 cube armchair in the director’s room of the Weimar Bauhaus. The floating cushions catch the eye alternately, as does the signature cantilever design which encompasses the upholstery – one could almost say, permeates it. The F51-2 and F51-3 sofas have close ties with Tecta. Erich Brendel corresponded with the company and was able to confirm that the F51 armchair already stood in the director’s room in the spring of 1920, but not the sofa.

There only exist a few photographs of the sofa group itself documenting the three-seater sofa. Tecta’s Axel Bruchhäuser recalls: “There is a photograph showing J. J. Pieter Oud, the Dutch De Stijl artist, with Wassily Kandinsky and Walter Gropius in the middle. It took the eyes of a detective to see that it was the three-seater.” Tecta also developed the elegant two-seater following the faithful reedition of the three-seater. In doing so, it pursued the programme of Walter Gropius’ constructivist modernism with the same radicality.

Axel Bruchhäuser, a Tecta partner since 1972, sees this as the dawn of a new era: “They started at zero after the complete moral, material and intellectual destruction wrought by the Great War. By founding the Bauhaus in 1919, he wanted to free himself from old conventions, rethink everything and be completely open for anything new.” In view of this radical entry into modernity, we really need to keep in mind that this new movement itself is now almost a century old.

One of the most impressive concepts is that of the cantilever chair championed at the Bauhaus, which builds a bridge all the way to El Lissitzky’s Cloud Irons of 1924. The radically new assumes a tangible form. Walter Gropius said: The goal of modern architecture is “to defy gravity and overcome the earth’s inertia in impression and appearance.” And this is a living example.

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The man who wrote the rules. After first enrolling to study architecture at the Technical University of Munich, Walter Gropius continued his studies at the University of Charlottenburg-Berlin, which he left in 1908 without completing his diploma. Gropius joined the office of Peter Behrens in the same year, where he worked alongside a number of architects who would become luminaries in their profession, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Dietrich Marcks.

After working for Behrens for two years, Gropius established his own practice for architecture and industrial design in 1910. His output in this period included wallpapers, mass-produced interior furnishings, car bodies and even a diesel locomotive.

The Fagus Factory in Alfeld an der Leine, which he designed together with Adolf Meyer, would be his first major architectural work. With its transparent façade of steel and glass, this factory building is widely held to be a pioneering work of what later became known as »Modern Architecture« evolving eventually in the 1920s into the »Neues Bauen« or »New Objectivity« movement. The Fagus Factory was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in June 2011.

After the First World War Gropius became a founding member of the Bauhaus: in 1919 he succeeded Henry van de Veldes as the Director of the Großherzoglich-Sächsischen Hochschule für Bildende Kunst in Weimar (Thuringia) and renamed the institute »Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar«. Gropius held the office of Director in Weimar until 1926 and subsequently in Dessau. He was succeeded by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who directed the Bauhaus until its closure in 1933. Gropius immigrated to England in 1934, following a smear campaign by the Nazis, who branded the Bauhaus a »Church of Marxism«. In 1937 he relocated to Cambridge, USA, where he served as a professor of architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.