Walter Gropius Moves to Massachusetts

With the help of the English architect Maxwell Fry, Gropius was able to leave Nazi Germany in 1934, on the pretext of making a temporary visit to Britain.

He lived and worked in Britain, as part of the Isokon group with Fry and others and then, in 1937, moved on to the United States. The house he built for himself in Lincoln, Massachusetts, was influential in bringing International Modernism to the U.S. but Gropius disliked the term: "I made it a point to absorb into my own conception those features of the New England architectural tradition that I found still alive and adequate."

Gropius and his Bauhaus protégé Marcel Breuer both moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and collaborate on the company-town Aluminum City Terrace project in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, before their professional split. In 1944, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

The home Walter Gropius built for his family soon after moving from to the US from Germany had a dramatic impact on American architecture, as an early and prominent example of what the Americans, to Gropius' dislike, called the new International Style. Its detailing keeps strongly to the principles of the Bauhaus, which Gropius had founded and directed in Germany, exploiting simple, well-designed but mass-produced fittings for steel wall lights, chromed banisters etc., as well as in the structure of the house (glass block walls complementing the wooden frame and New England clapboarding).

The house is designed and detailed to work almost theatrically as a whole. The lighting in the dining room, for example, mixes a single art-gallery spotlight recessed in the ceiling, whose beam exactly covers the circular table but not the diners; a second spotlight in the study, backlighting the glass-block wall between the two rooms and silhouetting the sprawling plant that climbs the glass wall; and exterior floodlights illuminating the trees in the garden.

The minimalist color scheme is maintained throughout the house - black, white, pale grays and earth colors, with sparsely used contrasting splashes of red.

Gropius uses interior clapboard for further ingenious lighting effects: set vertically on the walls of the entrance hall, the angle of each overlapping board stops light, rather than rain, reaching the near edge of its neighbor; the result is an appealing pattern of shadows generated by the contrastingly simple mass-produced wall lights.

As to my practice, when I built my first house in the U.S.A. - which was my own - I made it a point to absorb into my own conception those features of the New England architectural tradition that I found still alive and adequate. This fusion of the regional spirit with a contemporary approach to design produced a house that I would never have built in Europe with its entirely different climatic, technical and psychological background.”

— Walter Gropius