Field Trip :: Gropius House

Image: Rand Lemley
By Rand Lemley, B.Arch Candidate
In quiet Lincoln, Massachusetts, sits the American home of one of the founders of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius. The Gropius House (1938) has incredible history to be discovered, both in its design and reasons for being erected. 

Walter Gropius took leadership of the school which would become the Bauhaus in 1919. Drawing influential creators like Josef Albers and Paul Klee, the Bauhaus history is well-known by many students of design. With the rise of Nazi power, Walter escaped to England with his wife, Ise, in 1934 under the pretense of going on vacation. In 1937, he was invited to teach at Harvard Graduate School of Design by Helen Storrow, who also loaned him money to build a house nearby. Walter accepted the position and was soon followed by Marcel Brauer, one of his protégés at the Bauhaus.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
In the Gropius House, Walter applied the International Modernism for which he was known to a home which employs traditional New England tectonics. The home has a timber frame and uses brick, fieldstone, and clapboard for structure and decoration of the facade. The house is sited to overlook an apple orchard on the property. Walter was enamored with the farming lifestyle he saw around him and fashioned a place to live it out for himself.

Immediately upon stepping into the home, a visitor is faced with a sinuous handrail which seems to naturally cradle the hand as it passes to the second floor via a caged stairwell. The foyer, indeed the entire house, contains the original furniture and much of the original artwork that Walter and Ise used to decorate the interior. An original Womb Chair, by Eero Saarinen, sits in the living room looking toward the library of books from Walter’s collection. To reach the living room, however, a visitor must pass through Walter’s study, which has been built with an oblong wall of fogged glass cubes to encourage quick movement through this more personal space.

Left: Staircase. Right: Walter's study. Images: Library of Congress
The desk in Walter’s study is one of a few well-executed details of the house. Heat is expelled through the bottom and along the window to which the desk joins. The wide window allows a handsome view of the orchard and the street beyond. Another detail is the panel of glass which separates the powder room from Walter and Ise’s bedroom. Walter and Ise kept the windows open year-round, but Ise wanted a barrier to the cold from the windows while she prepared for going out. The panel is installed just above her vanity. 

Ise's powder room. Image: Library of Congress
A third curious detail is a spiral staircase that descends from a second-floor patio. Interestingly, this staircase represents Walter and Ise’s progressive view toward parenting. They recognized their daughter, Ati, would be coming back to the house late at night and did not want her to disturb them upon her arrival. Walter installed the staircase to join the patio, which leads straight into Ati’s bedroom. The patio is still covered in Concord grapevines that bears the juicy fruit each summer.

Patio in the fall. Image: Rand Lemley
The Gropius House was one of the first examples of International Modernism to reach American shores. Only a thirty minute drive separates the house from Boston, which makes this an easy house to tour and study. Keep in mind that the DeCordova Sculpture Garden and Walden Pond are in the same neighborhood, so you can plan an entire day of adventure. For details on planning a visit click here.