Recap :: Gropius House Tour

Photo Courtesy of Jayne Nmadu
By Jayne Nmadu, MArch Candidate

Walking up the hill to the Gropius house, touring the interior and witnessing everyday life through the eyes of Walter and Ise Gropius was very surreal. It was like taking a step out of 2013 right into the 1930’s as the house has been maintained in the character and design of its original owners. The furniture, art, appliances, books, knick-knacks and even clothes have been remarkably preserved and stay true to the fashion in which the Gropiuses utilized them in their home, personal items, such as their reading glasses sitting on the office table, give the house a lived-in feel allowing visitors to really experience what living in the Gropius house was like.

The site, located in Lincoln Massachusetts and $20,000 used to build the house was a donation from Mrs Helen Storrow. The design of the house was a collaborative effort between Walter, his wife Ise and Ati their daughter. This radical house was significantly influential in introducing the international style of modernism to the United States. Gropius cleverly fused aspects of New England design and materials with those of the international movement, using traditional wood, brick and field stone but cementing his vision with metal and glass.

The house is elegantly simple yet designed for maximum efficiency. Gropius experimented with a variety of material, cork floors which previously was only used in gymnasiums was used in the house, the ceiling are made with acoustic plaster, the handrail for the stair case was custom made and designed to be ergonomic. The plan is compact yet circulation well thought out and thoroughly efficient eliminating the need for corridors except for the center hall. The use of glass and glass blocks in the house are very intentional to provide constant light and enhance the spaciousness of the spaces. It is very obvious that light played a huge part in the design of this house, from the manipulation of light through the glass wall partition between the study and the dining room to the expansive window in the L shaped living and dining room.

Some of the furniture for the house was brought with them from the Bauhaus, some were designed by Marcel Breuer, a former Bauhaus colleague but both the old and the new blended into Gropius vision for his house. Art was a significant aspect of their lives and throughout the house there are carefully selected pieces that reinforce their design philosophy and a few artworks that were gifted to the couple as well.

It was important to the Gropiuses to maintain the natural and agricultural landscape of the site which was reflected in the planning. There is a graduation from the planned landscape in the immediate vicinity of the house that progressed into an intermediate space, a little less cultivated and finally blending with the natural landscape in its original state. The property had an apple orchard which remains to this day.

Walter Gropius lived in this house until his death in 1969, his wife Ise, continued to live in the house until shortly before her death in 1983. Before she passed she bequeathed the property to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA) to be operated as a museum and gave specific instruction for how authenticity should be maintained. The Gropius house is a living slice of history.