When faith in the "Modern Movement" collapsed, Walter Gropius' work was dropped from the canon of architectural discourse. This was a mistake.
On the right is an image of Gropius' living room published in the New Yorker from a 2019 retrospective, titled "The Man Who Built the Bauhaus." On the left is a plate from Gropius' own retrospective, The Scope of Total Architecture, which has been out of print since 1974. Gropius had a lot more to offer than simply a Bauhaus pedagogy or style, however influential those were, and much of what is being forgotten or ignored, shouldn't be.
Walter Gropius’ legacy as the originator of the Bauhaus is fundamental to the narrative of any Modern Architecture survey. Curiously, at least at the University of Texas School of Architecture, his involvement outside of the Bauhaus is little discussed and does not feature in the curriculum. The fact that he has fallen from favor is corroborated by the fact his late-life retrospective, Total Scope of Architecture, was last published in English in 1974. None of this would be worth mentioning if his ideas did not matter anymore, but the opposite seems to be true. Take, for example, his campaign against the automobile, which he began in earnest in the 1940s, or his insistence that the education of architects should align closely with professional practice. Both are still pressing issues today, in 2019. This paper will argue that there is reason to reintroduce Gropius’ thought, at least in part—as conveyed through the Total Scope of Architecture—into the canonical history of Architectural discourse.
My inquiry centers around an exploration of themes in Gropius writing. The purpose is twofold. On the one hand, simply to re-evaluate what I find to be relevant observations, and on the other, to suggest possible reasons why these observations seem to have fallen from favor. The line of inquiry I take is roughly keyed to the following questions. I suspect the answer hangs in the balance.
The questions Gropius asks are no longer relevant.
The answers Gropius presents to these questions are no longer valid.
The discipline is no longer interested in these kinds of questions.
Gropius’ involvement with CIAM is revealing. The prevailing narrative suggests that Gropius was cast aside with the Modern Movement, but on closer investigation this is unconvincing. First of all, Gropius arguments are nuanced enough that they persist despite a number of flaws evident in retrospect. Moreover, if anyone were to be discarded with the Modern Movement it should be Corbusier—the founder of CIAM and its self-appointed spokesman. This has not happened. Instead, Corbusier has enjoyed continuous popularity (evidenced both in UTSOA curricula and in publishing data), which implies that the issue with Gropius had less to do with his stature as a Modernist — which would have affected Corbusier’s appeal as well — but more to do with the kind of architectural thinking that predominated after the Modernist faith was undermined.
When we associate his later work only with a bygone era of utopian dreams, à la Ville Radieuse, or to remember him only as the progenitor of the Bauhaus, we do a disservice to ourselves and to future generations of architects as we risk losing a powerful voice and a rigorous thinker who tackled the dilemma of architecture in a rapidly industrializing society head-on, with commendable courage ... read the entire paper here.
ABSTRACT: The nature of the "crit" in architecture school creates the wrong incentives. To begin with, the whole thing is too visual. The built environment is more than a visual phenomenon, and the building needs to do more than "look good". Pictures are not enough.
Not only that, but they seem to be getting worse. The tolerance for images which contain little real information about a building or landscape, trending instead toward a pastiche of aspirational, emotive and abstract art-scapes is perplexing.
Such drawings are like graphs without labeled axes. Do we have to be bad at science to make good art? Architecture students should be concerned when they find it easy to exchange their ability to control, manipulate, and test real information for the flights of their gestural, expressive dreams.
“We believe that architecture and design play a key role in addressing complex local, regional, national, and global issues, and that our work will advance a better quality of life for all people.” — UTSOA Vison Statement
Is UTSOA “practicing what it preaches?” Certainly, there are indications—more evident in the history and planning curricula—but I worry that the dominant model of architectural instruction is still poorly suited to address the types of complex problems indicated in UTSOA’s mission. The issue seems to be that a studio culture which is still centered around the “crit” tends to value appearances over substance, and conjecture over rigorous inquiry. The structure of a crit incentivizes work that will quickly impress a coterie of academic architects who know little about the project, which, intentionally or not, teaches students to value slick images, technical proficiency, internal coherence, and salesmanship.
While these skills are not meaningless in the profession, I believe the school would serve its students better by teaching them how to discover and deliver real value rather than how to sell the appearance of it. Not only does a primarily graphic approach presume that a visual relationship with the built environment is what matters, but more worryingly, I believe it is an inadequate method of investigation, especially into the type of complex, global problems discussed above.
Students often talk about affordable housing, for example, without being able to specify whether this is market-rate or subsidized, or with only a vague understanding of how the monetary policy of subsidization is put in effect. This is not their fault; this information is strangely difficult to come by in the halls of Goldsmith. Furthermore, even if it were available, affordable housing is designed in a spreadsheet, not on a drawing board. It is my belief that the kind of “design thinking” which is taught at UT is, at best, a poor way to achieve these ambitious, socially sensitive ends, and at worse, counterproductive — because it is either unable or unwilling to find value.. But if affordability is to be considered an architectural problem, then spreadsheets must be considered an architectural design tool, and an important one, too.
If we we want to leverage architecture as a tool to solve complex problems and to genuinely serve the public good, we need to look beyond the studio. The future is daunting — unprecedented immigration flows, rising inequity, and increasingly severe climatic events — but architecture can have a real impact, especially if it has the courage to sacrifice its preoccupation with appearances.
Vanity is untenable. What starts here should change the world. Is it?
Typical typographic nonsense: in this escalating culture war for attention legibility went out of fashion long ago. Lecture posters for various architecture schools as found in UTSOA Dean's Office, March 2019.