RogerBW's Blog

Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus, Fiona MacCarthy 08 December 2019

2019 non-fiction, examining the life and work of Gropius.

This is another Book of the Week condensation, and I suspect that the work has been downplayed in favour of the life.

I am not particularly a fan of the architecture of the Bauhaus and its successors: all too often, it seems to me, they end up making great featureless or repetitive slabs with no space for human individuality (for example the beton brut design of the Barbican estate, while visually very appealing, ends up confusing people because every junction and corridor looks the same as every other, and it's hard to feel any attachment to your flat when you know it's the same as that of hundreds of your neighbours). For a factory building in the post-war industrialising Germany of the 1920s, that might make some sense; as an influence on every building everywhere, rather less so. So I listened to the condensation in the hope of finding out something about the influences on and thinking of Gropius.

But what I got instead was his early life and a lot of his affair, and then marriage, with Alma Mahler, a fine example of what a friend of mine once crudely expressed as "don't put it in the crazy". All right, it's clear that this was an influence on Gropius, to be able to support her in the style she insisted on; but taking Alma's own diaries, in which she is very obviously shading and fabulating to make herself look good, as in any way indicative of her own state of mind never mind that of Gropius, seems to me just another aspect of the problem of taking her at her word when she's talking about Mahler.

An odd omission is that the early buildings are the only designs of Gropius' own that get mentioned; after that it's the man as administrator, and not even much of that.

MacCarthy does her best to downplay Gropius' own flaws, not mentioning any of his other affairs (at least in this condensation), but insisting that his second wife change her first name before marrying him and cutting her off from her family and old friends certainly doesn't speak well of him. Similarly, there's nothing here about the way that female students at the Bauhaus were compelled to work in the weaving shop to support the school while the men, regarded as more capable of "authentic artistic expression", were allowed to pick their own media and subjects. A biography by someone who disliked the subject would be unlikely to be much good, and one has to excuse a certain amount of this kind of thing.

But the end result of all this sanding off of most of the edges is something like a hagiography, in which everything that ever went wrong for Gropius is someone else's fault… but then, because his work is barely mentioned, everything that went right is also someone else's fault ("he was offered a position at Harvard", but we don't learn about anything he'd done that might have influenced people to make that offer). As presented here, he's just this guy who wants to design stuff and run a school, you know? Apart from his sex life, and a brief early period in the Behrens office with van der Rohe and Le Corbusier which I couldn't help thinking could have used some expansion, nothing touches him and he touches nothing. There are some hints that he was drifting in communistic directions with his glorification of the working man, but nothing's ever made of that either.

All in all, a sad disappointment.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2022 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1