A Point In Design

Famous Bldgs Tour – Walter Gropius House, Lincoln, MA
February 26, 2011, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Trips to Famous Buildings

Walk up to the Gropius House

I am just back from my tour of the Gropius House in Lincoln, MA. Visiting the house has been on my to do list for a while and today was the first nice day that coincided with the house being open during its limited winter schedule (Only open on weekends from 11am-4pm in the winter). I have to say that the house surprised me on several counts. It was built in 1938 in the International Style, yet when I went through it, it had none of the cold ‘industrial’ feel that the Corbusier villas from the same period exude. Like all museums, you can only take pictures of the outside, but lucky for you my readers I choose to flout those conventions and was able to sneak a few shots of the interior for you to see. The remaining interior photos are from the bldg’s website.

Surprise 1 The glass block. Glass block was used in the mudroom and in Gropius’s study. Previous photos of these spaces always appeared very cold and sterile. And to an extent my opinion didn’t change after seeing the spaces in person. However by placing plants and flowers against the block walls, the block and the rooms containing it are warmed considerably. The use of the glass block in the entry also made complete sense when we returned to the front door at the conclusion of the tour. The glass allowed a very warm light to enter the foyer.

View of entry foyer and staircase

Surprise 2 The number of bathrooms. For a small house (only 2600sq ft) the house had 3.5 baths (2 upstairs + 1.5 downstairs). For 1938 that must have been considered a great luxury.

Surprise 3 The ribbon windows. Prior to my tour, I had only ever seen this window arrangement in the Corbu villas and the photos of those bldgs made them seem very uninviting. In the Gropius house, curtains and the positioning of the windows (at shoulder height on the 2nd floor) made the windows very pleasing. Similar to Wright’s Robbie House, the windows were positioned to allow one inside to look out, yet concealed the view of the occupants from passersby on the street. The high window placement also created a transom window effect and drew your eye away from the ceilings which were barely 8ft on the second floor.

Surprise 4 Modern HVAC system. Gropius was quite innovative with the heating of the house. A single boiler powered a split hot water and hot air system for heating the house.

Surprise 5 The bedrooms. Both the guest bedroom and Gropius’ daughter’s room had an L-shape to them. Both rooms were compact by today’s standards but the arrangement felt very spacious for a 12 x 12 room.

Surprise 6 All the art in the house. I suppose that this isn’t really a surprise given that Gropius was the head of the Bauhaus school and his colleagues were the lead designers of the time who gave him all kinds of gifts over the years. In a way the house was like a showroom for the Design Within Reach catalog, which sells very overpriced copies of the original masterworks. I was making a mental calculation of what all the furnishings would cost in today’s prices. It was a lot. Yet the house was surprisingly modest. There was no trim work or fancy molding in the house (in keeping with the International Style) and all of the components except for the stair railing were purchased from catalogs at the time.

Surprise 7 The small details. Like the recessed tracks embedded into the ceilings for movable curtains. Genius.

Surprise 8 Gropius’s design philosophy and personal practice. He preferred students who developed their own style and methods, avoiding following the methods of their instructors. I was also surprised that he never did any of the drafting or model building for his designs himself. He would only sketch out his designs and then have his assistants produce the drafted working drawings.

Overall I was really impressed with the house and discovered a lot of ideas that I intend to introduce into my own work. Therefore I would highly recommend a visit to the Gropius House if you are in the area.

For further info about the property click this link.

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