ITEM: Gropius, Walter & Martin Wagner. Housing as a townbuilding problem; a post-war housing problem for the students of the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, February-March, 1942. Harvard, 1942. 10x8 inches, 59 sheets, 28x21cm. Offset printed. Gathered by one brass paper punch. Good condition. Rare. $750
Walter Gropius (1883-1969, founder of tthe Bauhaus School and one of the principle builders of modern architecture) and Martin Wagner (1888-1957) were thinking of a new type of “town”, of a different sort of settlement for people, when they wrote this exercise instructional for their Harvard course. Housing as a townbuilding1 problem, written during the war in 1942, was intended to be an exercise (or “problem”), a case to be studied by the students in the departments of landscape architecture and the graduate school of design at Harvard. The class opened with this rare2 pamphlet as a basis for course work, given to the students on 2 Feb 1942, with the problem’s answers expected to be on Gropius desk five weeks later. Gropius and Martin put a tough, wide-ranging, landscape-changing question and expected answers in a very short period of time, though they definitely had a very structured plan and approach to dealing with massive implications of their exercise. The theory was outlined there in the paper, of course, and was expanded much more fully in class. And then there was this: a full page of datelines and expectations, a way of dealing with a large problem in logical chunks, adding up the answered bits, and then delivering a larger answer at the end and on time.
I’m not an architecture or design historian, so much of this paper was a little lost on me–but I could definitely appreciate the way in which the great Gropius outlined the process of problem-thinking and solution for his students. This may be the part of this paper that I liked the most.
In "The Walter Gropius House Landscape: A Collaboration of Modernism and the Vernacular"3 (published in the Journal of Architectural Education, 1984, 57 (3), p. 39) Eric F. Kramer wrote:
“Sounding similar themes in a 1942 joint studio problem for landscape and architecture, Walter [Gropius] wrote of the inspiration of the vernacular landscape and of integrating with existing systems: ‘Such a landscape invites the artist planner to observe and preserve its variety of aspects, and to invent a settlement pattern that .ts into its natural beauty. Fortunately our forefathers have already traced out a settlement pattern that fits very well into the landscape.’ Gropius–the grand master builder and master teacher–set out the problem and the solution”.
There are of course major statements in city-building and human resettlement in this work, but for now, I’m still concentrated on the Bauhaus-founder’s outline for problem solving.
1. The full title: Housing as a townbuilding problem; a post-war housing problem for the students of the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, February-March, 1942.
And in that publication Gropius writes: “When we speak of ‘new townships’ we think of a new type of human settlement “, with a redefined vision of what a “town” means, using an idea of “reception basins” for spheres of cities as centers of culture, art and commerce “and our open country as furtherer if an industrialized agriculture and of forestry and recreation”. (page 21). And all of that to be manufactured along the lines of “planned super-highway systems, one branch of which is to go through New England region and will supposedly cut through the towns of Weston and Weyland”.–Gropius and Martin.
2. This copy was in the Office for Emergency Management; only five other copies have been found and these in excellent collections: MIT, Harvard University, Cornell, Columbia and the NYPL (Special Collections). So the publication is pretty scarce, and given its method of printing and distribution, it looks like not many survived, though it is difficult to say how many were actually printed. In any event, few survived. And the holding libraries are, well, pretty good.
3. The abstract of this paper is helpful: “The Walter Gropius House Landscape A Collaboration of Modernism and the Vernacular”. “The Gropius house landscape is a potent physical manifestation of the design debates of its era. The landscape is an element of both mediation and integration forging a reciprocal and evenhanded relationship between architecture and site. Shaped by modern architectural sensibilities translated to the landscape and developed at a moment when landscape architecture was struggling to .nd a modernist inspiration and voice, it is an object lesson in the development of a modernist landscape architecture in America...”
“In these studio problems, Gropius consistently encouraged students to find new form in the functional requirements of modern times and yet to integrate with existing systems through an understanding of their own functionally driven evolution.”