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'Fiesta' Is Held in Memory Of Architect Walter Gropius


Following his own request that "all my friends of the present and of the past would get together in a little while for a fiesta--a la Bauhaus, " woo of those close friends gathered at the offices of Architects Collaborative in Cambridge yesterday afternoon. The man they met to remember--for they did not meet "To commemorate" and certainly not "to mourn"--was Walter A. Gropius, head of the Department of Architecture at the Graduate School of Design from 1937 to 1952.

Gropius, one of the nation's leading architects, died at the Tifts-New England Medical Center last Saturday as the result of complications following surgery undergone to replace the aortic valve of his heart.

In thanking his assembled friends, his wife Ise told them that prior to the operation. Grope--the name by which they knew him -- had only asked of himself one question: "I've had so much of life, should I ask for more?"

And so too the emphasis at the Fiesta was on life. Alex Cvijanovic, a Principal of Architects Collaborative, the firm Gropius founder after retiring from Harvard, read from Gropius' testament.

In part it went:

Cremate me, but ask not for the ashes.

The piety for cinders is a half-way thing.

Out with it.

Wear no signs of mourning.

It would be beautiful if all my friends of the present and of the past would get together in a little while for a fiesta--a la Bauhaus--drinking, laughing, loving.

Then I shall surely join in, more than in life. It is more fruitful than the graveyard oratory.

Love is of the essence.

Love is of the essence.

For, even in the ceremonial and defiantly mechanistic process of death, Groius left those who followed him with a purpose, or perhaps, more precisely, a sentiment, an emotion. And more importantly, he left them its appropriate form.

For many others, Gropius left a thousand possibilities, none of which can now be lost, all captured in the name he popularized, Bauhaus. Established in 1919 in Weimar and moved to Dessau in 1925, the Bauhaus School of Design was the first major attempt to unite art with industry and daily life.

Writing in the Saturday Evening Post fifty years later, Gropius explained, "We wanted out students to come to terms with the machine without sacrificing their initiative so that they might bring to mass production, to architecture and to community planning a sense of order and beauty."

The machine had arrived with its challenge. With their own individual talents, Gropius' only rivals--Le Corbusier, Wright, Mies van der Rohe--responded. But only Gropius confronted the machine with an equally imposing voice. Only he replied in terms of the mechanistic, in terms that could grasp for beauty at the same time as they captured function.

In 1937, then, when Gropius arrived at Harvard, he was an architect who could already present valid alternatives to the eclecticism that characterized, indeed more often than not plagued, American architecture. As if in response to the architectural potpourri that is Harvard between Kirkland Street and the Charles, Gropius left a unified Graduate Center complex focused on Harkness Commons.

More significantly, though, he was an educator, a man as committed to communicating through the classroom as he was to speaking through his buildings. During his tenure, the Architecture Department of the GSD became recognized as one of the major architectural centers of the world.

It was thus appropriate that the other message at his Festival was letter to a group of students, written by Gropius just five years ago, and read yesterday by another of his associates, Norman Fletcher.

"Act as if you were going to live forever and cast your plans way ahead," Gropius wrote. "If your contribution has been vital, there will always be somebody to pick up where you left off, and that will be your claim to immortality."

In fact, though, Gropius' hold on that essence seemed to be more than just metaphorical. When he founded Architects Collabortive in '52 at the age f 69, he was just beginning one of his most productive periods.

In the years that followed, he was commissioned to design the University of Baghdad and new American embassy in Athens and was selected as a consulting architect for New York's Pan American Building.

For some the Gropius myth will remain in his buildings; for others, it can be seen in his writing; and, for some, it will lie in the apocryphia that surrounds any magnetic figure.

But, for all three, the image that lingers along with the name Walter Gropius will be a measure of a personality. It is probably Gropius' greatest achievement that that personality survived the smothering mechanisms of institutions and societies while he lived. And, as his Festival demonstrated, it is not to end with his death.

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