Translating Architecture: Walter Gropius and the Legacy of the Bauhaus

The inspiration behind this course is Walter Gropius (1883-1969), German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School, who subsequently moved to the United States, and became a Professor of Architecture at Harvard GSD. This seminar looks at Walter Gropius and the other Bauhaus architects, such as Mies van der Rohe, who moved to the United States, and examines how successfully their architectural ideas translated into a North American context. It will also look at the impact that they and other leading European modernist architects had on subsequent generations of architects. How might we understand the influence of the modernist masters—such as Mies or Le Corbusier—on contemporary architects, such as Rem Koolhaas? For example, are we to perceive Koolhaas as someone somewhat critical of Le Corbusier, as suggested by his book, Delirious New York, or as someone who modeled himself consciously on Le Corbusier, as suggested by Rene Daalder in his new movie about Koolhaas, Leaning Towers? The course also looks—more generally—at the translation of academic ideas within the field of architecture. How successfully might we translate theoretical “tools” from philosophy and deploy them within the field of architecture in order to “rethink” architectural theory? Or how successfully might we adopt technological tools from other disciplines and embrace them within the field of architecture? Indeed, can architecture itself ever be seen as an autonomous discipline, or will it always feed off theoretical ideas and technological innovations from other disciplines?

This seminar course will also include a group study trip to Dessau and Berlin, Germany. The trip will include research visits to the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation and the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin, and visits to outstanding examples of modernist and contemporary architecture in Dessau and Berlin. The visit will last approximately 9 days, from 27/28 March to 5 April, and will include accommodation in Gropius’s own masterpiece, the Bauhaus in Dessau. The trip will also include a symposium in Dessau on 1 April, and it is hoped that material from that symposium will form part of a publication.

Preference in enrollment is given to MDes History of Philosophy of Design and PhD students. The trip is limited to 12 students.

Note, students selected for 3362 in the online limited enrollment lottery and opt to travel will be term billed $300, in addition to the costs of meals and incidentals. Students are responsible for obtaining the necessary visas. One set itinerary is made for the trip with no modifications. If students wish to modify the itinerary, it may be possible for them to do so in direct contact with the travel agent, and the student is responsible for any change fees incurred. Students will need to sign a travel waiver in the Department of Architecture and register their trip with Harvard Travel Assist.