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A Comparison of Walter Gropius and Mie van der Rohe

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2458 words Published: 20th Aug 2021

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As it known about two famous German architects, Walter Gropius and Mies Van de Rohe, who had been worked together and made a great contribution to the world architectures. Although both of them focus on the Modern building technology, they still have their own unique features and design philosophies. Walter’s main themes of architecture is “standardized house, prefabrication and developed house” for low-income workers whereas Mies Van de Rohe’s “Less is more” and “God is in the details” are his famous sayings. This essay talks about the two famous architects from Germany and the similarities and difference between their unique architectural buildings. In this essay, some of the greatest masterpieces before WW2 such as the Törten Estate, skyscraper, IIT campus buildings are mentioned below.

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Walter Gropius, a German architect and educator, who established the Bauhaus school of design, which has become a predominant force in architecture in 20th century. Gropius was famous for the Bauhaus style and the prestige of the architecture had established when he grouped with Adolph Meyer. Walter Gropius went against the Nazi regime and escaped Germany secretly in 1934. He taught architecture at Harvard University in Britain after a few years. Then, the Bauhaus concepts and design principles were generated and introduced by him. During the 1938 to 1941, he worked on some houses with Marcel Breuer and all of them established the Architects Collaborative in 1945 (Jackie Craven n.d).

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another prestigious German architect, who had worked with Walter Gropius and highly regarded as one of the pioneering masters of Modern architecture. Although he had never received any formal education in school, it would not stop the pursuit of establishing a new architectural style. “Less is more” and “God is in the details” are his aphorisms. He continued to seek a rational method that could navigate the innovative process of architectural design and strived to a concept of minimal framework of structural order fight against the freedom implication of free-flowing open space-“skin and bones” building style. Mies van der Rohe became well known for the glass and steel, this style clarified that the Barcelona Pavilion expressed as well as the planar inner walls that are an outgrowth of the belief that space must be made universal and flexible (Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe: architect biography 2011).

Mies’ s design for the housing was stemmed from his early study of the Kari Friedrich Schinkel. This project was famous from drawing and photographs. In 1912, Mie established his practice as an unique architect in Berlin. At that time, there was a competition that had been held for a skyscraper design on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. Although Mies’s scheme was successful and forward-looking, the project could not be accepted due to the poor conditions would not match with the solution (Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe: architect biography 2011).

Walter Gropius - design philosophy

The architectural design of Walter Gropius was on the basis of the “new architecture”, which was not just about shelter any longer, but a kind of expression. The whole world has changed the idea from the gigantic structures to the stability and protection of the architectural buildings. In the modern age, we can concentrate on the architecture itself and the pursuit of our human’s expressed feelings. Walter Gropius’s ideology of designing buildings is far more advanced and preferable to the modern time than turn people in the past. He has more focused on the central expression and utilitarianism of every buildings rather than beautiful structure and extravagant materials (Design Philosophy 2011).

Walter Gropius’s “New Architecture” included the new materials and modern technologies of the World. He said that excellent design should be available to all and truly believed that it was not impossible by using standardization and prefabricated homes. The use of walls was just the most distinguishing angle of the buildings he designed. The simple form that provided by him was the best way to express life (Design Philosophy 2011).

Bauhaus/International style of architecture has a number of unique features: namely, functionality Vs ornamentation, asymmetry and regularity Vs symmetry, and space Vs mass. Walter Gropius gave up the old concept and style of the architectural building, while he mainly put these three ideas in the front line- functionality, asymmetry and space. Bauhaus buildings are normally cubic with right angles; they have smooth facades and an open floor plan (Yael Zisling 2000).

Bauhaus architecture primarily relates to the social aspects of design and workers’ departments. Tel Aviv, a newly evolved city, which embraced the style. This style of architecture was popular at a time due to the new engineering advancements that allowed to be built around steel or iron frames, that was, the walls did not support the structure any longer, but only enveloped from the outside. The International Style was the kind of architecture that never depended on the past style of the buildings; conversely, it made an attempt to set up a new and modern style. In Tel Aviv, Bauhaus architecture benefited a foothold because there was no real entrenched architectural style. However, the style of the architecture could be discovered in many places in Tel Aviv (Yael Zisling 2000).

Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe - design philosophy

Mies’s glass skyscraper proposal actually had not been accepted by those clients because there was a thirty-story tower designed for an usual site situated near the crossing of the broad avenues, and this free-form scheme without any effective solutions for the structure. In 1923, the proposal was known from the photos of a model and several drawings. It can be shown from this project that Mies Van Der Rohe moves to a real “modern” style, it has become of great interest. He took over a number of studies of these architectures, which includes block building at that time (Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe: architect biography 2011).

In 1924, the plan for a brick building has a close resemblance to the de Stiji paintings of Van Doesburg. Mies Van der rohe regarded the brick as an old material and utilized it in the design for this planed country house. The Walls were free standing, sliding out from beneath the roof into the landscape. The walls linked with glass enclosures produced an entirely new effect, with radical implications for living style. Mies van der Rohe used these concepts to good effect in the Barcelona Pavilion of 1929 (Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe: architect biography 2011).

Walter Gropius - technology

Due to the Industrial Revolution, the world had evolved dramatically, while art schools ignored new technology and ideas. Gropius supported students to exploit new industrial materials and processes. Walter Gropius believed that art should serve the proletariat and those of completed buildings. The main themes of Gropius architecture is “standardized house, prefabrication and developed house”. These ideas were applied into his private missions. In 1926, Gropius designed a 60-dwelling low-income community in Dessau, Germany- the Törten Estate. He often helped the urban workers who live under the poverty lines. In order to help those poor workers, Gropius planed to design economical buildings with small but comfortable rooms by using cheap materials like cement and prefabricated elements. He tried to improve the sunlight and air circulation in the room by placing the windows (Walter Gropius and the Legacy of Modernism / Maddie Wardley 2011).

At present, most of the modern buildings adapt the Bauhaus style. There is a typical case of Truro House design. This house makes full use of the energy-saving techniques like solar power and it is divided into the wings. One is used for family visits and could be closed to reduce the energy. Just as Gropius, the buildings prefer to white color, big windows and a flat roof. The structural elements have been exposed under the sunlight. Perhaps Gropius fancies about the transparency in these buildings so that visitors can see through the construction and inner workings. Therefore, the Truro House can demonstrate a theme of technology, comfort, conservation and functionality by this famous designer. Up into now, the architecture is still largely affected by Bauhaus Modernism (Walter Gropius and the Legacy of Modernism / Maddie Wardley 2011).

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Mie van der Rohe - Technology

Mie van der Rohe designed Czechoslovakia in 1930, the largest luxurious Tugendhat House in Brno. On a sloping site, this building is with a compact two-story plan and entered from the street at the higher level. The living rooms and dining rooms give more space and quality. Its use of exterior terraces on both levels is omparable to Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein in Garches, France, 1927. The house is the same in function as large, late nineteenth-century country houses. Individual spaces could be shut off using draperies on ceiling tracks. The curved wall denning the dining room is Macassar wood, with an onyx freestanding wall denning space between living area and study. The Brno chairs designed for this house have been generated. The house suffered damage and is now owned by the city of Bmo (Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe: architect biography 2011).

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was counted among the founders of modern architecture and design. One of the most emulated architects of the 20th century, he taught architecture for almost 30 years. Mies came to Illinois Institute of Technology to head the university’s Department of Architecture soon after the closing of Bauhaus, the renowned design school that flourished in Germany from 1919 until the rise of Nazism in 1933. During his 20 years as chairman of the department, he built up a curriculum based on the Bauhaus philosophy of synthesizing aesthetics and technology. He strongly emphasized on the grounding in the fundamentals of architecture and on a disciplined method of problem solving is reflected in IIT’s curriculum. According to his career, Mie had affected a great many architects and they made his theories into a movement (See Architecture 2011).

His own designs, ranging from the Barcelona Pavilion in Spain to the Seagram Building in New York to IIT’s S. R. Crown Hall – changed the skylines of cities all over the globe. Mies established Crown hall, which depicted on the banquet stamp, in 1955, was considered to be one of his greatest architectural masterpiece. In order to provide for a flexible, columnless interior, Mies stopped the roof from four steel girders maintained in the midway through eight external columns. Crown Hall has been regarded as an “immortal contribution to the architecture of Chicago and the world.” In 1941, Mies also designed the masterpiece of IIT campus, which was the most remarkable projects he believed and the only person to come close to attaining the whole realization. There are 20 architectural buildings around the old campus, which are the greatest Mies-designed buildings in the world. Hence, IIT campus has become a landmark of Chicago(See Architecture 2011).

Similarity & Difference

Not surprisingly, it is evident from the details provided that there are some similarities and differences between Walter Gropius and Mies’ attitudes toward the technology and stylish building to the specific group of people. Walter Gropius focuses on low-income workers and he tries to build up the affordable and comfortable homes for people. Moreover, he considers the cost consumption of materials, the architecture’s practice, space, sunlight and air circulation. Further, he believes that architecture should express a kind of feelings or theme rather than its extravagant materials consumption and too distinguished surface.

It has been discovered that the buildings that Walter Gropius designs are almost the people’s living place and the structures are modernized and fully transparent. The Bauhaus/ International style of architecture hold its ideology: functionality, asymmetry and space with lower cost consumptions. This would be fine match with the modern people’s perceptions and demands.

However, although Mie van der Rohe’s architectural style still toward the Modernism, it seems that Mie van’s buildings are far more preferable to the metropolitan building such as skyscraper. This is the striking difference between the Mie and Walter Gropius. The Mie van der Rohe has strongly emphasized the details, qualities and aesthetics. For example, “the living rooms and dining rooms give more space and quality. Its use of exterior terraces on both levels is omparable to Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein in Garches, France, 1927…..”Also his architectural buildings normally located on the Campus or the city centres, IIT’s S. R. Crown Hall is the one case to prove it.

Mie’s architectural theories can build up a big city for one country whereas Walter Gropius’s can establish a comfortable home for people. Maybe this is where the difference is. Still, there remain some similarities between them. First, they both apply modern technology to the building establishment; second, no matter Walter’s the three main themes or Mies’s God is in the details, they all made the greatest contribution to the human race, to the country, to the modernization. Meanwhile, they hold the common attitude to the modern technology and impart their way of thinking to the next generation.


All together, this paper discusses the main architectural styles and design philosophies from Walter Gropius and Mie van der Rohe before the second world war. Walter Gropius prefers to the functionality of the building, while Mies is more likely to design it in an aesthetic way. They both have the typical masterpieces which located in different places. There are also a lot of research findings about their architectures, designs and attitudes toward the modern technology. Based on these series of comparison and contrast, it has been noted clearly that the situation of architectural development and technology goes to the certain extent that has already reached the contemporary design model-skyscrapers or the Törten Estate, unfortunately, the conditions of architecture could not meet the requirements of solutions at that time. Nevertheless, their ideas have surpassed all the unavailable conditions and exerted the strong power to push the historical movement.


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