Celebrating the fathers of the INTERNATIONAL STYLE
The wealthy widow set only one condition: In return for five acres in rural Lincoln, Mass., architect Walter Gropius - founder of the Bauhaus, modernist incarnate - would design a house for himself ''in the best of the New England architecture tradition.''Skip to next paragraph
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His verbal response was an obvious ''yes.''
Only, as the story told on this the centennial of his birth goes, Gropius's architectural reply was quite otherwise.
Surely the pioneer of the modern movement had not come from Germany to produce what the WPA guide to the state in 1937 was calling the characteristic ''modern brick in the Georgian Colonial style of architecture.''
What he set on the New England fields was steel and glass cubes. It was flat-roofed and sleekly functional. It used Sears, Roebuck parts to approximate prefabrication. It was, his associate Alex Cvijanovic told an audience commemorating Gropius's life, a ''modern white box.''
What it was not, at any rate, was the house that the philanthropist, Mrs. James Jackson Storrow, had in mind.
''Where is the New England tradition?'' she asked the Bauhausmeister.
''It is all there,'' Gropius replied. ''You see, it has a storm entrance. It's made of clapboard. It's white and it has a chimney.'' What could be more New England? ''It's just the form that's different.''
''I think in his mind,'' continued Cvijanovic (his colleague and a principal in the firm Gropius founded, the Architects Collaborative), ''the tradition really was New England.''
And didn't the passive solar heating, the concern with the setting, the economy of parts fit the New England landscape? Gropius's ''New England house'' eventually came under the care of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
This tale and other positive (or defensive) narratives honoring Gropius's 100 th anniversary this spring have responded to the post-modernist polemic and Tom Wolfe's ''From Bauhaus to Our House,'' which blackened the reputation of Gropius as ''the silver knight'' of the international style.
A series of speeches, the first of a two-volume official biography on the architect, by Reginald Isaacs; a photographic exhibition of Gropius's observations while in Japan at Harvard's Graduate School of Design; and the show ''A Tribute to Walter Gropius'' (through July 1 at the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard) fit into a long fest that also included the recital of the tale above and other vindications of the Bauhaus.
''The Bauhaus was not an influence because of a group of buildings,'' Gropius was quoted as saying, ''but because it was an idea. There is no international style at the Bauhaus. The approach is to start with the human being and his surroundings.''
The emphasis on inclusiveness, invention, regionalism, the urge to educate was uttered again and again in the reappraisal of this founding father as if to remind his fulminating followers not to blame one man for the failures of modern architecture.
The key speaker, historian James Marston Fitch, was typical. He would not deny that ''modern architecture is in a cul-de-sac, but to suggest that your generation can escape this dilemma by retreating to Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley is farcical, is much worse than farcical,'' he said, deploring the historical recidivism of post-modernism.
''Gropius's views were global,'' asserted another colleague, architect Sarah Harkness. ''But they were also minute. Art is in everything. From the spotlighted shadow of twigs and berries on the white Formica dining table in the house in Lincoln, to the raccoons that came to the door every evening to be fed, . . . to a black-and-white-striped Marimekko shirt, everything was important.''
Elsewhere, other parties have sought to restore the status of other dwindling fathers of the modern movement.
In Germany, another symposium and exhibition was held by the Bauhaus archives to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gropius and the 50th anniversary of when the Nazis closed the German school.
In Spain, the showpiece building by international style role model Mies van der Rohe is about to be reconstructed. As much a myth as a building, the 1929 structure that lasted only six months at the German pavilion in the International Exposition in Barcelona influenced a generation of architects.
Drawing on photographs of its free-flowing space and lavish materials plus original drawings at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Spanish Government begins reconstruction this summer. It will cost $1.5 million to recreate the now-classic box.
In London, too, plans to build an office block from a Mies plan of the 1950s have caused British conservationists and a developer to battle. The developer, Peret Palumbo, who also owns Mies's famous Farnsworth house in Illinois, wants to re-create the 23-year-old plan; the conservationists fear for the historic site.
Finally, in France, Adolf Loos, forerunner of these forerunners and best known these days for his declaration that ornament is crime, received a retrospective in honor of the 50th aniversary of his death at the Institut Francais d'Architecture. In America, MIT Press also issued ''Spoken into the Void,'' a collection of Loos's essays, which went beyond the commonisms or cliches uttered about the enigmatic architect.
Looking at the regional roots that preceded the barrage of the modern box, an exhibition of ''American Architecture: Innovation and Tradition'' has started its travels across the country. Six photo essays of local styles are supplemented by a section documenting developments common to the whole country, according to the sponsoring Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University.
The itinerary takes it to Dayton, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Austin, Texas; New York City; Roanoke, Va.; and Hiram, Ohio, between now and May 18, 1984.
Its notion of the unity in diversity and diversity in unity of ''melting pot'' America suggests the backdrop on which the European pioneers came to play out the international style ''act'' now revived.