A short walk from Walden Pond is a house that was as revolutionary in its day as were the shots heard around the world in nearby Concord. Walter Gropius was the visionary who founded the Bauhaus in 1919 and brought its message to the United States in 1937. His first American building was this 2300-square-foot (215 square metres) home , which he built for his family in the vilage of Lincoin, a half-hour drive form his new job as a professor at he Harvard Graduate School of Design. A crisp white presence on a grassy hillside, the house is a showcase of modernist principles infused with the practicality of the Colonial vernacular. The plain geometry straight roofline, and ribbon windows recall the houses that Gropius and Marcel Breuer had designed for the Bauhaus masters in Dessau twelve years before. The taut skin of vertical clapboards rising from a field-stone base , the screen porch and the fences that extend from either side, and the central stair hall with rooms opening off on two levels are features that the architect admired in New England farmhouses.
Luck played a role in the realization of the house. A German professor convinced a hostile Joseph Goebbels that the Nazis could gain a propaganda advantage by allowing Gropius to retrieve the contents of his Berlin apartment, and this collection of Bauhaus furnishings needed an appropriate setting. Gropius, his wife, Ise , and their adopted daughter, Ati , rented a cottage and loved the novel experience of living close to the land, but were unable to secure a mortgage for an unconventional design. Hearing that this new immigrant was being prevented from showing what he could go , a philanthropic landowner, Mrs. James Storrow offered building plots to Gropius and Breuer, loaned them money and allowed them to rent their homes until they could repay her – despite the fact that she, an elderly woman, was wedded to tradition. Ise Gropius returned the favour by donating her house to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA) , which assumed responsibility after her death in 1983 and undertook a major restoration before opening it to the public.
For Peter Gittleman , the architect who supervised the SPNEA effort, there was a double challenge: to restore materials and fixtures that were no longer in production, and to capture the spirit of the house as it was at a specific moment in time, working from period photographs and the memories of Ari Gropius Johansen. The SPNEA selected 1967 as their base date, because little had survived from the fists three decades. The owners had had no sentimental attachment to the shabby or outdated ; when an old piece broke it was trashed and replaced with a new item from Knoll or Design Research. For the SPNEA, authenticity and the patina of age are priorities; for Gropius’s daughter, the right look is more important than the historically correct, and she continues to argue her case with the passion of an insider.
Early settlers adapted European models to the local climate and building materials, Gropius did the same rooting modernism in this stony soil and impressing sceptical neighbours by riding out the great hurricane of 1938. Gittleman describes this as the home of an intellectual, not a sensualist – all clean lines and functional furnishings – but it is full of personal touches, from the sinuous hand-welded steel stair rail to the glass wall between bedroom and dressing area that allowed the owners to sleep with open windows while conserving heat in the rest of the hose. Gropius deplored Americans who built Tudor houses and returned from work in skyscrapers to squeeze into a fairy-tale world that had nothing to do with the way they lived . In this frugal, compact energy-efficient house he showed them a better way – as Thoreau had for his contemporaries almost a century before.