When Gropius met Niemeyer

Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s great modern architect, had little time for the Bauhaus. Or did he?

Oscar Niemeyer's House, Dmitri Kessel, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

Two star architects meet. One shows the other one his house, and the other one says, “Yes, yes, it’s very nice, but...”

Oscar Niemeyer's House, Dmitri Kessel, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

No joke. When Walter Gropius, founder of the world-famous Bauhaus, took a look around the house of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1953, he really did find something to moan about.

“But it can’t go into series production,“ carped the German.

Oscar Niemeyer's House, Dmitri Kessel, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

The Brazilian nearly hit the roof at that. Because the Casa das Canoas in São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro, completed in 1951 and fitting snugly with its many curves into the unevenness of the ground, naturally had to be a bespoke production!

Frank Scherschel, 1960-02, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

The Brazilian was in any case no friend of series production. He had just built the UN headquarters in New York with Le Corbusier and would soon be designing the government buildings for the capital, Brasília, and derogatively called the Bauhaus, which produced prototypes for the masses with exactly series production in mind, a “paradise for mediocrity”. Everything, according to him, repeated itself and monotonously looked the same. “If you worry about the function,“ said Niemeyer, "the result will suck.”

Walter Gropius in front of his home in Dessau, unknown, 1926/27, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Gropius and Niemeyer were very different.

Studio Building (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, view from East, 2018, Walter Gropius (Architecture), Yakob Israel Willmington-Lu (Photo), 2018, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

While the one liked to ground the concrete in practical cubes ...

Bra Silia, Dmitri Kessel, 1961, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

... it seduced the other to flights of fancy with his filigree buildings.

Kandinsky/Klee Master House (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, 2018, Walter Gropius (Architecture), Yakob Israel Willmington-Lu (Photo), 2018, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

While the one loved clear lines and strict geometric forms ...

Bra Silia, Dmitri Kessel, 1961, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

... the other was attracted by “the soft and sensuous curves of the mountains of my country, the winding curves of our rivers, the clouds in the sky and the beautiful female body”.

“Form follows function”, preached the one ...

Bra Silia, Dmitri Kessel, 1961, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

... “Form follows feminine”, preached the other.

Bra Silia, Dmitri Kessel, 1961, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

But all the same, these two uncrowned kings of architecture ...

Bra Silia, Dmitri Kessel, 1961, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

... had a lot in common too.

You just have to look at Niemeyer’s buildings on the Esplanada dos Ministérios in Brasília. If it doesn’t remind you of Bauhaus ...

Brasilia, Dmitri Kessel, 1961-04, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

The abstract forms in the Brazilian’s architecture are pretty bauhauslike too.

On the other hand, this work here by Gropius – couldn’t this be by Niemeyer as well?

Bra Silia, Dmitri Kessel, 1961, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

And of course – they were both ...

Bauhaus Building (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, view from South West, 2018, Walter Gropius (Architecture), Yakob Israel Willmington-Lu (Photo), 2018, From the collection of: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

... revolutionaries in construction!

Michael Rougier, 1957-10, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

Four years after their meeting in Rio, Niemeyer and Gropius were to come closer, architecturally speaking, in Berlin. For the International Building Exhibition in 1957 they both built houses, alongside other architects like Arne Jacobsen, Max Taut and Egon Eiermann. Their houses are just a few steps away from each other.

Well, who built what?

Michael Rougier, 1957-10, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

Gropius or Niemeyer?

Michael Rougier, 1957-10, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection

Niemeyer or Gropius?

The riddle's solution: This is the house of Niemeyer.

And here the house of Gropius.

Read more about Bauhaus everywhere

Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Cornelia Jeske


Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

www.bauhaus-dessau.de

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Home
Explore
Nearby
Profile