BREUER, Marcel (1902-1981), GROPIUS, Walter (1883-1969), MOHOLY-NAGY, LÁSZLÓ (1895-1946)
Plaque erected in 2018 by English Heritage at Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, London NW3 2XD, London Borough of Camden
Designer, Architect, Artist, Photographer
Applied Arts, Architecture and Building, Fine Arts, Theatre and Film
WALTER GROPIUS 1883-1969 MARCEL BREUER 1902-1981 LÁSZLÓ MOHOLY-NAGY 1895-1946 Pioneers of modern design at the Bauhaus lived here
Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy were all designers and teachers at the Bauhaus, the vastly influential German art school. They’re commemorated with a joint blue plaque on the Grade 1 listed Isokon Building in Belsize Park, where the trio lived and worked in the 1930s.
GERMANY TO LONDON
The three men travelled to London amid a hostile political atmosphere in Europe. It was in Weimar in 1919 that Walter Gropius founded the Staatliches Bauhaus, an art school combining crafts and the fine arts. Marcel Breuer first joined as a student before becoming director of furniture workshops in 1924, while László Moholy-Nagy joined the staff in 1923. Through keeping in constant touch with the rapid advances in ideas, new materials and technology, the Bauhaus created ground-breaking designs which had a lasting influence around the world. Its key players also acquired a reputation for political radicalism which made them unpopular with the incoming Nazi regime.
The striking Isokon Building – then known as Lawn Road Flats – provided Gropius, Breuer and Moholy-Nagy with a safe refuge. Built by Wells Coates for the design entrepreneur Jack Pritchard, it was designed to provide low cost accommodation for the increasingly mobile and single professional. Completed in 1934, it was the first block of flats to be built in Britain in the fully modern style, becoming a landmark in progressive architectural design. Gropius lived there in 1934–6, Breuer in 1935–7 and Moholy-Nagy in 1935.
In 1936, the building’s communal kitchen was converted into the Isobar restaurant, to a design by Marcel Breuer and FRS Yorke, and became a creative hub for residents including Agatha Christie and Naum Slutzky, and for artists such as Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth who lived nearby.
Born in Berlin in 1883, Walter Gropius was passionate about architecture, setting up his own practice in 1910 and the following year designed his first important building, a factory for the Fagus Company. This steel-framed, part curtain-walled structure was one of the first truly ‘modern movement’ buildings. Gropius served in the German Army in the First World War, but as early as 1915 was offered the post of Director at Weimar’s two art schools. In 1919 Gropius united the two schools as the Staatliches Bauhaus. The Bauhaus’s new headquarters were built at Dessau in 1924–5 to designs by Gropius.
Gropius resigned from the Bauhaus in January 1928, aware of the threat of censorship and political interference that followed the rise of National Socialism. Although not a political activist himself, Gropius’s association with the radical school, and with modern architecture in general, made him unpopular with the Nazis. In 1934 he accepted an invitation to come to London and stayed for two years, but the shortage of commissions in Britain and overtures from Harvard prompted Gropius to move to the United States in early 1937. He was appointed Chairman of the Department of Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design the next year, where he also collaborated with former colleague Marcel Breuer. Gropius died in Boston, Massachusetts in 1969.
Marcel Breuer was born in Hungary in 1902. Initially intending to become a painter and sculptor, he soon found himself drawn to the more practical training of the Bauhaus. Having shone as a student at the school, he became the director of the furniture workshops. Many of his designs are still in production today, including his chaise-longue and Wassily chair. Like Gropius, Breuer left the Bauhaus in January 1928 and turned to architecture. Breuer was persuaded to come to England by the offer of a partnership with the British architect FRS Yorke. In 1937 Breuer followed Gropius to the USA, where they briefly set up in partnership together, but in the post-war years Breuer developed his own practice, his works including the UNESCO building in Paris and the Whitney Museum in New York. He died in his apartment in Manhattan in 1981.
Born in Hungary in 1895, László Moholy-Nagy was of Jewish descent, his original family name being Weisz. He turned to art during his recuperation from injuries sustained while serving as an officer in the First World War. He moved briefly to Vienna before settling in Berlin, where he found himself among a vibrant art community.
In 1923 he joined the Bauhaus staff and turned increasingly to photography and film, as well as becoming editor of the Bauhaus magazine and producing 14 Bauhaus books. After 1928 Moholy-Nagy turned to painting and to pioneering documentary film techniques, arriving in Britain in 1935. Here he acted as a design consultant for Simpson’s of Piccadilly and worked with Alexander Korda (blue plaque, Mayfair) on the film Things to Come (1936) based on the novel by HG Wells. Moholy-Nagy left London in 1937 to become the Director of the New Bauhaus in Chicago. This venture was not a success but was replaced by an Institute of Design, of which Moholy-Nagy was also head and which continued to perpetuate the Bauhaus methodology after his death from leukaemia in 1946.