Is virility — architectural or otherwise — reason enough to read year-by-year chronicle of Gropius’s trajectory?

Review of GROPIUS: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus by Fiona MacCarthy

Fiona MacCarthy, the author of previous books on Lord Byron, Eric Gill and William Morris, acknowledges his image problem in her preface to “Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus.” “Not the least of the myths I have had to contend with in writing his life is the idea that Gropius was doctrinaire and boring,” she writes, laying blame for this characterization at the feet of Tom Wolfe, in “From Bauhaus to Our House,” and Alma Mahler, Gropius’s first wife, in her memoirs. MacCarthy perceives Gropius a bit differently — as one might hope for a biographer. “I see him as in many ways heroic, a romantic and optimist, a great survivor,” she writes. What’s more, “Sexually Gropius was far from negligible.”

The subtitle has a double meaning. Gropius, who was born in Berlin in 1883, built both the flat-roofed, glass-cornered building that housed the Bauhaus school in Dessau and the faculty and curriculum for a modern school of design. At the Bauhaus, art and craft were united, and students learned through making, beginning with simple exercises in form, material and color and working up to famous essays in modern design such as Breuer’s tubular steel chairs, Anni Albers’s abstract weavings, Herbert Bayer’s all-lowercase typeface.