From Bauhaus to Our House

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Overview

Walter Groppius, granddaddy of steel and glass, conceived his architectural vision in the rubble of WW I and the decadence of Weimar in the decade after.

His doctrine found fertile soil in America, where it was time to adopt a clearly defined and suitable representative architecture.

Tom Wolfe, author of THE PAINTED WORD and THE RIGHT STUFF, treats us to a chronicle of the trends that ultimately brought us the ubiquitous and baffling "glass ...

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Overview

Walter Groppius, granddaddy of steel and glass, conceived his architectural vision in the rubble of WW I and the decadence of Weimar in the decade after.

His doctrine found fertile soil in America, where it was time to adopt a clearly defined and suitable representative architecture.

Tom Wolfe, author of THE PAINTED WORD and THE RIGHT STUFF, treats us to a chronicle of the trends that ultimately brought us the ubiquitous and baffling "glass box" of modern commerce.

"Delightfully witty, biting history of modern architecture...scintillating high comedy of big money, manners and massive manipulation of public taste." Publishers Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A search-and-destroy mission against architectural pretensions . . . a funny book."—New York

"Full of insight . . . marvelously right."—People

"Wolfe's delightfully witty, biting history of modern architecture is a scintillating high comedy of big money, manners, and massive manipulation of public taste."—Publishers Weekly

"No wonder . . . this book is the hottest topic in Manhattan's architectural salons."—The New York Times Book Review

"Tom Wolfe has squeezed a funny tale out of glass and stone. . . hilarious."—The Wall Street Journal

"Sharp serpent's-tooth wit, useful cultural insight, and snazzy zip! pop! writing."—Playboy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553380637
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.27 (w) x 8.19 (h) x 0.31 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Wolfe

TOM WOLFE is the author of a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Tom Wolfe was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He was educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D., American Studies, 1957) Universities. In December 1956, he took a job as a reporter on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union. This was the beginning of a ten-year newspaper career, most of it as a general assignment reporter. For six months in 1960 he served as The Washington Post's Latin American correspondent and won the Washington Newspaper Guild's foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.

In 1962 he became a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and, in addition, one of the two staff writers (Jimmy Breslin was the other) of New York magazine, which began as the Herald Tribune's Sunday supplement. While still a daily reporter for the Herald Tribune, he completed his first book, a collection of articles about the flamboyant Sixties written for New York and Esquire and published in 1965 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The book became a bestseller and established Wolfe as a leading figure in the literary experiments in nonfiction that became known as the New Journalism.

In 1968 he published two bestsellers on the same day: The Pump House Gang, made up of more articles about life in the Sixties, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a nonfiction story of the hippie era. In 1970 he published Radical Chick & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, a highly controversial book about racial friction in the United States. The first section was a detailed account of a party Leonard Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers in his Park Avenue duplex, and the second portrayed the inner workings of the government's poverty program.

Even more controversial was Wolfe's 1975 book on the American art world, The Painted Word. The art world reacted furiously, partly because Wolfe kept referring to it as the "art village," depicting it as a network of no more than three thousand people, of whom about three hundred lived outside the New York metropolitan area. In 1976 he published another collection, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, which included his well-known essay "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening."

In 1979 Wolfe completed a book he had been at work on for more than six years, an account of the rocket airplane experiments of the post-World War II era and the early space program focusing upon the psychology of the rocket pilots and the astronauts and the competition between them. The Right Stuff became a bestseller and won the American Book Award for nonfiction, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Harold Vursell Award for prose style, and the Columbia Journalism Award.

"The right stuff," "radical chic," and "the Me Decade" (sometimes altered to "the Me Generation") all became popular phrases, but Wolfe seems proudest of "good ol' boy," which he had introduced to the written language in a 1964 article in Esquire about Junior Johnson, the North Carolina stock car-racing driver, which was called "The Last American Hero."

Wolfe had been illustrating his own work in newspapers and magazines since the 1950s, and in 1977 began doing a monthly illustrated feature for Harper's magazine called "In Our Time". The book, In Our Time, published in 1980, featured these drawings and many others. In 1981 he wrote a companion to The Painted Word entitled From Bauhaus to Our House, about the world of American architecture.

In 1984 and 1985 Wolfe wrote his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, in serial form against a deadline of every two weeks for Rolling Stone magazine. It came out in book form in 1987. A story of the money-feverish 1980s in New York, The Bonfire of the Vanities was number one of the New York Times bestseller list for two months and remained on the list for more than a year, selling over 800,000 copies in hardcover. It also became the number-one bestselling paperback, with sales above two million.

In 1989 Wolfe outraged the literacy community with an essay in Harper's magazine called "Stalking the Billion-footed Beast." In it he argued that the only hope for the future of the American novel was a Zola-esque naturalism in which the novelist becomes the reporter -- as he had done in writing The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was recognized as the essential novel of America in the 1980s.

In 1996, Wolfe wrote the novella Ambush at Fort Bragg as a two-part series for Rolling Stone. In 1997 it was published as a book in France and Spain and as an audiotape in the United States. An account of a network television magazine show's attempt to trap three soldiers at Fort Bragg into confessing to the murder of one of their comrades, it grew out of what had been intended as one theme in a novel Wolfe was working on at that time. The novel, A Man in Full, was published in November of 1998. The book's protagonists are a sixty-year old Atlanta real estate developer whose empire has begun a grim slide toward bankruptcy and a twenty-three-year-old manual laborer who works in the freezer unit of a wholesale food warehouse in Alameda County, California, owned by the developer. Before the story ends, both have had to face the question of what is it that makes a man "a man in full" now, at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium.

A Man in Full headed the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks and has sold nearly 1.4 million copies in hardcover. The book's tremendous commercial success, its enthusiastic welcome by reviewers, and Wolfe's appearance on the cover of Time magazine in his trademark white suit plus a white homburg and white kid gloves -- along with his claim that his sort of detailed realism was the future of the American novel, if it was going to have one -- provoked a furious reaction among other American novelists, notably John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving.

Wolfe's latest novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, explores the unique antics of college life. He lives in New York City with his wife, Sheila; his daughter, Alexandra; and his son, Tommy.

Author biography courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 2, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The Silver Prince

Our story begins in germany just after the first World War. Young American architects, along with artists, writers, and odd-lot intellectuals, are roaming through Europe. This great boho adventure is called "the Lost Generation." Meaning what? In The Liberation of American Literature, V. F. Calverton wrote that American artists and writers had suffered from a "colonial complex" throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and had timidly imitated European models--but that after World War I they had finally found the self-confidence and sense of identity to break free of the authority of Europe in the arts. In fact, he couldn't have gotten it more hopelessly turned around.

The motto of the Lost Generation was, in Malcolm Cowley's words, "They do things better in Europe." What was in progress was a postwar discount tour in which practically any American--not just, as in the old days, a Henry James, a John Singer Sargent, or a Richard Morris Hunt--could go abroad and learn how to be a European artist. "The colonial complex" now took hold like a full nelson.

The European artist! What a dazzling figure! Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Tristan Tzara, Picasso, Matisse, Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Valery--such creatures stood out like Gustave Miklos figurines of bronze and gold against the smoking rubble of Europe after the Great War. The rubble, the ruins of European civilization, was an essential part of the picture. The charred bone heap in the background was precisely what made an avant-gardist such as Breton or Picasso stand out so brilliantly.

To the young American architects who made the pilgrimage, the most dazzling figure of all was Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. Gropius opened the Bauhaus in Weimar, the German capital, in 1919. It was more than a school; it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to the Garden of Epicurus. Gropius, the Epicurus of the piece, was thirty-six years old, slender, simply but meticulously groomed, with his thick black hair combed straight back, irresistibly handsome to women, correct and urbane in a classic German manner, a lieutenant of cavalry during the war, decorated for valor, a figure of calm, certitude, and conviction at the center of the maelstrom.

Strictly speaking, he was not an aristocrat, since his father, while well-to-do, was not of the nobility, but people couldn't help thinking of him as one. The painter Paul Klee, who taught at the Bauhaus, called Gropius "the Silver Prince." Silver was perfect. Gold was too gaudy for so fine and precise a man. Gropius seemed to be an aristocrat who through a miracle of sensitivity had retained every virtue of the breed and cast off all the snobberies and dead weight of the past.

The young architects and artists who came to the Bauhaus to live and study and learn from the Silver Prince talked about "starting from zero." One heard the phrase all the time: "starting from zero." Gropius gave his backing to any experiment they cared to make, so long as it was in the name of a clean and pure future. Even new religions such as Mazdaznan. Even health-food regimens. During one stretch at Weimar the Bauhaus diet consisted entirely of a mush of fresh vegetables. It was so bland and fibrous they had to keep adding garlic in order to create any taste at all. Gropius' wife at the time was Alma Mahler, formerly Mrs. Gustav Mahler, the first and foremost of that marvelous twentieth-century species, the Art Widow. The historians tell us, she remarked years later, that the hallmarks of the Bauhaus style were glass corners, flat roofs, honest materials, and expressed structure. But she, Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel--she had since added the poet Franz Werfel to the skein--could assure you that the most unforgettable characteristic of the Bauhaus style was "garlic on the breath." Nevertheless!--how pure, how clean, how glorious it was to be . . . starting from zero!

Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Henry van de Velde--all were teachers at the Bauhaus at one time or another, along with painters like Klee and Josef Albers. Albers taught the famous Bauhaus Vorkurs, or introductory course. Albers would walk into the room and deposit a pile of newspapers on the table and tell the students he would return in one hour. They were to turn the pieces of newspaper into works of art in the interim. When he returned, he would find Gothic castles made of newspaper, yachts made of newspaper, airplanes, busts, birds, train terminals, amazing things. But there would always be some student, a photographer or a glassblower, who would simply have taken a piece of newspaper and folded it once and propped it up like a tent and let it go at that. Albers would pick up the cathedral and the airplane and say: "These were meant to be made of stone or metal--not newspaper." Then he would pick up the photographer's absentminded tent and say: "But this!--this makes use of the soul of paper. Paper can fold without breaking. Paper has tensile strength, and a vast area can be supported by these two fine edges. This!--is a work of art in paper." And every cortex in the room would spin out. So simple! So beautiful . . . It was as if light had been let into one's dim brain for the first time. My God!--starting from zero!

And why not . . . The country of the young Bauhausler, Germany, had been crushed in the war and humiliated at Versailles; the economy had collapsed in a delirium of inflation; the Kaiser had departed; the Social Democrats had taken power in the name of socialism; mobs of young men ricocheted through the cities drinking beer and awaiting a Soviet-style revolution from the east, or some terrific brawls at the very least. Rubble, smoking ruins--starting from zero! If you were young, it was wonderful stuff. Starting from zero referred to nothing less than re-creating the world.

It is instructive--in view of the astonishing effect it was to have on life in the United States--to recall some of the exhortations of that curious moment in Middle Europe sixty years ago:

"Painters, Architects, Sculptors, you whom the bourgeoisie pays with high rewards for your work--out of vanity, snobbery, and boredom--Hear! To this money there clings the sweat and blood and nervous energy of thousands of poor hounded human beings--Hear! It is an unclean profit. . . . we must be true socialists--we must kindle the highest socialist virtue: the brotherhood of man."

So ran a manifesto of the Novembergruppe, which included Moholy-Nagy and other designers, who would later join Gropius at the Bauhaus. Gropius was chairman of the Novembergruppe's Arbeitsrat fur Kunst (Working Council for Art), which sought to bring all the arts together "under the wing of a great architecture," which would be "the business of the entire people." As everyone understood in 1919, the entire people was synonymous with the workers. "The intellectual bourgeois . . . has proved himself unfit to be the bearer of a German culture," said Gropius. "New, intellectually undeveloped levels of our people are rising from the depths. They are our chief hope."

Gropius' interest in "the proletariat" or "socialism" turned out to be no more than aesthetic and fashionable, somewhat like the interest of President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic or Chairman Mao of the People's Republic of China in republicanism. Nevertheless, as Dostoevsky said, ideas have consequences; the Bauhaus style proceeded from certain firm assumptions. First, the new architecture was being created for the workers. The holiest of all goals: perfect worker housing. Second, the new architecture was to reject all things bourgeois. Since just about everyone involved, the architects as well as the Social Democratic bureaucrats, was himself bourgeois in the literal, social sense of the word, "bourgeois" became an epithet that meant whatever you wanted it to mean. It referred to whatever you didn't like in the lives of people above the level of hod carrier. The main thing was not to be caught designing something someone could point to and say of, with a devastating sneer: "How very bourgeois."

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    Brandon

    Im grounded so i hav to sneak on.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2014

    Brette

    Oh. Im sorry.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2012

    Kit

    Sits and stares at the tv, barking occasionally. Kat sits by him.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2012

    Crystal

    Giggles and rubs kats head. You guys are too cute!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2012

    good stuff

    easy read, it even tells you the history of Housing Projects , how Bauhaus was at fault for influencing them, and how they became such horror

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2007

    To anyone who is interested in architecture...

    Great book, little brief but very good for students or anyone who is interested in architecture. i loved it, i had to read it for school, but i eventually re-read it and second time around i found it to be much better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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