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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Fall 2000 > Preserving a Modern Landscape

Preserving a Modern Landscape

Gropius - Wife

Walter and Ise Gropius seated on the wall dividing the formal yard from the meadow, c. 1945. Photographer unknown


Artist's rendering of Gropius House after the orchard has been replanted.


The Japanese garden at its peak in the early 1960s.

"Of similar importance to the harmonious design of the building is the correct integration of the home into the landscape... The arrangement of the plant environment...trees, and shrubs and their relationship to the house require just as much care as the grouping of the building mass itself."
-Walter Gropius, "Das Haus der Neuen Linie," January 1933.

Walter Gropius believed that good design considered not only the building but also the larger context, the community, and the environment. Guided by this principle when he built his family home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, he carefully sited his house to relate it to the surrounding landscape and used traditional materials so as to place his modern, practical home in the cultural and environmental context of New England. Before construction began, he transplanted mature trees to the site to shade the house and link it to its surroundings. His design intentionally blurs the boundaries between architecture and nature. Large windows frame dramatic views; trellises for roses and grapes project into the landscape and screen the back yard from the road. Stone retaining walls provide a platform for the house and level outdoor space for recreation. The screened porch at the back, Walter and his wife Ise's "outdoor living room," extends the living space and overlooks the Japanese garden, whose plan echoes the dimensions of the porch.

Maintaining an appropriate relationship between plant material, which grows, and architecture, which does not, was of considerable concern to the Gropiuses. Their daughter, Ati Gropius Johansen, recalls that when a tree grew out of scale and lost its relationship to its surroundings, her parents would replace it to preserve their original design intent. SPNEA is finding that maintaining the landscape in keeping with the Gropiuses' philosophy requires almost as much care as the more formal grounds at some of its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century houses.

With the aid of a grant from the federally-funded Save America's Treasures program, SPNEA is currently working with the landscape architecture firm Mohr and Seredin to restore the Gropius landscape. The firm has created a planting plan, based on a series of old photographs, and restoration of the Japanese garden on the south side of the house is under way. Next year, using a 1969 aerial photograph to determine the number and placement of trees, SPNEA will replant the Baldwin apple trees in the orchard and seed the meadow with the same species of orchard grass that was also an important natural feature of the original site.

Today the Gropius House is one SPNEA's most popular properties, as well as a major attraction for an international audience of architects, art historians, and designers. Restoration of the landscape will reestablish Gropius's original concept and allow the property to be understood as a fully realized integrated design.

-Marianne Zephir
Gropius House Site Manager


Preserving a Modern Landscape