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The habit of looking for beauty

Walter Gropius was an inventor of the International Style, which has become generally thought of as ``modern architecture.'' He founded the German architectural school known as the Bauhaus. Now the first major scholarly retrospective of his work is on view at Harvard's Busch-Reisinger Museum in Cambridge, Mass. It seems an occasion for our own small retrospective, recalling below some of what Gropius wrote in the Monitor's 50th anniversary edition in 1958 -- and on the facing page a few words he s aid elsewhere. THOUGH scientific progress has blessed us with material abundance and physical well-being, it has rarely matured into producing new cultural form. Social problems cannot be solved and expressed through intellectual processes or political action only.

Beauty is an integral part of our life and does not come in isolation. We deceive ourselves if we think we can keep it alive as the privilege of an esoteric few, or as an external slipcover for the essentially unlovely features of our contemporary scene. We must give life a chance and an incentive to manifest itself beautifully by creating an organic setting for it. Otherwise, beauty will elude us or remain what it is now, a rare encounter, not expressive of, but contrary to, the general level attained.

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Think of those essential imponder-ables, apparent in cities and towns of bygone cultures, which still have the power to move us emotionally today, though they are obsolete from the point of view of practical use. These imponderables characterize what is missing in the concept of our present communities, namely, that unity of order and spirit which is forever significant, beautifully expressed in space and volume.

The human landscape, natural or man-made, which surrounds us is a broad composition in space, organized from voids and volume. The volumes may be buildings or bridges or trees or hills. Every visible feature in existence counts in the visual effect of that great composition. Even the most utilitarian building problems, like the location of a highway or the type of a bridge, are important for the integrated balance of that visible entity embracing us.

Can a child, growing up in ``Main Street,'' be expected to be in the habit of looking for beauty and order? He hasn't met with it yet and wouldn't even know what to ask for because his perceptive faculties have been blunted from the beginning by the ruthless assault of the chaotic colors, shapes, and noises of modern salesmanship. He is left in a constant state of sensorial apathy, finally hardening into that intractable citizen who has ceased to be even aware of his impoverished surroundings. Already i n the kindergarten we should make him playfully reshape his immediate environment. For participation is the key word.

Participation sharpens individual responsibility, the prime factor in making a community coherent, in developing group vision and pride in the self-created environment.

Any information given to a citizen after he has been exposed as a youth to educational practices that made planning our surroundings seem everybody's concern will prepare him to cooperate later with the architect and planner of his own community. His interest and responsibility will increase with the growing community spirit, carefully nurtured on all educational levels until it becomes a subconscious attitude and may finally cause a chain reaction conducive to solving the collective task and creating MDULunity in diversity.

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