Marcel Breuer (1902 – 1981) Hungarian architect and industrial designer

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Wassily Chair by Marcel Bruer featured image
Wassily Chair by Marcel Bruer featured image

Tubular Steel Furniture

Marcel Breuer (1902 – 1981) was an architect and industrial designer from Hungary. He was born in the city of Pécs. He began his career as a furniture designer and concluded it as an architect. He may be best known to the public as the architect who designed such buildings as the Whitney Museum in New York and the Paris Headquarters of UNESCO. Still he is honoured by designers for being the first to create tubular steel furniture.

Education

He attended the Vienna Akademie der bildenden Künste in 1920 and the Bauhaus in Weimar from 1920 to 1924. In 1920, he moved to Vienna, intending to become a painter and sculptor. However, he left the Akademie der bildenden Kunste because he was displeased with it, and he enrolled at the Bauhaus in Weimar, where he became one of its most well-known students. 

Biography

After a spell in Paris, he returned to the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1925 as director of the carpentry workshop, where he remained until 1928. After that, he worked in Berlin as an architect and designer from 1928 to 31. After that, he went throughout Europe and worked in Zürich from 1932 to 1933. His first chair, the Lattenstuhl (named after Breuer), was based on anatomical study and resembled Gerrit Rietveld’s De Stijl furniture, utilising horsehair cloth produced in the Bauhaus weaving workshop.

Marcel Bruer

Breuer’s furniture was shown at the Dutch Bauhaus exhibition. In Bauhausbticher 7, it was exhibited. Still, the De Stijl influence was already strong among Bauhaus designers at the time, as shown in Breuer’s 1922 wood and canvas armchair. The strong response to the chair when it was first presented in 1923 inspired Breuer to continue his study into seating models.

Tubular steel Wassily Chair

The tubular steel Wassily chair (formerly known as the Club) was inspired by a Breuer design from 1922. Breuer acquired his first bicycle in 1925 and was so taken by the frame’s lightness and strength that he imagined utilising tubular steel in furniture. This club-style armchair was the first experimental tubular steel piece; the final design was not completed until 1926. It was the focal point of a presentation at the Kunsthalle in Dessau (which also featured other works by Breuer). Breuer described it in 1927 as ‘my most extreme work both in its outward appearance and in its use of materials; it is the least artistic, the most logical, the least “‘cosy”‘ and the most mechanical’; it was named Wassily because Vasilii Kandinski admired it.

Breuer's "Wassilly" chair named after the Bauhaus painter Wassily Kandinsky,
Wassilly Chair – Marcel Breuer

Breuer’s designs were utilised in the cafeteria (his stool), assembly hall (his linked auditorium seats), and elsewhere (the first Wassily chair) in the Bauhaus building in Dessau. All were fabricated in tubular steel at Junkers, Dessau. The Wassily chair was designed by Marcel Breuer and manufactured by Standardmobel Lengyel in Berlin beginning in 1929. Breuer’s early chairs were nickel-plated, whereas subsequent chairs were chrome plated. The B32 side chair, built first by Standardmobel in 1927 and later by Thonet from c1928, was one of the first designs to go into production independently of the Bauhaus. It strongly connects to his Bauhaus designs, particularly the seats he created for the Bauhaus auditorium in 1926. In 1926, about 500 pieces were created, and in 1927, 1000—1500 pieces were made.

Club chair (model B3) 1927 - 1928 by Marcel Breuer
Club chair (model B3) 1927 – 1928 by Marcel Breuer

In 1928, the Berlin firm Anton Lorenz took over production, becoming the first commercial manufacturer of tubular steel furniture. In the second half of the 1920s, several of Gropius’ interiors, including his residence, were employed. Dino Gavina, who produced the 1928 B32 chair from 1950 in his Foligno (Italy) factory, purchased by Knoll Associates in 1968, nicknamed it Cesca (after Breuer’s daughter Francesca). Breuer invented the tubular steel and iron-cloth foldable chair in 1927.

Berlin and UK.

He began working as an architect in Berlin in 1928. From 1932, he designed aluminium furniture, some of whose frames were innovatively bent from a single thick sheet of aluminium, such as the cantilever sofa and reclining chair on wheels he designed in 1931.

His first project, the Harnischmacher house in Wiesbaden, was finished in 1932. In 1935, he travelled to the United Kingdom, where he worked with FRS. Yorke and designed bent-plywood furniture for Isokon, notably the 1936 chaise longue. He collaborated with Yorke on houses in Angmering-on-Sea, West Sussex, Bristol, Eton, Berkshire, and Lee on the Solent, Hampshire, as well as the competition project “A Garden City of the Future.”

Move to the USA.

He worked in Massachusetts with Walter Gropius from 1937 to 1941. He moved to the United States in 1937 and worked as an architecture professor at Harvard University from 1937 until 1946. Florence Knoll, Philip Johnson, Edward Larrabee Barnes, Eliot Noyes, Paul Rudolph, and John Johansen were among his students.

Shift towards architecture

His focus moved from furniture design to architecture after retiring from teaching in 1946 and relocating to New York. He founded Marcel Breuer Associates in New York and completed various contracts. Some of his structures were made of reinforced concrete with wooden mould markings, as depicted by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1966. His New York office utilised an image of stones as wallpaper in the reception area, and he frequently employed local stone in his building.

Architectural Works

Buildings included 

  • 1932 Wohnbedarf furniture shop, Zurich; 
  • 1935—36 multiple housing (with A. and E. Roth) in the Doldertal, Zurich; 
  • his own 1947 house, New Canaan, Connecticut; 
  • 1953— 58 UNESCO Headquarters (with Pier Luigi Nervi and Bernard Louis Zehrfuss), Paris; 
  • 1953—61 buildings at St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota; 
  • 1956—61 campus at University Heights, New York.
  • 1960—60 IBM Research Center, La Gaude (France); 
  • 1963—66 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 
  • 1967—77 IBM buildings, Boca Raton, Florida; and 
  • 1970 Cleveland Museum of Art.

Exhibitions

  • Tubular-steel furniture by Standardmébel used in Gropius’s prefabricated house at 1927 Stuttgart ‘Weissenhof-Siedlung.’ 
  • Work subject of 1948 travelling exhibition organised by New York Museum of Modern Art, where his ‘House in the Museum Garden’ was installed in 1949 and where the 1981 ‘Marcel Breuer Furniture and Interiors’ exhibition was organised; and 1972—73 ‘Marcel Bruer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’, MoMA, New York

Works

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

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