Hungarian-born American architect and designer, Marcel Breuer was one of the most influential figures in Modern Design. Great innovator, he was eager to both test the newest advances in technology and break with conventional forms.
About his life
Marcel Breuer was born on May 21, 1902, in Pecs, Hungary. He moved to Vienna with his family at the age of 18, where he attended the Art Academy to pursue his studies as a painter, then enrolling at Bauhaus, Weimar (the then state of Germany). During the next four years at Bauhaus, Breuer devoted himself to the study of architecture, Walter Gropius being a primary influence and model for his project. In 1925, he moved to Dessau, where he was commissioned to design the entire furniture line for the recently constructed Gropius buildings. In 1928, Breuer established his practice as an architect. In 1933, Breuer was forced to leave Germany, moving to London; four years later, Breuer accepted Gropius’ invitation to the United States. In 1976, Breuer decided to retire from active practice, passing away five years later, in 1981.
Major body of work
Breuer authored several high-profile architectural projects: the Ameritrust Tower (1968-1971, Ohio, USA), a high-rise building realized following the brutalist style‘s tenets; the Cleveland Museum of Art (Ohio, USA), an art museum located in the Wade Park District, in the University Circle neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side; the Flaine Resort (1969, Flaine, France), an hotel and village where the local natural elements, the snow and blinding sun, were fundamental in planning the builiding’s design, up to supposedly including diamond-shaped facades that reflected the light; the Josephine M. Hagerty House (1938, Massachusetts, USA), the first building in the United States commissioned by Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius; the Murray D. Lincoln Campus Center (Massachusetts, USA), a high-rise building located on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus; and the Saint John’s Abbey (1961, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA), a Benedictine monastery affiliated with the American-Cassinese Congregation.
Breuer’s body of work includes numerous houses as well: of note, the Breuer House (1948, New Canaan, Connecticut, USA), the first of his New Canaan’s homes; the Seymour Krieger House (1958, Bethesda, Maryland, USA), one-story, a steel-framed building made out of an all-stretcher coursed brick; the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (Washington, D.C., USA), a 10-story office building owned by the federal government; the World Heritage Centre (1951, Paris, France), an active UNESCO Headquarters; Waldenmark, also known as the Edward Fischer House (New York, USA), a historical house, studio, garage, and guesthouse; the Whitney Museum of American Art, known as The Whitney (1964-1966, New York, USA) and the Atlanta Public Library (1980, Atlanta, USA).
Outside of his architectural legacy, Marcel Breuer is remembered for his outstanding furniture design as well. He realized the legendary B3 Wassily club chair, the first tubular metal chair in 1925, which soon brought Breuer international fame. Another iconic product was the B9 and B3 tables (1925-1926); these two were Breuer’s first commissions for Bauhaus. In 1928, he designed and built the Cesca Chair, working with the steel tubes typical of Modernist design, intending to combine modern, rigorous design guidelines with a comfort-based approach, that would ensure both rest and elegance.
The Breuer style
Breuer’s architectural vocabulary went through constant change and evolution, with at least four recognizable phases bearing the most prominent set of characteristics:
- The white box and glass structures of the International style that he adapted for his early houses in Europe and the USA.
- The punctured wooden walls that characterized his famous house in New Canaan, with its balcony hung off a cantilever.
- The modular prefabricated concrete panel façades that he used in many of his institutional buildings plus the whole town at Flaine.
- The stone and shaped concrete that he used for the Whitney Museum of American Art, the St John’s Abbey, or the Atlanta Public Library.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta_Central_Library
During his production processes, he ensured the newest industrial innovations in bending tubular steel were adopted, such care observable especially in his typically used metal structural frames, thereby demonstrating the possibilities of modern industry applied to everyday objects.