Marcel Breuer: the Bauhaus furniture master with a passion for architecture

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Marcel Breuer is well-known for his tubular metal furnishings, still his real fascination was architecture. For our Bauhaus one hundred collection, marking 100 many years of your influential school, we profile the Hungarian designer who championed a rational approach to design.

For a lot of, Breuer is straight away connected to the Product B3, often called the Wassily Chair. This legendary tubular metal chair, impressed by bicycle frames and created with the latest in metal-bending engineering, was given its nickname when it had been reproduced by Italian company Gavina.

Named after an anecdote whereby a curious Wassily Kandinsky, expressing interest in an early version of the chair in Breuer’s studio, was one of several very first recipients of a publish-prototype model for his possess office.

It may be furnishings that Breuer is most widely recognized for, but his actual passion was architecture – a drive that could be fulfilled when he left Germany for The usa. But prior to this, he would drop underneath the spell of the recently-recognized Bauhaus.

Breuer is best known for his furniture, including the Wassily Chair. Image is courtesy of Knoll

Breuer was born in the city of Pécs, Hungary, in 1902, but at 18 years old he left his hometown, keen to go somewhere where he could engage with the modern movement, then in full swing. He received a scholarship to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the city that had been home to some of early modernism’s most important figures.

Breuer was one of the Bauhaus’ youngest learners

When he arrived, the academy was to this point from the colourful ambiance he was anticipating – far too much stuffy theory rather than enough creating. So much in order that Breuer, Based on writer Robert McCarter, walked out on the identical day he arrived.

He would later consult with his situations in Vienna as some of the “unhappiest in his everyday living”.

Breuer moved from being a young master at the carpentry workshop to designing numerous buildings in the USA. Image is courtesy of Bauhaus Archiv

Things began to look brighter when, as McCarter writes, a friend handed Breuer “a little brochure from the Bauhaus with the emblem: Return of the Craftsman and a woodcut by Lyonel Feininger”. Breuer, who had been busying his hands working for an architect and cabinetmaker in Vienna in order to “become more practical”, headed to Weimar to enrol.


At 19 several years previous, Breuer was among the list of youngest learners to enter the Bauhaus. Becoming a member of in 1920, a yr right after The college’s opening, Breuer was alongside Josef Albers, and both equally took aspect inside the then newly proven preliminary study course. Paul Klee would join The varsity to be a master before long right after.


Breuer was an early proponent of the rational approach

Surrounded by expressionism, Breuer was an early proponent of the greater rational technique that the school would develop into noted for inside the mid 1920s.

Any method of devoted architectural schooling at The varsity was nonetheless all over 7 yrs away, so Breuer wound up during the carpentry workshop, graduating in 1924 and heading to Paris to further more his architectural scientific studies – which provided meeting Le Corbusier.


Related story Dezeen’s guide to Bauhaus architecture and design

Breuer’s do the job was in some ways a great demonstration in the Bauhaus’ ideals of artwork Assembly industry. Early versions in the B3 chair were only designed feasible due to steel manufacturer Mannesmann creating techniques that taken off seams from metal tubing, and the fabric straps (later changed by leather) that represent the chair’s arms, back and seat have been formulated by Margaretha Reichardt, a weaving workshop scholar.

So amazed was Gropius that in 1925 he persuaded Breuer to return from Paris to the new Bauhaus in Dessau, providing him the position of youthful master at the carpentry workshop. Two decades later on, Breuer would comprehensive the interiors with the model Weissenhoff Estate – led by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – at the 1927 Stuttgart Exhibition.

Breuer’s furniture was only made possible by advances in material production techniques. Image courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

His experiments with tubular steel also continued with stools, tables, and folding and cantilever chairs.

“It really is exciting,” remarked Breuer, “that the trendy household furniture was promoted not from the Skilled household furniture designers, but by architects.” In a thing of a reversal of the, his early architectural and interior models, including the prefabricated steel Kleinmetallhais (1925) and also the Bambos residences (1927), drew closely from his furniture models.

Breuer’s architectural prospective was minimal in the Bauhaus

There remained, nevertheless, very little prospect for Breuer To place the majority of his architectural models into observe. In 1928, aged 26, he still left the Bauhaus to determine his have architectural Place of work in Berlin, supported by royalties in the sale of his chairs.

It had been a complicated time to establish a company, but Breuer would design and style the Dolderthal apartments in Zurich for Sigfried Gideon (1934), prior to moving to London as the Nazis had been gaining power. Listed here, he labored briefly with Jack Pritchard from the Isokon firm right before signing up for Walter Gropius to teach at Harvard University – among their pupils had been Philip Johnson, IM Pei and Paul Rudolph.

Breuer completed the St John’s Abbey Church in his prolific later years. Photo is by Bobak Ha’Eri

At Harvard, Gropius and Breuer collaborated extensively – on their own houses, among others, on the Pennsylvania State Exhibition at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and on Chamberlain College, Massachusetts (1940). Breuer’s early work tended towards a more International Style white box and glass aesthetic, based on the systems he had been devising years before but had been unable to build in Germany.


Breuer’s studio manufactured much more than a hundred structures

It is actually his later perform, on the other hand, designed following his go to The big apple in 1946 and making use of powerful official compositions of concrete and stone, for which his architectural profession is most remembered.

“Should the Global Design mean only mechanistic and impersonal, rigid forms” reported Breuer in a MoMA symposium in 1948, “then down with it”.

St John’s Abbey Church in Minnesota, the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork (now the Fulfilled Breuer) along with the Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library are only a few of some one hundred structures done by Breuer’s practice all through these prolific years.

The former Whitney Museum of American Art in New York was designed by Breuer. Photo is by Gryffindor

But despite their aesthetic force as Breuer buildings, the collaborative ethos that defined his early chairs remained strong throughout his career, working with Pier Luigi Nervi, Robert Gatje and Harry Seidler to name but a few.

The AIA awarded Breuer with their Gold Medal in 1968, just as he was drawing enormous criticism for designs that will slam a skyscraper into Grand Central Terminal.

The look was by no means created, but the furore dented Breuer’s difficult-attained American popularity. Commissions ongoing No matter, the last being The Central Library in Downtown Atlanta. Breuer died in Manhattan in 1981, a year just after it opened, aged seventy nine.

Dezeen’s Bauhaus 100 series explores the enduring influence of the school

The Bauhaus is the most influential art and design school in history. To mark the centenary of the school’s founding, we’ve created a series of articles exploring the school’s key figures and projects.

See the entire Bauhaus 100 sequence ›

Major illustration is by Vesa Sammalisto, extra illustration is by Jack Bedford.

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