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About Marcel Breuer

Marcel Breuer: Life and Selected Works

Marcel Breuer was a Hungarian-born designer, carpenter, and architect known for being a master of Modernist design. Born in 1902 in Hungary, Breuer left his hometown at age 18 to briefly attend the Viennese Art Academy, only to drop out that same year and move to Weimar, Germany, where he became a student at the Bauhaus art school under Walter Gropius. Five years later, in 1925, Gropius relocated the Bauhaus school to Dessau, Germany, and named Breuer the head of the furniture workshop. Since then Marcel Breuer designs have been well known and Marcel Breuer furniture is highly sought after.

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Breuer stayed there until 1935, when he left Nazi Germany for London and worked with the modernist Isokon Company; two years later, Breuer joined the faculty at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and formed an architecture firm with Gropius that focused on private homes. He remained in America, largely in New York and Manhattan, until his death in 1981.

Breuer excelled in furniture design with his signature light, modern, metallic aesthetic. The B3 Wassily Chair is widely considered to be his most well-known furniture design; inspired by the lightness of his new bicycle, Breuer used steel tubing which later became known as his greatest innovation in furniture design. Breuer is also famous for his design of the first edition of the Laccio Table, a set of nesting tables that could be used as end tables, coffee tables, and more. His Laccio Table was intended to be used at the same time as the Wassily chair.

In 1928, Breuer introduced the Breuer chair, a classic Bauhaus-style design with two sets of structures- one to support the body and one to support the weight of the sitter. This design was so modern that it didn’t reach the peak of its popularity until almost 50 years after its debut, and it became a modernist mainstay in the 1970s.

Even with his success in modern furniture design, Breuer was determined to evolve his design style and the projects he took on. In a 1932 letter to Walter Gropius’s wife, Breuer stated: “my intension was… to take a path that led to volumes that would always increase. That’s the reason I first focused on smaller elements, like chairs and other furniture… I then went from furniture to private homes…”

His first foray into residential design came in a suburb of Zurich, where he designed residential apartments with Alfred and Emily Roth. Breuer and Gropius continued to work together through their architecture firm, collaborating on the Hagerty House in Massachusetts; the neighbors weren’t as satisfied with the design, whispering that it looked like “the ladies wing at Alcatraz.”

While in New York, Breuer grew his commissions and eventually transitioned into more public architecture projects. One of his most significant public building projects was the UNESCO headquarters, which used a Y-shaped design and blocky concrete shapes that became his signature on public buildings. Other notable architectural works include: St. John’s Abbey, with its famous honeycomb stained glass wall; the Whitney Museum of American Art, with a thoroughly modernist design; and the Atlanta Central Public Library, his last major public building designed before his death.

As a teacher at many prominent universities, Breuer had an impact on many young designers, including I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, and Paul Rudolph. Today, we can see Breuer’s impact in furniture construction that uses tubular steel, as well as in the “less is more” aesthetic of modern industrial, graphic, furniture, interior, and technological design. He is remembered as a pioneer of “form follows function,” and his design style can notably be seen in companies such as Apple.

Creative Commons Licensed Images:

Slatted Armchair from The Red List

Marcel Breuer from Design Within Reach

B3 Wassily Chair from Flickr

Doldertal Apartments from Wikimedia Commons

Stacking Tables from Flickr

Hagerty House from 3.bp

Breuer House I from The Archives of American Art

UNESCO Headquarters from UNOstamps

St. John’s Abbey from Wikimedia Commons

IBM Laboratory from Tumblr

Whitney Museum from Wikimedia Commons

Atlanta Central Library from Wikipedia

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