Marcel Breuer, Bauhaus Architect and Designer

(1902-1981)

Marcel Breuer in the Wassily chair
Marcel Breuer in the Wassily chair. Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images (crop)

You may recognize Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair, but you know Breuer's Cesca, the bouncy metal tubular dining room chair with the (often fake plastic) cane seat and back. An original B32 model is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City Even today, you can buy them, because Breuer never took a patent on the design.

Marcel Breuer was a Hungarian designer and architect who moved with and beyond the Bauhaus school of design.

His steel tube furniture brought 20th century modernism to the masses, but his bold use of precast concrete enabled large, modern buildings to be built under budget.

Background:

Born: May 21, 1902 in Pécs, Hungary

Full Name: Marcel Lajos Breuer

Died: July 1, 1981 in New York City

Married: Marta Erps, 1926-1934

Citizenship: Immigrated to the U.S. in 1937; naturalized citizen in 1944

Education:

  • 1920: studied at Vienna Academy of Fine Arts
  • 1924: Master of Architecture, Bauhaus School in Weimer, Germany

Professional Experience:

  • 1924: Pierre Chareau, Paris
  • 1925-1935: Master of the Carpentry Shop, Bauhaus School
  • 1928-1931: Bund Deutscher Architekten (Association of German Architects), Berlin
  • 1935-1937: Partnership with British architect F.R.S. Yorke, London
  • 1937: Begins teaching at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 1937-1941: Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer Architects, Cambridge, MA
  • 1941: Marcel Breuer and Associates, Cambridge (MA), NYC, and Paris

Selected Architectural Works:

  • 1939: Breuer House (own residence), Lincoln, Massachusetts
  • 1945: Geller House (Breuer's first post-war bi-nuclear design), Long Island, NY
  • 1953-1968: St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota
  • 1952-1958: UNESCO World Headquarters, Paris, France
  • 1960-1962: IBM Research Center, La Gaude, France
  • 1964-1966: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
  • 1965-1968: Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Washington, DC
  • 1968-1970: Armstrong Rubber Company Headquarters, West Haven, Connecticut
  • 1980: Central Public Library, Atlanta, Georgia

Best Known Furniture Designs:

Selected Awards:

  • 1968: FAIA, Gold Medal
  • 1968: Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture
  • 1976: Grand Medalle d'Or French Academy of Architecture

Breuer's Students at Harvard University:

Influences and Related People:

In the Words of Marcel Breuer:

Source: Marcel Breuer papers, 1920-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

But I don't want to live in a house which was in vogue twenty years ago.—Defining Modern Architecture [undated]
...objects have their different appearances as a result of their different functions. In that they should individually satisfy our needs, and not conflict with each other, they together give rise to our style....objects acquire a form corresponding to their function. In contrast to the "arts and crafts" (kunstgewerbe) conception where objects of the same function take on different forms as a result of variations and inorganic ornament.—On Form and Function at the Bauhaus in 1923 [1925]
Sullivan's statement "form follows function" needs a finish to the sentence "but not always." Also here we have to use a judgment of our own good senses, -- also here we should not accept blindly the tradition.—Notes on Architecture, 1959
One needs no technical knowledge to conceive an idea but one does need technical ability and knowledge to develop this idea. But conceiving the idea and mastering the technique do not require the same abilities....The main thing is that we act at the point where something needed is lacking, and use the potential that we have at our disposal to find an economic and coherent solution.—On Form and Function at the Bauhaus in 1923 [1925]
Thus modern architecture would exist even without reinforced concrete, plywood or linoleum. It would exist even in stone, wood and brick. It is important to emphasize this because doctrinaire and unselective use of new materials falsifies the basic principles of our work.—On Architecture and Material, 1936
There are two separate zones, connected only by the entrance hall. One is for common living, eating, sport, games, gardening, visitors, radio, for every day's dynamic living. The second, in a separate wing, is for concentration, work and sleeping: the bedrooms are designed and dimensioned so that they may be used as private studies. Between the two zones is a patio for flowers, plants; visually connected with, or practically a part of, the living room and the hall.—On a Design of a Bi-Nuclear House, 1943
But what I value most of his achievements is his sense of interior space. It is a liberated space--to be experienced not only by your eye, but felt by your touch: dimensions and modulations corresponding to your steps and movements, embracing the embracing landscape.—On Frank Lloyd Wright, 1959

Learn More:

Sources: Marcel Breuer, Modern Homes Survey, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009; Biographical History, Syracuse University Libraries [accessed July 8, 2014]