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Marcel Breuer: From Bauhaus to Brutalism

CEO Khai Intela
Marcel Breuer, renowned for his furniture and architectural designs, was a pioneer in experimenting with unique shapes and materials. His signature style embodies clean lines, minimalist forms, and the innovative use of materials such as...

marcel breuer works

Marcel Breuer, renowned for his furniture and architectural designs, was a pioneer in experimenting with unique shapes and materials. His signature style embodies clean lines, minimalist forms, and the innovative use of materials such as tubular steel and reinforced concrete. Breuer's work exemplifies the Bauhaus objective of integrating art and industry.

breuer 1928 Photograph of Marcel Breuer in 1928, via Johannes Reponen

Marcel Lajos Breuer (1902-1981) was born in Pécs, Hungary, to Jakab Breuer and Francisca Leko. He grew up in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle as the son of a dental physician. Breuer's upbringing fostered a deep appreciation for culture and the arts, despite his rejection of religion.

To expose their children to the arts, Breuer's parents subscribed to various art periodicals, including "The Studio," a magazine that covered current developments in fine and applied arts, as well as architecture. Although the magazine was written in English, which the Breuer family didn't speak or read, it greatly inspired Marcel. This inspiration sparked his interest in becoming an artist. At his secondary school, he excelled in both the arts and mathematics, eventually earning a scholarship to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1920.

the studio magazine 1920 Cover of the magazine The Studio, 1920, via Abebooks

Upon starting his studies in Vienna in 1920, Europe was still recovering from the aftermath of World War I. Breuer found the art classes at the academy too focused on aesthetic theories rather than fundamentals. Instead, he took an apprenticeship with a local cabinet maker, Bolek, and soon discovered the Bauhaus School of Design, Building, and Craftsmanship in Weimar.

marcel breuer in the wassily chair Photograph of the young Marcel Breuer sitting in a Wassily Chair, via Elle Decor

In a matter of weeks, Breuer secured a place at the Bauhaus School among 143 other students. During his four-year study, he focused mainly on architecture. Although there were no official architecture classes yet, Breuer gained architectural training through an apprenticeship under Walter Gropius. He also found inspiration in his painting teacher, Paul Klee, who taught him the connection between painting and architectural structure.

After completing his studies at the Bauhaus in 1924, Breuer briefly worked in Paris at Pierre Charreau's office before returning to Weimar as the head of the furniture and carpentry workshop. When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, Breuer was involved in the interior design plan for the new school.

In 1926, he established the Standard Möbel Company and began marketing a full line of steel furniture. During this time, Breuer married Marta Erps, a fellow student at the Bauhaus. However, their marriage ended in 1934.

marcel breuer wassily chair advert A Thonet poster from the 1930s, advertising Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair, Offbeat Budapest

In the late 1920s, the Bauhaus faced internal political issues and increasing pressure from Germany's rising Nazi regime. Many left, including Gropius. Breuer moved to Berlin, joining the Bund Deutscher Architekten and founding his architectural practice. He started with small commissions and gained recognition through various exhibitions. In 1932, he received his first independent architectural commission for a modern house.

However, the political climate in Germany prompted Breuer to leave in search of safety. With the help of Gropius, he relocated to London, where he developed a line of bent plywood furniture.

marcel breuer wife connie Marcel Breuer and his wife Connie in their Lincoln home in 1939, Mr. Chair Facebook page

In 1937, Breuer moved again, this time to the United States, where he secured a position at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design with Gropius' assistance. Inspired by American industrial buildings and the traditional architecture of New England, Breuer and Gropius collaborated on several iconic houses. By the 1950s, Breuer was recognized internationally as one of the key figures in modern architectural design.

Breuer's repertoire expanded to include public buildings such as the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and the Bijenkorf department store in Rotterdam. He often collaborated with other architects, and together, they designed remarkable structures like the Armstrong Rubber Building and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Breuer's office produced over a hundred buildings, solidifying his status as an architectural genius.

After years of prolific work, Breuer suffered a nearly fatal heart attack. Although his health weakened, he continued designing buildings throughout the 1970s. He received numerous honors and exhibitions of his work were held at prestigious institutions. Marcel Breuer passed away on July 1, 1981, leaving behind a lasting legacy.

Marcel Breuer's Iconic Furniture Designs

The Wassily Chair

During his second period at the Bauhaus, from 1925 to 1928, Breuer began experimenting with bent tubular steel furniture. The iconic B3 chair, developed in 1925, later became known as the Wassily Chair in honor of artist Wassily Kandinsky, Breuer's friend and fellow Bauhaus instructor. The chair's tubular steel frame and leather panels showcase modernist design principles of functionality, minimalism, and the use of new materials and techniques.

The Cesca Chair

Following the Wassily Chair, Breuer continued his exploration of tubular steel, resulting in the design of the B32, also known as the Cesca Chair. This groundbreaking chair features a single tubular steel frame with wooden frames and jute webbing for the seat and backrest. By combining mass-produced steel with handwoven craftsmanship, Breuer seamlessly integrated industrial and artisanal elements. The Cesca Chair is considered the first-ever cantilever chair.

marcel breuer chair Cesca Chair by Marcel Breuer, designed in 1928, via MoMA, New York

Breuer's Architectural Masterpieces

The Hooper House

The Hooper House, also known as the Hooper House II, was designed by Marcel Breuer for philanthropist Edith Hooper and her husband. Completed in 1958 in Baltimore, Maryland, the house features a single-story binuclear design with two wings. The living, kitchen, and dining areas are located in one wing, while the sleeping area occupies the other. The Hooper House's open plan and large windows create a connection between the interior and surrounding nature.

Gagarin House I

In 1956, Breuer designed the Gagarin House I for Andrew and Jamie Gagarin in Litchfield, Connecticut. This striking house showcases a steel frame, reinforced concrete structure, and Maryland fieldstone cladding. The abundant glass walls allow for ample natural light and provide breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. The Gagarin House I also features signature Breuer elements such as metal railings and floating stairs.

The Breuer Building (945 Madison Avenue)

The Breuer Building, located at 945 Madison Avenue in Manhattan's Upper East Side, was designed for the Whitney Museum of American Art. The structure stands out with its reinforced concrete construction and grey-colored granite cladding, diverging from the traditional limestone and brick buildings in the vicinity. The building's interior incorporates terrazzo, concrete, bluestone floors, and walnut parquet, creating a unique sanctuary for modern art.

The Armstrong Rubber Building

The Armstrong Rubber Company, or Pirelli Tire Building, is one of Breuer's notable Brutalist architectural projects in the United States. Completed in 1968, the building features a reinforced concrete structure with fifty-ton cantilever trusses suspending the floor framing. The combination of concrete, steel, and an open central space gives the structure a sense of both weight and lightness.

marcel breuer interior met Photograph of the interior of the MET Breuer, via Archdaily

Marcel Breuer's innovative designs revolutionized furniture and architecture, leaving an indelible mark on the modernist movement. His commitment to blending art and industry, combined with his use of unconventional materials and forms, cemented his status as one of the great architects of the 20th century. Today, Breuer's works continue to inspire and shape the world of design and architecture.

Note: The information presented in this article is based on the original source content.

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