Born 1902, Pécs in Hungary
Practised in Germany and the USA
Studied at the Arts and Crafts school Bauhaus in Weimar and passed his journeyman’s examination at the Chamber of Crafts Weimar
Marcel Breuer was born in the city of Pécs, Hungary, in 1902 and grew up to be an ambitious, adventurous young man. Known as Lajkó to his friends, he left his hometown at just 18 years old and received a scholarship to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
The city had been home to some of early modernism’s most important figures, but the academy lacked the vibrancy that Breuer was hungry for and he loathed the stuffy theory that seemed to dominate the course structure. He would later refer to his times in Vienna as some of the “unhappiest in his life”.
A little brochure handed to him by a friend would change the course of Breuer’s career and ultimately shape the designer he would become. It was from the Bauhaus- a design movement whose principles stated that there was no border between artist and craftsman, that form follows function, that simplicity and effectiveness is best and that an emphasis should be placed on technology, minimalism and true materials.
At 19 years old, Breuer was one of the youngest students to enter the Bauhaus. Surrounded by expressionism, Breuer was an early proponent of the more rational approach that the school would become known for in the mid-1920s.
Marcel Breuer’s devotion to the lightweight, even the weightless, was heralded in his determined search for new and ever more minimized forms for furniture during his student years in the Weimar Bauhaus and even more once he became master of the furniture workshops at the Dessau Bauhaus. Breuer committed much of his research to the design of modular elements and mass production processes.
Breuer was both a prolific furniture designer and architect. However, his true love perhaps lay in architecture.
In 1928 he left the Bauhaus to establish his own architectural office in Berlin, supported by royalties from the sale of his chairs. These included the B3 chair, designed in 1925, the first tubular steel chair for domestic use (it was later rebranded the Wassily Chair by marketing-savvy Italians and is still known by that name today). Its design was inspired by the shape and form of a bicycle handlebars. The frame of the chair was made from polished, bent, nickelled tubular steel, which later became chrome plated. The seat came in canvas, fabric or leather in black section and has been widely copied.
Breuer would spend the next few years traveling extensively for his work in architecture- including offices in Budapest and England and travels in Morocco, Spain and Greece. In 1937 he moved to the United States, spurred by the growing power and influence of the Nazi Party.
He received a professorship for architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Breuer then established his own architecture office, which he moved to New York in 1946. In 1956, he founded the practice Marcel Breuer and Associates, Architects in New York. This resulted in a number of major projects in the United States and Europe- the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the UNESCO Building in Paris being two such examples of some of the 100 buildings completed by Breuer’s practice during these prolific years.
Breuer was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects at their 100th annual convention in 1968 at Portland, Oregon. However, he was not without controversy. In an ironic timing of events, his award coincided with general criticism for his willingness to design a multi-story office building on top of Grand Central Station. The project was never built but cost him many friends and supporters. Its defeat by the US Supreme Court established the right of New York and other cities to protect their landmarks.
In many ways, Marcel Breuer’s work was a perfect demonstration of the Bauhaus’ ideals of art meeting industry and the tradition of making radically new versions of familiar items. Breuer is considered to have been one among the fathers of Modernism, a defining designer of the 20th century.
- 1921 The African chair with Gunta Stölzl
- 1923 Furniture and built-in cabinetry for the Haus am Horn, Weimar
- 1925 First all-tubular steel chair (the Wassily)
- 1925 Stool / Side Table of tubular steel (leading to cantilevered chair)
- 1928 First cantilevered steel chair (the Cesca)
- 1935 Isokon furniture company – Plywood Tables and Stacking Chairs– London, England
- 1936 Isokon Furniture Company – Reclining Plywood Chairs– London, England
- 1938 Hagerty House in Massachusetts
- 1940 Alan I W Frank House in Pennsylvania
- 1948 Breuer House I in Connecticut
- 1948 Ariston Hotel in Mar del Plata, Argentina
- 1951 UNESCO Headquarters in Paris
- 1961 Church at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota
- 1962 IBM Laboratory in La Gaude
- 1966 Whitney Museum of American Art in New York
- 1969 Flaine Ski Resort in Haute-Savoie, France
- 1980 Atlanta Central Library in Georgia