As a prolific modernist architect and furniture designer, Marcel Breuer’s list of design projects is seemingly endless. Born in Hungary May 1902, he studied and was fortunate to teach at the famous Bauhaus during the 1920’s. Appointed to the head of the school’s carpentry workshop where a high level of craftsmanship and construction were stressed along with an innovative approach to materials and their use, he embraced these teachings expressed throughout his career with an interest in modular construction and clarity of form.
One of his earliest and well known modern furniture pieces is the Wassily Chair designed in 1925. This was inspired by the curvature of Breuer’s Adler bicycle handlebars and produced during the 1960’s by an Italian manufacturer. He went on to design the “Laccio Tables” as a low side table, companion to the Wassily Chair, again incorporating tubular steel emulating the same design elements as that of a bicycle.
The “Cesca Chair” designed in 1928, based on a cantilever style which was being utilized by other modern furniture designers during this time, deviated from the usual materials and incorporated caning and wood with a tubular steel fame. It has become of the world’s most popular chairs.
Marcel Breuer, who was Jewish, was forced to leave Germany because of the Nazi’s rise to power during the 1930’s and relocated to London. Here he began to experiment with bent and formed plywood while engaged by the Isokon Company producing the “Long Chair” in 1935-36. Inspired by Alvar Aalto’s plywood designs, his design was a modification from one of his own previous designs of an aluminum framed chaise from 1932.
During 1935-1937, he worked designing houses with the English modernist F.R.S. Yorke and eventually traveled to the United States to teach at Harvard’s architecture school. While his architecture career flourished as he first worked with Walter Gropius and then eventually opening his own firm in New York in 1941, his interest in designing furniture waned. The Geller House in 1945 showcased his concept of the “binuclear house” that defined living areas as wings and the development of the “butterfly” roof that was to become a part of the modernist vocabulary.
Eventually, his interest in materials led him to adopt concrete as his signature element and became known as one of the leaders in Brutalism. He was able to design to make concrete appear to be “soft”. His most famous example of this is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York which is where he died on July 1, 1981.