Marcel Breuer – the Don Draper of the Bauhaus

Marcel Breuer – the Don Draper of the Bauhaus

Structure is not just a means to a solution. It is also a principle and a passion. The furniture, even the walls of rooms, are no longer solid, monumental, seemingly immobile, or even in-built. They are much more light, open, almost plotted in the room ”  Marcel Breuer ( 1902 -1981 )

The Bauhaus Dessau is presenting ( until 31st Oct, 2012) the exhibition “Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture”, a wide ranging exploration of the legacy of one of the most important figures in 20th century design and architecture.

It is the first exhibition to treat all facets of Breuer’s work with equal weight, from the highly innovative furniture he produced as both a student and teacher at the famed Bauhaus, to the elegant but modestly scaled houses he created after moving to the United States, to the large-scale governmental and institutional buildings he eventually designed for major cities around the world.

Using reinforced concrete (with its formal plasticity and structural elasticity) Breuer gave monumental character to buildings such as the Abbey and Campus of St. John’s University in Minnesota (1953-1961), the De Bijenkorf department store in Rotterdam, the IBM Research Center in France (1960-1962), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (1963-1966) in New York City.

East fire stair at the UNESCO Secretariat, Paris 1953.

During the course of an illustrious 50-year career that took him from the Bauhaus to New York, architect Marcel Breuer generated a huge, influential and varied body of work. With his keen sense of proportion, shape, and material, Breuer is one of the most important Modernists and is still very much central in the discussion of contemporary architecture.

Time magazine called Marcel Breuer one of the “form-givers of the 20th century“: with his invention of steel-tube furniture. However he was also one of the greatest architects of the 20th century. Breuer belongs to the elite group of architects and designers who helped shape 20th century thinking on form, function and aesthetic.

He used new technologies and new materials in order to develop his ‘International Style’ of work. He helped to develop modular or unit construction – ie the combination of standardised units to form a technically simple but functional complete unit.

Marcel Breuer the Architect

Marcel Breuer is of course more than Dessau and more than furniture – something made very clear by the “Architecture” section of the exhibition.

Although initially a furniture designer, Breuer worked most of his professional life as an architect working on projects ranging from private houses over commercial properties and onto public buildings

Marcel Breuer was attracted to the year-old Weimar Bauhaus by its idealistic program that promised new approaches to art and architecture away from the iconoclastic methods of the past.

The then, 18-year-old from Pecs Hungary, demonstrated an extraordinary talent and energy in the Vorkus and workshops. His objective, however, was architecture, and through it was not yet a part of the formal curriculum, in the spring of 1924, Marcel Breuer, with the advice of Georg Muche, began a collaborative work group to study housing and particularly high-rise structures.

Once there he participated first as a student from 1920 til his graduation in 1924. Thereafter, he became a faculty member or “Bauhaus Master” from 1924 to 1928; by which time the school had relocated from Weimar to Dessau

From the outset, Breuer had a clear understanding of the “form follows function” principle. To this, he embraced the concept of unit construction, and in 1925, with his innovative use of raw materials

Not only was Dessau the location for much of Marcel Breuer’s furniture work, it was also the location where his early attempts at establishing a career in architecture were dashed against the cliffs of reality named Walter Gropius.

First his application(s) to be appointed head of architecture at Bauhaus failed, then he was rejected for a place in the team designing the Meisterhäuser. And ultimately his frustration was one of the reasons that he quit Bauhaus to pursue his architectural dreams elsewhere.

The exhibition concentrates on various themes and attitudes in his architectural canon presented through models, sketches and photographs; a concept that does admittedly provide a wonderful overview of how he thought and how he worked.

Displaying models from half a dozen of his projects one gets a wonderful impression for how Breuer interpreted and realised the Bauhaus ethos.

In contrast to the chronological design section, the architecture section is thematically divided into “Spaces”, “Houses” and what the curators refer to as “Volumes” – monolithic, almost brutalist, constructions that seem determined to justify and enforce their right to exist through their presence alone.

Each of the sections is explained through models, photos and sketches of representative buildings.

The Bauhaus opened in Weimar in 1919 as a consolidation of the School of Art and the School of Applied Arts of the Grand Duchy of Saxony. The school was forced to closed in 1925, but officials in Dessau offered their support, and a new Bauhaus was built there in 1925 and 1926

In 1925, Walter Gropius designed the iconic building for the Bauhaus in Dessau.

Its pinwheel structure incorporated separate wings for the various functions: a glazed, three-story workshop wing, another three-story wing for the vocational school and a five-story studio building with projecting balconies. A single-story element connecting the workshop wing and the studios housed an auditorium and canteen.

Breuer provided folding, tubular-steel theater chairs for the auditorium and long, dining tables with tubular-steel stools for the canteen. The stools, along with tubular-steel side chairs, were also used as seating throughout the building

It was however in Dessau that he really started coming into his own as a furniture designer, for all as the designer responsible for the furnishings in the Masters Houses, the work building, auditorium and canteen.

Walter Gropius, 1928 chicago tribune building concept

In 1925 / 26 Walter Gropius, also built three duplex houses alongside his own house for the professors ( masters ) who worked at the Bauhaus.

The Masters’ Houses were designed by Gropius’ studio with the concept, building technique and schedule of works constructed in parallel with the Bauhaus building. Gropius wanted to create intelligible, harmonious buildings, bare and resplendent whose sense of meaning illustrated clear rigidity.

Gropius ensured that everything unnecessary was rejected, believing it disguised the pure essence of the building.

Gropius’s own house was a single-family residence while the remaining three were two-family houses. All possessed generous studio space

Walter Gropius … ‘All six of these houses are the same but different in the impression they make. Simplification through multiplication means quicker, cheaper building.’

The houses were built about ten minutes walk away from the school, and comprised of a detached residence for Gropius and three pairs of semi-detached dwellings for the other masters.

Wassily Kandinsky lived and worked from 1927 to 1932 in the house adjoining that of Paul Klee. Also, László Moholy-Nagy and Lyonel Feininger lived in a duplex, as did Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer.

Gropius’ villa and one of the duplex houses were destroyed in the war, but the others are still there and have a turbulent past behind them, starting with the Nazis’ repression of the Bauhaus.

The interiors were furnished with products from the Bauhaus workshops. The Bauhaus design requirements of living in a modern world were clearly demonstrated in the houses lived in by Gropius and Moholy Nagy

The houses had fitted cupboards integrated between the kitchen and the dining room and between the bedroom and the studio space. Gropius and Moholy-Nagy fitted their houses exclusively with furniture by Marcel Breuer along with other Bauhaus products.

Breuer designed much of the furniture for the residences and his tubular steel chairs were used throughout.

For Wassily and Nina Kandinsky, he designed bedroom furniture, along with a dining room table and chairs based on the motif of the circle. Gropius and Moholy-Nagy liked the table so much that they requested it for their own houses.

For Gropius, Breuer designed the interior color schemes, built-in cabinets, a tubular-steel fold-out sofa and a double desk. Moholy-Nagy’s house also contained cabinets designed by Breuer, as well as some wooden couches and a dressing table. Breuer’s contribution to Georg Muche’s house is less well documented though it is certain that he designed a desk and drawer unit for the living room

Whilst other masters brought their own furniture with them, Kandinsky and Klee developed their own ideas with respect to the arrangement of colour and light relating entirely to their own artistic work and experimentation.

bauhaus students painting the masters house

The Masters Houses were built much to the annoyance of the “Young Masters” who found them to be “anti-social” – that while the Masters were given shiny new villas, the Young Masters ( who at the time were doing the lion’s share of the teaching) – weren’t accommodated.

The Young Masters rebelled against the plan and proposed their own series of experimental, prefabricated houses known colloquially as BAMBOS after those Young Masters for whom they were intended: Breuer, Albers, Meyer, Bayer, Meyer-Ottens and Schmidt.

Initially the plan was rejected, but with Breuer threatening to leave Dessau, Walter Gropius eventually conceded to the project. However, as with so much associated with Bauhaus, fate meant the project was never realised and much of the original documentation has long since vanished.

Breuer ( in 1925) designed a single-family dwelling to be prefabricated out of standardized industrial components. Wall, window and door panels could be hung on a modular frame, allowing the house to be constructed in three weeks. The residences could stand alone or be grouped together as row houses. Each house possessed a double height living area with bedrooms on the mezzanine level and a roof terrace.

In 1928 Breuer began the private practice of architecture in Berlin.

Breuer’s buildings were always distinguished by an attention to detail and a clarity of expression. Considered one of the last true functionalist architects, Breuer helped shift the bias of the Bauhaus from “Arts & Crafts” to “Arts & Technology”.

In 1937 he went to Harvard University to teach architecture, and from 1938 to 1941 he practiced with Gropius in Cambridge, Mass.

Their synthesis of Bauhaus internationalism with New England regional aspects of wood-frame building greatly influenced domestic architecture throughout the United States. Examples of this style of building were Breuer’s own house at Lincoln, Mass. (1939), and the Chamberlain cottage at Wayland, Mass. (1940).

In 1946 Breuer moved to New York City and thereafter attracted numerous major commissions: the Sarah Lawrence College Theatre, Bronxville, N.Y. (1952); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters, Paris (1953–58; with Pier Luigi Nervi and Bernard Zehrfuss); St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn. (1953–61); De Bijenkorf department store, Rotterdam (1955–57); the International Business Machines (IBM) research centre, La Gaude, Fr. (1960–62); and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City (completed 1966); and the headquarters for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Washington, D.C. (1963–68).

He retired from practice in 1976.

The “Design” part of the exhibition features numerous examples of Breuer’s Work with steel tubing; including the seminal B 3 Wassily Chair in numerous variations

Furniture Design

Breuer was one of the founders of the Modern Movement His furniture can be classed as democratic. Affordable furniture for the masses

Marcel Breuer’s furniture designs are almost exclusively from his Bauhaus period, and in many ways can be considered defining pieces of the Bauhaus approach.

Breuer began his career as a furniture designer. He excelled in his carpentry studies at the Bauhaus, eventually heading the workshop.

breuer bureau 1925

His early experiments in wood owed much to the De Stijl movement, in particular the furniture of Gerrit Rietveld.

In addition to steel tubing the exhibition also features a fascinating collection of his work with wood, plywood and aluminium. A collection which shows just how truly talented Marcel Breuer was.

Much as Gerrit Rietveld‘s career is publicly reduced down to the Red – blue chair, so too is it all to easy to imagine Marcel Breuer spent his days doing nothing more than creating chairs and tables from bent steel tubing.

However Breuer’s steel tube work was for 20th century European design, for Breuer himself it was an early and short lived phase of his creativity.

The design section of the exhibition is arranged chronologically and so starts with Breuer’s initial wood pieces, including the unmistakably de Stijl influenced – and appropriately coloured – Lattenstuhl, and the dressing table and chair combination he created in 1923 for the Haus am Horn in Weimar

In the mid-1920s Marcel Breuer then started his ground-breaking experimentation with steel tubing, and naturally the genre is well represented in the exhibition.

The first real breakthrough occurred in 1925, when, inspired by the frame of a new bicycle, he began to design chairs in tubular steel. Breuer eventually designed a whole line of tubular steel furniture, marketing the pieces through his own company, Standard Möbel.

His Model B3 Chair, popularly known as the Wassily Chair, is perhaps one of the best known and most instantly recognisable furniture pieces from the 1920s. It also counts among the most copied designs.

The Wassily Chair was designed in 1925 and inspired by the curved tubular steel handlebars on Breuer’s Adler bicycle.

He designed his famous Wassily chair for painter Wassily Kandinsky, Breuer’s colleague on the Bauhaus faculty. Kandinsky admired Breuer’s finished chair design so much that did Breuer made an additional copy for Kandinsky to use in his home.

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.

When Knoll re-released the chair in the 1960s, they designated the name “Wassily” after they had learned that Kandinsky had been the recipient of one of the earliest post-prototype units

Lis Beyer or Ise Gropius sitting on the B3 club chair by Marcel Breuer and wearing a mask by Oskar Schlemmer and dress fabric by Beyer, c.1927

Breuer designed a whole range of tubular metal furniture including chairs, tables, stools and cupboards.

Tubular steel has lots of qualities; it is affordable for the masses, hygienic and provides comfort without the need for springs to be introduced. Breuer considered all of his designs to be essential for modern living.

Other important works by Marcel Breuer include his Cesca cantilever chair as well as his B55 and S 32 cantilever chairs and B10 side table, all part of a series of tubular steel furniture created in the late 1920s.

Although best known for his steel tube furniture, Marcel Breuer’s first forays in furniture design were solid wood, one of his first commissions being a quadratic wood and leather armchair from 1921 for the Haus Sommerfeld in Berlin – arguably the first project Bauhaus undertook as an institution.

Licensing agreements with furniture manufacturers such as Thonet soon followed. Breuer began working in aluminum in 1932 eventually winning an international competition in Paris

On the one hand because it was a material he was more or less forced to work with – the company Isokon having little interest in steel tube furniture and wanting instead the commercially more relevant wood – yet was a material with which he was able to produce some truly wonderful furniture; with the organic form language standing very much in contrast with what the majority of us associate with the name Marcel Breuer.

Admittedly one has limited options with moulded plywood, but what Marcel Breuer achieved is truly a joy to behold.

But also because it shows that Breuer had an understanding of the commercial furniture industry that few of his contemporaries could match.

His 1936 stacking chair being a particularly powerful example.

After immigrating to London in 1935, he entered into an agreement with the Isokon Furniture Company, headed by Jack Pritchard. For Isokon, he produced some notable designs in plywood, including the long chair and nesting tables.

Breuer continued to experiment with plywood construction after moving to the United States in 1937. He designed a number of custom pieces for clients but did not succeed in interesting manufacturers in his furniture.

The exhibition doesn’t just dwell on the steel. It presents it, and then neatly moves onto to his aluminium work for Embro in Switzerland – work that in many ways is just as innovative and just as interesting as his steel tube work – and also his moulded plywood designs for UK producer Isokon.

Works that show an undeniable similarity to what Alvar Aalto was creating at the same time.

About Marcel Breuer


1902 Marcel Lajos Breuer ( Lajkó to his friends )– was born on 21 May 1902 in the provincial city of Pecs, Hungary

1914 Breuer went to high school in Pecs

1920 Wins a scholarship to study painting and sculpture at Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Leaves after a few weeks to work in an architect’s office. Moves to Weimar, Germany to study at the Bauhaus.

From 1920 to 1928 he was a student and teacher at Germany’s Bauhaus, a school of design where modern principles, technologies and the application of new materials were encouraged in both the industrial and fine arts.

1920 He began a carpentry apprenticeship at the Staatliches Bahuas in Weimar. His talents were quickly acknowledged and in 1921 Breuer began working in the Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius’s studio

After completing a preliminary course in which students were introduced to all the subjects taught at the Bauhaus, Breuer became one of six apprentices to join the new furniture workshop in summer 1921. His first piece was the Romantic Chair (also known as the African Chair) which he carved and painted by hand in a grandiose throne-like form.

By 1923, when he qualified as a journeyman, his work, notably the 1922 Wood-slat chair, was increasingly influenced by the abstract aesthetic of De Stijl, the Dutch art movement.

His early study and teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau in the twenties introduced the wunderkind to the older giants of the era of whom three – Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius – were to have life-long influence upon his professional life.

Dec 1926. Bauhaus Masters (l-r) Josef Albers, Hinnerk Scheper, Georg Muche, László Moholy‐Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Gunta Stölzl, Oskar Schlemmer.

Although firmly established as one of the most prolific members of the Bauhaus and a protégé of its director Walter Gropius, Breuer had little patience with the intellectual debates that ignited the rest of the school preferring to design “without having to philosophise before every move”.

In 1924, Breuer left the Bauhaus for Paris where he made ends meet by working for an architect and did “everything I can to forget about my Bauhaus cares”. Paris was another disappointment and when Gropius invited him to run the furniture workshop at the new Bauhaus in Weimar, Breuer said “yes”.

The women shown include Breuer’s wife Martha Erps (left) and Ruth Hollós, the wife of the photographer. The architect Katt Both is standing in the middle

After completing his training in 1924, Breuer was appointed Head of the Carpentry Workshop in 1925. He took over the management of the joiner’s workshop at the Bauhaus from 1925 to 1928, which had meanwhile moved to Dessau. During this time, he was strongly influenced by constructivism and De Stijl and developed a few trend setting tubular steel furniture designs.

Breuer was given the title of ‘Young Master’.

1925 Starts to develop the innovative tubular steel Steel Club chair, later christened the Wassily Chair.

One of his first projects was the 1926 steel club armchair (later renamed the Wassily, after the Bauhaus teacher Wassily Kandinsky) made from extruded nickel-plated tubular steel. Unusually light and easy to assemble from ready-made steel tubes, the chair was the result of Breuer’s years of experiments with bending steel and was immediately hailed as an important breakthrough in furniture design. “I thought that this out of all my work would earn me the most criticism,” he noted, “but the opposite of what I expected came true.”

Although a well travelled man who completed many important and relevant projects throughout his career, Marcel Breuer’s time at Dessau is without question the most interesting phase of his life because it was in Dessau that he developed his bent steel tube furniture and as such started a revolution in furniture design whose influence can still be felt today

Master house of László Moholy Nagy 1927 – 1928

1927 Co-founds Standard-Möbel to manufacture and distribute his tubular steel furniture ( although running it proved much trickier than he had thought ). Breuer also designed furniture for the Bauhaus Dessau masters’ houses and for the Berlin apartment of the theatre producer Erwin Piscator.

The avant-garde theater producer, Erwin Piscator, hired Breuer to renovate his Berlin apartment. As designed by Breuer, the apartment had bare walls with dark, contrasting baseboards. Breuer furnished the apartment with lightweight, tubular-steel furniture that seemed to hover in space.

A long, thin band of hanging cabinets ran the entire length of the dining room.

Exercise equipment took up one wall of Mr. Piscator’s bedroom, underscoring contemporary associations between health and modernism.

Thost House Interiors – One of Breuer’s earliest commissions. For the living room, he designed glass vitrines to house the owners’ pottery collection and a built-in couch and table. He used woven hemp matting as floor coverings, as he had done in the Bauhaus Masters’ Houses. This matting would become a signature of his residential interiors. Breuer also designed furniture for the nursery.

Wilinsky Apartment – Breuer designed numerous pieces of built-in furniture for this apartment, including a wall cabinet with glass and enameled sliding doors, kitchen storage and shoe storage. He also designed the handrail for the stairs, a chaise lounge, a writing desk and a flower table for the breakfast room.

Detailed plans for the apartment reveal Breuer’s vision for the built-in and free-standing furniture

Not only did Breuer design furniture, he also designed a standardised metal house and later on designed his BAMBOS house

Always very independently minded, Breuer found himself regularly at odds with the Bauhaus Masters – most notably over his decision to produce and market his steel tube furniture independent of the institution – and in 1928 finally quit the school to concentrate on his own projects


1928 students bauhaus dessau

Breuer continued to teach at the Bauhaus until 1928 and for the next three years directed his own architectural practice in Berlin. During this time he designed interiors, furniture and department stores. He became frustrated because the buildings he designed still remained unbuilt.

1928 l-r Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer, Gunta Stölzl, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, Walter Gropius, Herbert Bayer, László Moholy-Nagy and Hinnerk Scheper

1928 Marcel Breuer, Gunta Stölzl, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, Walter Gropius, Herbert Bayer

1928 Quits the Bauhaus when Gropius resigns as director and sets up an architectural office in Berlin, but struggles to find work. He dedicated himself mainly to the field of interior design. Barred from the German architects’ association because of his dearth of practical experience, he worked on renovations and more furniture.

1931 Because of a slump in the economy Breuer was forced to close his architectural office and travelled to the South of France, Spain, Greece and Morocco.

1932 In the next year on his return one of his architectural commissions was realised. The Harnischmacher House, Wiesbaden. He later designed the Wohnbedarf furniture store in Zurich.

1932 Dividing his time between Hungary and Switzerland, Breuer starts developing aluminium furniture with which he will win a competition in 1933.

Returning to Germany was impossible after the National Socialists took power in 1933 and Breuer moved to Switzerland where he concentrated on furniture design.

1933 Breuer joined Alfred and Emil Roth. They worked on a joint venture in designing the Doldertal Houses. These were a pair of apartment blocks in Zurich for Sigfried Giedion the man who founded the Wohnbedarf company.

Breuer deigned and realised a range of furniture made from flat bands of steel and aluminium. The range of furniture was manufactured and sold by the Wohnbedarf company. His furniture was in fact more popular in the 1970’s than it was when it was originally designed.

1934 The first aluminium pieces go into production.

1935 The tubular steel and aluminium pieces which he produced in Switzerland won universal praise, but Breuer was still strapped for cash and in 1935 he decided to join Gropius – and Isokon – in London.

1935 Breuer was forced to emigrate to London. This was to escape the Nazis. He felt threatened as his origins were Hungarian-Jewish.

In London he worked in partnership with the architect, F.R.S Yorke and together they they completed several houses in Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire and Bristol.

In 1936 they designed the Gane pavilion in Bristol, which combined wood and local stone. This was very different from the type of work produced at the Bauhaus, combining steel, glass and modern materials.

When Marcel Breuer arrived in London in 1935, he was asked to design furniture for Isokon, alias the Isometric Unit Construction company.

When Breuer was employed at the Jack Pritchard’s Company Isokon he designed and made five plywood pieces of furniture. These were a plywood version of his earlier metal designs. The design of these chairs were influenced by the work of Alvar Aalto. Aalto designed and made plywood furniture and exhibited in Britain in 1933.

Breuer told its owner Jack Pritchard that he wanted to continue developing the metal pieces he had worked on as a teacher at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s. Pritchard briskly informed him that, as the British were far too traditional to buy metal furniture, Breuer should work in wood instead, preferably plywood.

The result was a series of five pieces including an armchair, chaise longue and nest of tables in which the plywood is formed so fluidly and sinuously, that they are now regarded as landmarks in 20th century furniture design. Yet like the rest of Breuer’s early career as a furniture designer, the development of these plywood pieces was clouded by doubts and disappointment.

In London, he worked as an architect with Walter Gropius, by which time he was one of the best-known designers in Europe. His reputation was based upon his invention of tubular steel furniture, one big residence, two apartment houses, some shop interiors and several competition entries

1937 When Gropius leaves London to become architecture professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Breuer follows. He is given a professorship there and opens an architectural office with Gropius which begins by designing their own homes. During WWII their partnership revolutionized American house design while teaching a whole generation of soon-to-be famous architects.

Together they designed the Pennsylvania Pavilion at the 1939 New York’s World Fair. They also designed several houses together, including Gropius’s own house.

When Gropius moved to the US in 1937 to become professor of architecture at Harvard, Breuer joined him, soon becoming a professor too. Together they formed an architectural practice which began by building their own homes as two storey villas made from glass, natural wood and stone rubble. Commissions for other houses followed, but the practice dissolved in 1941, possibly because Gropius felt frustrated at working on such modest projects after his public commissions in Germany.

1941 Closes practise with Gropius, but they remain friends and continue teaching at Harvard together.

The younger Breuer, by contrast, was enthused by the experimental possibilities of housing and was equally enthusiastic about teaching through which he advocated the principles of European modernism to students including Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph and Edward L. Barnes, all of whom later became important US architects.

In 1946, Breuer left Harvard and opened an office in New York where his first partner was the industrial designer Eliot Noyes. His first building to be completed after the War was the Geller House on Long Island, a spacious, airy wooden structure hailed as a “house of the future” by the press.

Just as Breuer’s furniture expressed each element in distinctive forms, so did his houses, which articulated each structural detail and the designation of different areas for different activities, daytime and night time, for example. Breuer continued to work with combinations of glass, wood and stone rubble thereby imbuing his International Style structures with the warmth and naturalism of their surroundings.

The work of this Hungarian-born, German-trained designer-turned-architect came to typify an affluent, enlightened style of mid-20th century East Coast residential architecture.

In 1946 Breuer founded his own studio in New York and realized numerous designs in Europe and the United States. Like Le Corbusier, Breuer chose concrete as his medium of choice. He used concrete in his design of the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City

This proved to be one of Breuer’s most productive periods. Between 1940 and 1950 he designed seventy private houses, one of which included his own house in 1947.

In the same year the Museum of Modern Art in New York ran a touring exhibition of Breuer’s work and in 1948 asked him to design a low-cost house in the grounds of the museum, which was targeted at the average American family. He filled the house with plywood cut-out furniture.

Although, Breuer concentrated on architecture for the rest of his career, he still designed furniture for occasional projects like the Geller House and the exhibition house he built and furnished in 1949 for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where Noyes had been a curator. For that project, he developed the innovative cut-out plywood MoMA Chair made from a single board.

The MoMA project rekindled interest in Breuer’s work. As well as dozens of commissions for private houses – mostly in his favourite H-plan and T-plan shapes and in the East Coast states of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey – he won the competition to design the 1953 UNESCO headquarters in Paris with Pier Luigi Nervi, the brilliant Italian structural engineer, and the French architect Bernard Zehrfuss.

In the same year, Breuer designed the Bijenkorff department store in Rotterdam.

For these large public buildings Breuer abandoned the naturalistic wood and stone of his private houses to experiment with monumental concrete forms which he christened “concrete sculpture”. These experiments culminated in the mid-1960s in his grandiose structure for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which is still his chief legacy to the city where the once peripatetic

1949 Having staged a touring exhibition of Breuer’s work in 1948, the Museum of Modern Art, New York commissions him to design a house in the museum garden. This commission revitalises Breuer’s career.

In 1953 Breuer worked as part of a team designing the UNESCO building in Paris ( with Pier Luigi Nervi and Bernard Zehrfuss ) and also designed the Bijenkorff department store in Rotterdam.

In 1956 Breuer as well as setting up’ Marcel Breuer and Associates in New York began using concrete for his architectural commissions.

UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1953-1958)

Breuer saw a practice that had been essentially residential finally expand into institutional buildings with the UNESCO Headquarters commission in Paris in 1952 and the first of many buildings for Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN two years later

1957 Begins work on lecture halls and residences for New York University.

1963 Starts a three year project to design the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Marcel Breuer and Jacqueline Kennedy touring the construction of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1965 Oct. 21

By 1968, when he won the AIA’s Gold Medal, he could look back on such world-famous monuments as New York’s Whitney Museum (probably the best known), IBM’s La Gaude Laboratory (his personal favorite), the headquarters of the Departments of HUD and HEW in Washington DC (he finally felt American), and Flaine (an entire ski-town in the French Alps).

In that same year, he won the first Jefferson Foundation Medal that cited him “among all the living architects of the world as excelling all others in the quality of his work.”

1969 Armstrong Rubber Co. Headquarters, West-Haven, Conn

1969 Designs Armstrong Rubber Company headquarters in West Haven, Connecticut with Robert F. Gatje

1970 starts work on the Australian Embassy in Paris as consulting architect to former assistant Harry Seidler.

His New York-based firm moved through three ever-larger offices, with a branch in his beloved Paris to handle work in seven European countries; he gathered five young partners in the process.

1976 – He retires

1981 July 1st – Marcel Breuer dies in New York. after a long illness.

(r) Mathias Remmele

“Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture” is curated by the journalist/curator/lecturer Mathias Remmele.

Interview with Mathias Remmele by Smow

(smow): From the exhibition it is clear that Marcel Breuer started working with wood and then later switched to steel tubing. Why the switch? Do we known what the motivation was?

Mathias Remmele: Its not possible to say with 100% certainty; however, from Breuer himself comes the story that he was cycling one day, looked down at his handlebars and that was in effect the Eureka moment. Personally however I’m not convinced that that is the complete story. There is also conjecture that it could have had its roots in the Junker aircraft factory that was also here in Dessau, had connections to Bauhaus and which used steel and iron tubing, for example, for aircraft seats. But as I say, we don’t know with 100% certainty.

(smow): But what is certain is that once he started, there was no holding him back….

Mathias Remmele: Indeed, he spent the next 6 years working very intensely with steel tubing and more or less designed all types of furniture that can be sensibly created with the material: numerous chairs, stools, tables, desks, even a bed…

(smow): And was it the case Breuer approach, for example, Thonet with ideas for new pieces, or did Thonet commission him to create specific objects? Where, in effect, came the impetus to create new pieces?

Mathias Remmele: Again, and as with so much involving Breuer, that’s not something that is explicitly documented. However I assume that in the beginning Breuer approached Thonet with his ideas, but then from a certain point Thonet would have started to look at what objects would be interesting for them.

(smow): Walter Gropius is a constant feature in Marcel Breuer’s biography. How was their relationship, was it father/son or more a strict teacher/pupil?

Mathias Remmele: I’d say more father/son and certainly a lifelong friendship. Walter Gropius identified Marcel Breuer’s talent very early in Weimar and encouraged and advanced his work before promoting him to a Young Master and head of the furniture workshop at Dessau. But also beyond the time at Bauhaus they remained in close contact and Walter Gropius always tried to use his contacts and his influence to help Marcel Breuer.

(smow): Walter Gropius was not the only important influence on Breuer’s work, but also de Stijl. Where and how did Marcel Breuer first come into contact with the work and personalities of de Stijl?

Mathias Remmele: Members of de Stijl movement made contact with Bauhaus in the early 1920s and subsequently came to Weimar and held a lecture at which Bauhaus protagonists, including Breuer, and de Stil members got to know each other and each others works. And that had a very strong influence on Marcel Breuer, as can be seen in some of his earlier wood pieces.

(smow): To end, can one see Marcel Breuer as a Bauhäusler, or is he more someone who was associated with the school, but never really absorbed the ideological, philosophical side of the whole thing?

Mathias Remmele: I think that one can see him without question as a Bauhäusler. The school greatly influenced him, and is associated with some very positive periods of his life. And after Bauhaus he remained in contact not just with Gropius but also with other individuals, for example Paul Klee who he greatly admired both painter and as a person. For me Marcel Breuer is simply the most important and most and interesting Bauhaus student!

About the Bauhaus Dessau

The Bauhaus art school existed in three Ger­man cities (Weimar from 1919 to 1925, Dessau from 1925 to 1932, Berlin from 1932 to 1933), under three dif­fer­ent architect-directors (Wal­ter Gropius from 1919 to 1927, Hannes Meyer from 1928 to 1930, Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe from 1930 to 1933).

Bauhaus is the com­mon term for the Staatliches Bauhaus, an art and archi­tec­ture school in Ger­many that oper­ated from 1919 to 1933, and for its approach to design that it pub­li­cized and taught.

The most nat­ural mean­ing for its name (related to the Ger­man verb for “build”) is Archi­tec­ture House. Bauhaus style became one of the most influ­en­tial cur­rents in Mod­ernist archi­tec­ture, and one of the most impor­tant cur­rents of the New Objectivity.

The Bauhaus art school had a pro­found influ­ence upon sub­se­quent devel­op­ments in art, archi­tec­ture, graphic design, inte­rior design, indus­trial design and typography.

The foun­da­tion of the Bauhaus occurred at a time of cri­sis and tur­moil in Europe as a whole and par­tic­u­larly in Ger­many. Its estab­lish­ment resulted from a con­flu­ence of a diverse set of polit­i­cal, social, edu­ca­tional and artis­tic devel­op­ment in the first two decades of the twen­ti­eth century.

The design inno­va­tions com­monly asso­ci­ated with Gropius and the Bauhaus — the rad­i­cally sim­pli­fied forms, the ratio­nal­ity and func­tion­al­ity, and the idea that mass-production was rec­on­cil­able with the indi­vid­ual artis­tic spirit — were already partly devel­oped in Ger­many before the Bauhaus was founded.

The Ger­man national design­ers’ orga­ni­za­tion Deutscher Werk­bund was formed in 1907 by Her­mann Muthe­sius to har­ness the new poten­tials of mass pro­duc­tion, with a mind towards pre­serv­ing Germany’s eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness with Eng­land. In its first seven years, the Werk­bund came to be regarded as the author­i­ta­tive body on ques­tions of design in Ger­many, and was copied in other coun­tries.

Most of the con­tents of the pre-war Weimar work­shops had been sold dur­ing World War I. The early inten­tion was for the Bauhaus to be a com­bined archi­tec­ture school, crafts school, and acad­emy of the arts. Much inter­nal and exter­nal con­flict followed.

The school was founded by Wal­ter Gropius at the con­ser­v­a­tive city of Weimer in 1919 as a merger of the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts and the Weimar Acad­emy of Fine Arts. His open­ing man­i­festo pro­claimed “to cre­ate a new guild of crafts­men, with­out the class dis­tinc­tions which raise an arro­gant bar­rier between crafts­man and artist”.

Gropius argued that a new period of his­tory had begun with the end of the war. He wanted to cre­ate a new archi­tec­tural style to reflect this new era. His style in archi­tec­ture and con­sumer goods was to be func­tional, cheap and con­sis­tent with mass pro­duc­tion.

To these ends, Gropius wanted to reunite art and craft to arrive at high-end func­tional prod­ucts with artis­tic pre­ten­sions.

The Bauhaus issued a mag­a­zine called “Bauhaus” and a series of books called “Bauhaus­bücher”.

The para­dox of the early Bauhaus was that, although its man­i­festo pro­claimed that the ulti­mate aim of all cre­ative activ­ity was build­ing, the school wouldn’t offer classes in archi­tec­ture until 1927.

The sin­gle most prof­itable tan­gi­ble prod­uct of the Bauhaus was its wall­pa­per.

Dur­ing the years under Gropius (1919 – 1927), he and his part­ner Adolf Meyer observed no real dis­tinc­tion between the out­put of his archi­tec­tural office and the school. So the built out­put of Bauhaus archi­tec­ture in these years is the out­put of Gropius: the Som­mer­feld house in Berlin, the Otte house in Berlin, the Auer­bach house in Jena, and the com­pe­ti­tion design for the Chicago Tri­bune Tower, which brought the school much atten­tion.

The defin­i­tive 1926 Bauhaus build­ing in Dessau is also attrib­uted to Gropius.

Apart from con­tri­bu­tions to the 1923 Haus am Horn, stu­dent work archi­tec­tural amounted to unbuilt projects, inte­rior fin­ishes, and craft work like cab­i­nets, chairs and pottery.

Since the coun­try lacked the quan­tity of raw mate­ri­als that the United States and Great Britain had, they had to rely on the pro­fi­ciency of its skilled labor force and abil­ity to export inno­v­a­tive and high qual­ity goods. There­fore design­ers were needed and so was a new type of art edu­ca­tion. The school’s phi­los­o­phy basi­cally stated that the artist should be trained to work with the industry.

The changes of venue and lead­er­ship resulted in a con­stant shift­ing of focus, tech­nique, instruc­tors, and pol­i­tics. When the school moved from Weimar to Dessau, for instance, although it had been an impor­tant rev­enue source, the pot­tery shop was dis­con­tin­ued.

The charis­matic Meyer rose to direc­tor when Gropius resigned in Feb­ru­ary 1928, and Meyer brought the Bauhaus its two most sig­nif­i­cant build­ing com­mis­sions, both of which still exist: five apart­ment build­ings in the city of Dessau, and the head­quar­ters of the Fed­eral School of the Ger­man Trade Unions (ADGB) in Bernau ( near Berlin).

Under the out­spo­ken Swiss Com­mu­nist archi­tect Hannes Meyer, the archi­tec­tural focus shifted away from aes­thet­ics and towards func­tion­al­ity.

Meyer’s approach was to research users’ needs and sci­en­tif­i­cally develop the design solution.

Meyer favored mea­sure­ments and cal­cu­la­tions in his pre­sen­ta­tions to clients, along with the use of off-the-shelf archi­tec­tural com­po­nents to reduce costs, and this approach proved attrac­tive to poten­tial clients. The school turned its first profit under his lead­er­ship in 1929.

The Dessau years saw a remark­able change in direc­tion for the school. Accord­ing to Elaine Hochmann, Gropius had approached the Dutch archi­tect Mart Stam to run the newly-founded archi­tec­ture pro­gram, and when Stam declined the posi­tion, Gropius turned to Stam’s friend and col­league in the ABC group, Hannes Meyer. Gropius would come to regret this decision.

But Meyer also gen­er­ated a great deal of con­flict. As a rad­i­cal func­tion­al­ist, he had no patience with the aes­thetic pro­gram, and forced the res­ig­na­tions of Her­bert Bayer, Mar­cel Breuer, and other long­time instruc­tors.

As a vocal Com­mu­nist, he encour­aged the for­ma­tion of a Com­mu­nist stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion. In the increas­ingly dan­ger­ous polit­i­cal atmos­phere, this became a threat to the exis­tence of the Dessau school, and to the per­sonal safety of any­one involved. Meyer was also com­pro­mised by a sex­ual scan­dal involv­ing one of his stu­dents, and Gropius fired him in 1930.

Although nei­ther the Nazi Party nor Hitler him­self had a cohe­sive archi­tec­tural ‘pol­icy’ in the 1930s, Nazi writ­ers like Wil­helm Frick and Alfred Rosen­berg had labelled the Bauhaus “un-German” and crit­i­cized its mod­ernist styles, delib­er­ately gen­er­at­ing pub­lic con­tro­versy over issues like flat roofs. Increas­ingly through the early 1930s, they char­ac­ter­ized the Bauhaus as a front for Com­mu­nists, Russ­ian, and social lib­er­als. Indeed, sec­ond direc­tor Hannes Meyer was an avowed Com­mu­nist, and he and a num­ber of loyal stu­dents moved to the Soviet Union in 1930.

And then Mies van der Rohe ( 1930) repu­di­ated Meyer’s pol­i­tics, his sup­port­ers, and his archi­tec­tural approach. As opposed to Gropius’ “study of essen­tials”, and Meyer’s research into user require­ments, Mies advo­cated a “spa­tial imple­men­ta­tion of intel­lec­tual deci­sions”, which effec­tively meant an adop­tion of his own aes­thet­ics.

When Mies took over the school in 1930, he trans­formed it into a pri­vate school, and would not allow any sup­port­ers of Hannes Meyer to attend it.

Nei­ther Mies nor his Bauhaus stu­dents saw any projects built dur­ing the 1930s.

Under polit­i­cal pres­sure the Bauhaus was closed on the orders of the Nazi régime on April 11 1933.

The Bauhaus had a major impact on art and archi­tec­ture trends in West­ern Europe, the United States and Israel (par­tic­u­larly in White City, Tel Aviv) in the decades fol­low­ing its demise, as many of the artists involved fled, or were exiled, by the Nazi régime.

Tel Aviv, in fact, has been to named by the UN, to the list of world her­itage sites, due to its abun­dance of Bauhaus architecture.

Gropius, Breuer, and Moholy-Nagy re-assembled in Eng­land dur­ing the mid 1930s to live and work in the Isokon project before the war caught up to them.

Both Gropius and Breuer went to teach at the Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of Design and worked together before their pro­fes­sional split in 1941.

The Har­vard School was enor­mously influ­en­tial in Amer­ica in the late 1940s and early 1950s, pro­duc­ing such stu­dents as Philip John­son, I.M. Pei, Lawrence Hal­prin and Paul Rudolph, among many others.

In the late 1930s, Mies van der Rohe re-settled in Chicago, enjoyed the spon­sor­ship of the influ­en­tial Philip John­son, and became one of the pre-eminent archi­tects in the world.

Moholy-Nagy also went to Chicago and founded the New Bauhaus school under the spon­sor­ship of indus­tri­al­ist and phil­an­thropist Wal­ter Paepcke. Print­maker and painter Werner Drewes was also largely respon­si­ble for bring­ing the Bauhaus aes­thetic to Amer­ica and taught at both Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity and Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis.

Her­bert Bayer, spon­sored by Paepcke, moved to Aspen, Col­orado in sup­port of Paepcke’s Aspen projects.

One of the main objec­tives of the Bauhaus was to unify art, craft, and tech­nol­ogy. The machine was con­sid­ered a pos­i­tive ele­ment, and there­fore indus­trial and prod­uct design were impor­tant com­po­nents.

Vorkurs (“ini­tial” or “pre­lim­i­nary course”) was taught; this is the mod­ern day Basic Design course that has become one of the key foun­da­tional courses offered in archi­tec­tural and design schools across the globe. There was no teach­ing of his­tory in the school because every­thing was sup­posed to be designed and cre­ated accord­ing to first prin­ci­ples rather than by fol­low­ing precedent.

The battle over Breuer

One of the most influential designers of the 20th century, Breuer both studied and taught at Germany’s Bauhaus school of architecture and design (photo), which pioneered modern principles, technologies and the application of new materials in both the industrial and fine arts.

An early fan of tubular steel, Breuer designed a whole range of metal furniture including chairs, tables, stools and cupboards. Breuer considered all of his designs to be essential for the masses and mass production of modern living. Many of his models, like the B9, became instant classics.

Exclusivity was probably the last thing on his mind

Design Classic Lands on Scrap Heap

In a controversial ruling Wednesday, a court in Düsseldorf barred a company from selling the ‘B9’ chair originally designed by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer and ordered it destroy all existing stocks.

The seat of the problem

Canteen chairs don’t often get noticed, but the ‘B9’ is a notable exception. When Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius fitted out the mess hall of the famous architecture college in Dessau with the elegant, curved stool back in the 1920s, he launched the career of a design classic.

Decades later, the humble seat is at the heart of an acrimonious legal tussle.

Tecta vs. Knoll

Tecta, a company based in the German state of Lower Saxony, is no longer allowed to sell the tubular steel stool it began marketing in 1982. Moreover, the court ordered the company hand over all its profits from sales of the chair — as well as its matching table, the ‘C4’ — to rival business Knoll International, which has an older claim to the design rights.

Knoll International sells a stool known as the ‘Laccio,’ which closely resembles Breuer’s 1925 B9 model. Its sole difference is that while the B9 is sheer white, ‘Laccio’ is raven black.

According to a March 9 ruling from the District Court of Duesseldorf, Federal Republic of Germany, the German furniture manufacturing company TECTA must stop its production and sales of Marcel Breuer’s Laccio table.

TECTA must account for their sales of the table since August 1 2003 and is liable for damages to Knoll International SpA, a division of Knoll, Inc, the modern environments giant associated not only with Breuer but Eames, Bertoia, Mies and many other masters of simply beautiful design. The court saw the Laccio table as being widely associated with Knoll since 1968 when the company acquired Gavino SpA, the Bologna, IT based manufacturing house for Breuer’s table.

The issue is quality control. A table so widely believed to be Knoll’s must be manufactured up to Knoll’s strict quality standard. Anything less can injure Knoll’s reputation as a high-end manufacturer.

Furniture feuds

The dispute over the highly lucrative licence for the B9 has been dragging on for years.

Tecta argues it owns the rights because it signed a contract with the Berlin Bauhaus Archive based on an agreement with Breuer’s widow Constanze. In court, however, Knoll was able to go one further, producing contracts personally signed by Breuer in the 1960s. The company came into possession of the documents when almost 50 years ago it acquired Gavina, an Italian company which had bought the rights to the B9 from the designer himself.

Dino Gavina has revealed that the contract was considered valid for only ten years at the time of signing, which has prompted Tecta to announce it will file an appeal.

Not the first time

If so, it won’t be the first time.

Three years ago, the company won a legal battle with another company, L&C Stendal, which manufactured copies of the Breuer stool. In court, L&C Stendal argued that a stool is a household object rather than a work of art and therefore not subject to licencing laws.

In its final ruling, the court deemed the stool was indeed a work of art, and upheld the contract between Tecta and Breuer’s heirs.

From Wikipedia

Private residential buildings (U.S.)

  • Hagerty House, Cohasset, Massachusetts, 1937–1938
  • Breuer House I, Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1938–1939
  • J. Ford House, Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1939
  • Chamberlain Cottage, Wayland, Massachusetts, 1940
  • Geller House, Lawrence, Long Island, New York, 1945
  • Tompkins House. Hewlett Harbor, New York, 1945
  • Robinson House, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1946–1948
  • Breuer House II, New Canaan, Connecticut, 1947–1948
  • Robinson House. Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1947
  • Kniffin House, New Canaan, Connecticut, 1949 (w/ Eliot Noyes)(destroyed)
  • Cape Cod Cottages 1945-1963
    • Breuer Cottage, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 1945–1949–1961
    • Kepes Cottage, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 1948–1949
  • Lauck House, Princeton, New Jersey, 1950
    • Edgar Stillman Cottage, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 1953–1954
    • Wise Cottage, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 1963
  • Clark House. Orange, Connecticut, 1949
  • Marshad House, Croton-on-Hudson, New York, 1949
  • Wolfson House. Pleasant Valley, New York, 1949
  • Stillman House I, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1950
  • Exhibition House in the MoMA Garden, Kykuit, Pocantico Hills, Tarrytown, New York, 1948–1949
  • Pack House, Scarsdale, New York, 1950–1951
  • Hanson House. Huntington, Long Island, New York, 1951
  • Breuer House III. New Canaan, Connecticut, 1951
  • Caesar Cottage. Lakeville, Connecticut, 1952
  • Gagarin House 1, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1955
  • Grieco House, Andover, Massachusetts, 1954–1955
  • Starkey House, Duluth, Minnesota, 1954–1955
  • Hooper House II, Baltimore County, Maryland. 1956–1959
  • Laaff House. Andover, Massachusetts, 1957 (with H. Beckhard)
  • Seymour Krieger House, Bethesda, Maryland, 1958
  • Stachelin House. Feldmeilen, Switzerland, 1958 (with H. Beckhard)
  • Stillman II, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1966
  • Soriano House. Greenwhich, Connecticut, 1969 (with T. Papachristou)
  • Stillman III, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1973–74
  • Gagarin House II, Litchfield CT, 1974
  • Stillman Roman Cottage, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1974 (Breuer Wellfleet Cottage plans; Built by Rufus Stillman)

Public / commercial buildings


  • African chair, Collaboration with the Bauhaus weaver Gunta Stölzl
  • Sun Lounge Chair, Model No. 301
  • Dressing Table & Bureau. 1922, 1925
  • Slatted chairs (wood). 1922–24
  • Wassily Chair No.B3. 1925
  • Laccio Tables, small & large. 1927
  • Wassily chair, folding. 1927
  • Cesca Chair & Armchair. 1928
  • Thornet Typist’s Desk. 1928
  • Coffee Table. 1928
  • Tubular steel furniture. 1928–29
  • F 41 lounge chair on wheels. 1928–30
  • Broom Cupboard. 1930
  • Bookcase. 1931
  • Armchair, Model No.301. 1932–34
  • Aluminium chair. 1933
  • Isokon furniture 1935-36
    • Nesting tables. 1936
    • Dining Table. 1936
    • Stacking Chairs. 1936
    • Long Chair. 1935-36
  • Aluminium chaise longue. 1935–36
  • Plywood furniture (five pieces). 1936–37

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