Door 14: Marcel Breuer

When a famous designer and architect concludes his life by stating that his principal contribution was the adaptation of the work of older architects to the needs of modern society, this says a lot about the person. Not a sheer egomaniac, but a man who loved to collaborate and to develop ideas of others further. We are speaking about the Hungarian designer and architect Marcel Breuer.

He was born in Pécs, at that time Austria-Hungary, in 1902. At the age of 18 he left his home for artistic training. After a short stint in Vienna, he studied at the newly-formed Bauhaus in Weimar. There he met his mentor Walter Gropius, who from an early stage saw his potential and soon made him head of the Carpentry shop.

At the time the Bauhaus changed location to Dessau, he shortly stayed in Paris, but soon joined the older faculty members like Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky or Paul Klee. He was fascinated with mass production and experimented with tubular steel furniture inspired by bicycle handlebars. He designed here one of his most famous furniture pieces, the Model B3 Chair, better known as Wassily Chair. Contrary to popular believe the chair was not made for the artist, but he was one of the first recipients.

At the beginning of the Nazi regime, he relocated to London and worked there for Jack Pritchard at the  Isokon company. Here he experimented with bent and formed plywood  and created another well known furniture design, the Long Chair, which is reminiscent of Alvar Aalto. Between 1935 and 1937 he worked with the English modernist F. R. S. Yorke and designed a few houses with him.

He followed Gropius' call to Harvard's Graduate School of Design, where he was appointed chairman, and taught and worked there with him. Under his students were for example Paul Rudolph, John Johansen, and Philip Johnson. In 1941, he broke with his mentor and set up a practice in New York.

Apparently his intent was to get out Gropius shadow and not only create small buildings or furniture apartments. The interest in his practice grew with a demonstration house, which was set up in the MoMA garden in 1949. After that he designed for example the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris with Pier Luigi Nervi and Bernard Zehrfuss or the Whitney Museum in New York with Hamilton P. Smith. He retired from active practice in 1976 and died five years later in Manhattan.