Marcel Breuer's Buildings

From inventor of tubular steel furniture to architect

Marcel Breuer with his Harem (from l. to r.: Marcel Breuer, Martha Erps, Katt Both, Ruth Hollos) (1926) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

You’ve achieved everything you can in your job and now you’d like to do something you were always interested in but haven’t even learned – but you don’t dare take the plunge?

Then let Marcel Breuer inspire you!

Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus Dessau (ca. 1926) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

He was just 18 when he arrived at the Bauhaus in 1920, and 23 when his gaze wandered over the sparkling handlebars of his beloved Adler bike and suddenly he knew – you have to make chairs from metal like this!

Lounge Chair, Model no. B35 and Stool, Model no. B37 Lounge Chair, Model no. B35 and Stool, Model no. B37 (Designed 1928–29, made c. 1930–35) by Marcel BreuerThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

So Breuer had just invented the tubular steel furniture that still influences the aesthetic of living rooms and boardrooms to this day.

No question, there was hardly anything left to achieve as a designer! So what next?

Bauatelier Gropius (Gropius architecture studio with Kurt Stolp, Hermann Bunzel and Hermann Trinkaus) (1927/1928) by Edmund ColleinBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Breuer had always been interested in architecture, but it wasn’t taught at the Bauhaus until 1927. So he looked over the shoulder of Walter Gropius in his architectural studio, and that’s where he sketched his first houses.

In 1929 he boldly started up his own first architectural firm in Berlin. But none of his designs got built. All he got to carry out were one or two conversions.

Breuer and Connie (1950)Original Source: Ezra Stoller

So he went back to designing furniture. In London in the mid-1930s for instance he designed this smart lounge chair for Isokon – which has also become a kind of classic.

He took the chair with him when he left for the USA in 1937 and designed his own house there.

Marcel Breuer (1950-08-08) by Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

As we all know, America is where dreams come true. Well, Breuer’s did anyway. Together with Walter Gropius he first established the Harvard University Faculty of Architecture and then a joint architectural firm, before finally starting up his own.

It worked pretty well! Large commissions were soon rolling in for Breuer from all over the world. He designs:

Iconic buildings, such as the Headquarters of UNESCO in Paris (1953),

Churches, such as St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville/Minnesota (1961),

University buildings, such as the Campus Center of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1965–69),

Department stores, such as De Bijenkorf in Rotterdam (1952–57),

and a whole tourist resort: Flaine in the French Alpes (1961-1977).

By Bob GomelLIFE Photo Collection

In New York Breuer even built his own monument, without knowing it.

In the 1960s he designed the new building for the Whitney Museum of American Art, a great building in grey granite with a stair-like facade …

… and oblique views.

By Arthur SchatzLIFE Photo Collection

It’s pretty much the opposite of what his Bauhaus pals were designing in glass and steel, like the Pan Am Building, now known as the Life Met Building,

Grand Central Skyscraper (1959-02) by Andreas FeiningerLIFE Photo Collection

that Walter Gropius (in the center) was building in New York at about the same time.

The Met Breuer—Opening March 18, 2016The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When Breuer’s museum was being refurbished in 2016, the architect, who died in 1981, was given a very special honour – it’s now called the ‘Met Breuer’!

No question, what more can you achieve as an architect?

Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Cornelia Jeske

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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