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Marcel Breuer (1902-1981). Master of Crafts.

Marcel Breuer - Praxis above theory

Dogmas and theories are not much to Marcel Breuer’s liking. His focus is always on the development process.

His name is closely connected with tubular furniture and the Bauhaus that he influenced with his craft. 

Marcel Breuer - At the Bauhaus

The Bauhaus shaped him and he shaped Bauhaus furniture.

Despite his scholarship he dismissed the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna as too conservative after a brief stint and seeks admission at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He is part of the first group of apprentices at the carpentry workshop.  

None of his many architecture projects during his years in Germany is ever built with exception of a house in Wiesbaden. Nor does he ever receive formal training in architecture.
He is appointed head of the furniture workshop instead. When the Bauhaus relocates to Dessau he is responsible for the interior design of the houses for the master craftsmen, one of them Kandinsky. 

Breuers designs embody the philosophy of his alma mater perfectly. He is experimental on the basis of Functionalism and Minimalism and deals with standardised and normed forms.

Alongside his school he underwent a development from the focus on art and craft towards art and technology. While his Slatted Chair is still based on craftsmanship his tubular furniture represents the increasing importance of technology. 

He leaves the Bauhaus 1928 but continues to work with Walter Gropius. 

Marcel Breuer - The evolution of his design classics from wooden to tubular steel furniture

The African Chair, Breuer’s first furniture design still exudes the romanticism of crafts. At other projects around the same time one can see that he already adopted the new theories about form but still employs the traditional understanding of the layout. 

This should change the following years. Smaller residential units would require contemporary furnishing that consumes less space.

Marcel Breuer - The Slatted Chair

The Slatted Chair is kind of a prototype for the chair. It was to be functional and suited for serial production. Taking inspiration from Gerrit Rietfeld’s designs the chair meets all expectations. The critique too is exemplary. Some dismiss it as an uncomfortable piece of art , others consider it the perfect implementation of the assignment. It is produced in series but never a commercial success.

Marcel Breuer - The Wassily Chair

While the Slatted Chair is more of a study subject the Wassily Chair is still in demand today. The most popular of Breuer’s furniture designs is simply called Tubular Chair in 1926. It is one of the most spectacular objects of the Bauhaus.

Breuer had solved the issues related to bending tubular steel and thus made it available for furniture design. He revived the idea of a club chair with a different approach. The materials had to be light, inexpensive, dismountable and hygienic.

He dedicated himself to the matter and designed a collection of chairs - amongst them cantilevers, bureaus, side tables and cabinets. Breuer expected mainly criticism and was surprised by the commercial success.  

Marcel Breuer - The Cesca Chair

The Cesca Chair, available with or without armrest, is not only produced and marketed successfully it is also in the centre of a major infringement dispute evolving around the cantilevers by Mark Stam, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.

Breuer establishes a new type of furniture with the tubular collection. It became a symbol for radical modernity.

Marcel Breuer - More furniture design

During the early 30s commissions for architecture and design were rare. He travelled and worked on aluminium furniture that was awarded but never became a commercial success.

After immigrating to London 1935 he discovered organic shapes while working on plywood furniture as Director of Design of the company Isokon. These designs are amongst the earliest that incorporate the shape of the human body and are ancestors of the organic furniture that should see its heyday in the US during the 40s.

Marcel Breuer - Second career in the USA

Again immigrating, this time to America in 1937, urged by Walter Gropius, he is in demand and successful as architect. But furniture and interior design dominate his years in Europe. Many of his furniture designs form the 20s and 30s in particular are considered design classics today.   

Appointed as professor to the School of Design in Harvard he inspired an entire generation of aspiring designers while building his second career as architect commissioned to work on many international projects. He and his mentor Gropius are partners until he starts his own firm Marcel Breuer & Associates. He retired in 1976 and died 1981 in New York.