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Marcel Breuer

Marcel Breuer

Marcel Breuer (1902 – 1981), was a Hungarian-born modernist, architect and furniture designer of Jewish descent. One of the masters of Modernism, Breuer extended the sculptural vocabulary he had developed in the carpentry shop at the Bauhaus into a personal architecture that made him one of the world's most popular architects at the peak of 20th-Century design.

Hungarian born Marcel Breuer completed his studies at a very young age and went on to teach at the Bauhaus, the renowned school of architecture and applied arts created by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919.

It is there that he discovered tubular steel, his distinctive mark as a designer; Breuer used it for the structures of stools, tables and chairs which went on to become emblems for an entire era. Among such designs was the "Wassily," essential and rigorous, considered the first chair ever created in steel tubing, an absolute masterpiece and for many unrivalled.

In 1937 Breuer moved to the USA, where he was awarded a professorship at Harvard. Without abandoning industrial design - which he had himself helped create - he began a second successful career as an architect. The extraordinary projects designed by Breuer until the '70s have contributed towards ensuring his place among the great names of Modernism, a source of inspiration for entire generations of architects and designers.

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.

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 Marcel Breuer continued to live until his death in 1981.

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