May 21: tubular chairs: yes, please; concrete bunkers: no thanks

2012/05/21 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1902 Marcel Breuer was born.

Breuer (c. 1981) was born in Pécs, a very cool Hungarian city with a rich and multicultural history (granted, some of that is the result of Hungary’s position as one of the ‘war-torniest’ parts of the world, as described by Stephen Colbert).  The Jewish Breuer might have marveled at its sixteenth-century mosque that was later turned to Christian use, and studied the locally made Zsolnay ceramics (that’s not a weird picture; they really look that fabulous) that were all the rage throughout Hungary at the time of his birth.

An interest in craft and furniture design led young Lajkó to the Bauhaus, which had started its life as a hands-on, expressionistic curriculum that could be downright colorfully cultural (don’t believe the Muse?  Check out the African Chair, she dares you). But as the school’s curriculum and pedagogy changed under Gropius, Breuer’s work adopted the new interests in design for industry and allowing industrial capacity to inform (some people might say “control”) design itself.  In sync with the Gropiusgeist, Breuer was tasked to complete the interiors and furniture for major parts of the Dessau plant (like the cafeteria).  After leaving Dessau, he proceeded to Berlin where he designed houses and chairs that lived up to Gropius’ goals for the Neues Bauen.  But Berlin did not hold great career advancement potential for Jews in the ’30s, and Breuer wisely split, making his way to another famous bastion of modernism: Cambridge Mass., where he fell in with the likes of Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph, and (again) Gropius.  For well over a decade, Gropius and Breuer worked together; eventually Breuer split off on his own and continued practicing well past modernism’s sell-by date–he designed his final building in the same year that Miami Vice premiered.

Breuer’s legacy is a mixed bag, which is so often the case for members of his tribe.  In short, it might be seen as a matter of scale: for smaller works (we especially like the Snower residence and the church of St. John the Baptist) we get the sense of the person, an interest in comfort, even a bit of whimsy, at the hands of the furniture maker from the interesting Hungarian town.  And then there are the big behemoths (Pan Am!  Pirelli!  Oh please make it stop: it burns!  it burns!), some of the wrongest notes struck through the whole twentieth century.

Can’t get enough?  Click yourself on over to the Breuer Archive, hosted by Syracuse right here

Image: Breuer in a Wassily chair

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You are currently reading May 21: tubular chairs: yes, please; concrete bunkers: no thanks at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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