Marcel Breuer

Hungary 1902-1981

"Are any ideas really new? Case in point: while Marcel Breuer's tubular steel chairs were a daring departure from traditional wood furniture, this "radical" idea was sparked by Breuer's familiar bicycle handlebars. "Mass production," he said, "...made me interested in polished metal, in shiny and impeccable lines in space, as new components of our interiors. I considered such polished and curved lines not only symbolic of our modern technology but actually to be technology."

Drawing upon this image of "shiny and impeccable lines in space" Breuer designed his famous Wassilly chair in 1927 for Wassilly Kandinsky while both were in residence at the Bauhaus. Breuer subsequently designed a range of tubular metal furniture that had singular advantages - affordability, hygiene and an inherent resilience. Breuer considered his designs essential for modern living.

Breuer's next breakthrough was his design of the cantilevered chair. While Mart Stam and Mies van der Rohe had created cantilevered chairs using steel tubes, they were rigid and awkward in use in their first edition. Breuer's brilliant insight was to use non-reinforced steel tubing, thereby creating a free-swinging chair that approached his de-materialist ideal of "sitting on columns of air." The cantilevered chair was his greatest commercial success and its design continued to evolve: the frame became lighter, the seat and back more pliant, the lines softer.

In 1928, Breuer left the Bauhaus and moved to Berlin and then to England in 1935 when the Nazis made it impossible for anyone who had been a part of the Bauhaus - a "hotbed of Bolshevism" - to practice architecture. In 1937, he joined Walter Gropius in his architectural practice and also at Harvard as a professor. Breuer moved to New York in 1946 to found his own architectural firm, and like Corbusier, chose concrete as his medium of choice. He used concrete in his design of the Whitney Museum of Art.