November 16, 2007
by Canadian Architect
Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) was one of the leading figures in 20th-century design and architecture. Born and raised in Hungary, he studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, where he ultimately became head of the furniture workshop between 1925 and 1928, after the school had moved to Dessau.
His experiments with tubular steel during this time led to a number of innovative furniture designs, including the legendary “Wassily” club chair, which soon brought Breuer international renown. During the 1930s, he solidified his reputation by creating furniture made of then-unusual materials such as aluminum and bent, laminated wood, and by designing sleek interiors for structures designed by influential architects.
Upon immigrating to the United States in 1937, Breuer taught briefly at Harvard University before beginning a second, highly successful career in America as an architect. His buildings including single-family houses, university facilities, corporate offices, churches, and museums received critical acclaim and are still widely considered exemplary works of mid-20th-century Modernism.
Running from November 3, 2007 to February 17, 2008, this retrospective at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC is the first exhibition to dedicate equal attention to the various creative periods in Breuer’s career. It begins with a nearly comprehensive survey of his furniture designs, categorized according to the materials used, with successive explorations in solid wood, tubular steel, aluminum, and laminated plywood.
The exhibition continues with an examination of Breuer’s extensive body of architectural work, represented by twelve major projects. Classified under the themes of “Spaces,” “Volumes,” and “Houses,” these buildings demonstrate innovations in spatial organization, construction techniques, and architectural forms that characterized much of Breuers work.
Certain elements of Breuers design vocabulary such as the cantilever or the horizontal rectangle are recurring motifs in his furniture, interiors, and buildings. Throughout his career, Breuer retained his curiosity about modern materials and continued to apply them in inventive ways. His interest in construction and materials, and their inherent expressive potential, is the primary link between the different facets of his career and is the foundation of his unique legacy.