Last week, we celebrated Walter Gropius' birthday with his house in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Coincidentally, Marcel Breuer, another Modernist giant who just so happened to be Gropius’ partner and protégé, is also celebrating a birthday this month. The Hungarian-born, AIA Gold Medal winning, iconic twentieth-century architect was born on this day 115 years ago. So here’s a little Marcel for today's MOD Monday.
Marcel Breuer’s resume goes a little something like this:
Bauhaus educated? Check.
Iconic mentor? Check.
Designer of a famous chair still in production? Check.
Architect of some of the most lauded (and controversial) buildings of the twentieth century? Check and Check.
You can read Breuer’s biography here. But today, let’s just take a look at some of his best work.
The Whitney Museum of American Art (now the Met Breuer)
One of the most recognizable buildings in Manhattan, the Breuer-designed Whitney Museum once contained one of the most significant collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. The granite-clad and concrete inverted ziggurat was completed in 1966 and exemplifies the architect’s daring mastery of materials and sculptural forms. Controversial in its time (critic Ada Louise Huxtable described the building as “the most disliked building” and “harsh and handsome”), the museum now stands as a beloved landmark admired for its distinctive profile, confident materiality, and sophisticated artistry.
Wassily Chair (Model B3)
In 1925, Breuer designed the bicycle-inspired tubular steel frame chair as a symbol of the industrial era. Named after the father of abstract painting and Bauhaus colleague, Wassily Kandinsky, the chair is composed of strong lines, graceful curves, and simple polished chrome. Like a piece of gleaming technology, the Wassily chair remains an essential part of modern living.
St. John’s Abbey Church
Recognized as one of the most important concrete buildings in the world, St. John’s Abbey is as a milestone in the architectural history of the Catholic Church (we can thank this rogue abbot for the commission). Completed in 1961 in Collegeville, Minnesota, the cast-in-place church remains a marvel of design, an epic Brutalist masterpiece in the middle of the Midwest. Jaw-dropping, timeless, and instantly recognizable as a Breuer design, St. John’s Abbey may be the architect's most inspiring and audacious project, and our built world is much better for it.
Also completed in 1961, the Stillman House remains a seminal work of residential Modernism, bringing glass, clean lines, and color to the New England landscape. Following its construction, the residence inspired a new generation of Modernists (the Harvard 5) and triggered a wave of new modern homes in the leafy, colonial hamlet of Litchfield, Connecticut. And yes, that is a Alexander Calder mural on the pool wall. Swoon.
Robert C. Weaver Federal Building
The first building constructed under President John. F. Kennedy’s “Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture,” the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (1968) stands as a 10-story Brutalist office tower, dramatic in its use of materials, geometric forms, and minimal ornamentation. The first precast concrete structure completed for the federal government, the building is pure Breuer in its combination of muscular forms, functional modular design, and the expressive use of concrete. For Brutalism lovers, this one is a real beauty.
There is (obviously) much more great work by Breuer, but that's for another day.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Breuer!
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.