Childhood & Early Life
He was born on May 21, 1902, in Danube valley town of Pécs, Hungary, to Jacques Breuer and Franciska (Kan) Breuer. His father was a physician.
He completed his graduation in 1920 from the ‘Magyar Királyi Föreáliskola’ in Pécs. After receiving a scholarship he began studying at the ‘Academy of Fine Arts’ in Vienna but dropped out after a few weeks and joined a Viennese architectural studio. He showed keen interest to get trained in the architect’s brother’s cabinetmaking shop.
He moved to Germany in 1921, after he came to know about the ‘Bauhaus’ design school in Weimar. The ‘Bauhaus’, which was founded and led by Walter Gropius, applied modern principles to fine arts and industrial designs.
He began his training at the ‘Bauhaus’ and designed several wooden furniture that included an ‘African Chair’ and ‘Sommerfeld House’ furniture in 1921 and a ‘Slatted Chair’ that he started designing in 1922.
In 1924, he completed his post graduation from the ‘Bauhaus’ and moved to Paris, France, to further his studies in architecture. It is here that he met Le Corbusier, one of the pioneers of modern architecture.
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He was convinced by Walter Gropius to return to the ‘Bauhaus’ in 1925, which by that time shifted to Dessau. He was appointed as a master as well as head of the cabinet making workshop of the ‘Bauhaus’. He was also delegated with designing the interiors of the new school building in Dessau from 1925 to 1931.
The architecture of bicycle handlebars inspired him to create the tubular metal chair ‘Wassily’, in 1925. Many of his architectural creations including the chair were manufactured in bulk by the ‘Thonet Brothers’ in Germany.
He was delegated to do interiors of the housing estate, the ‘Weissenhof Estate’ that was built for exhibition in 1927 in Stuttgart, Germany.
With the help of Gropius, he received his first independent house commission ‘Harnischmacher House I’ in Wiesbaden in 1932.
During 1932-36, he collaborated with Alfred and Emil Roth and designed the ‘Doldertal Apartments’ in Zurich, for Sigfried Giedion, a Swiss architectural historian.
The upsurge of the Nazis in 1930s and rule of Hitler saw forced closure of ‘Bauhaus’ in 1933. In 1934 his mentor Gropius tactfully fled from Germany and in 1935 following Gropius’s advice, Breuer also relocated to London.
He joined the ‘Isokon” company, an early proponent of modernist architecture in the United Kingdom that was involved in designing and constructing modernist houses and flats as also their furniture and fittings. He was appointed by Jack Pritchard who ran the company. The furnitures designed by him in Isokon were ‘Long Chair’ during 1935 to 1936 and ‘Nesting Tables’, ‘Dining Table’ and ‘Stacking Chairs’ in 1936.
He also designed Gane's Exhibition Pavilion (1936), in Bristol; model for the ‘Civic Center of the Future (1936) and Houses in Hampshire (1938) in Sussex in collaboration with English architect Francis Reginald Stevens Yorke professionally known as F.R.S. Yorke.
When Walter Gropius was inducted in ‘Harvard University’ in the United States, as the Chairman of the ‘Department of Architecture’ in 1938, Breuer also joined the faculty. His students included I. M. Pei, Ulrich Franzen, Paul Rudolph and Edward Larrabee Barnes.
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Gropius and Breuer formed a partnership and executed many projects together. These include the ‘Gropius House’ (1938) in Lincoln, Massachusetts; ‘New York World's Fair’ (1939) in Pennsylvania State Exhibition; ‘The Alan I W Frank House’ (1939-40) in Pittsburgh; ‘Weizenblatt House’ (1941) in Asheville, North Carolina and ‘Aluminum City Terrace’ (1942 – 44) in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Thereafter they parted ways professionally.
While he was still in Harvard, in 1945, he worked on the ‘Geller House I’ in Lawrence, New York, which was the first house to adopt the ‘binuclear’ house concept of Breuer. According to the concept different sections were allocated for bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen etc. which were segregated by an entry hall and included a remarkable butterfly roof. The excellent architecture was subsequently inducted as part of vocabulary of the famous modernist style of architecture.
He relocated to New York City in 1946 and set up his office at a townhouse in East 88th Street. Harry Seidler, an Austria-born Australian architect who emerged as a pioneering proponent of Modernist architecture in Australia, became his chief draftsman.
He constructed two houses for himself, the first one, ‘Breuer House’, a cantilevered house built in 1947 in New Canaan I, Connecticut and the second one also called the ‘Breuer House’, built on rubble stone in 1951 in New Canaan II, Connecticut.
His lifetime saw him working with different associates at different points of time including Eduardo Catalano, Herbert Beckhard, Tician Papachristou and Hamilton Smith.
He collaborated with Hamilton Smith, Craig Ellwood, Robert Gatje and Herbert Beckhard at different points of time from 1953 to 1976 and executed a chain of commissions including manufacturing plants, administrative building, technical centre and machine division received from ‘Torin Corp’.
Some of his other notable commissions are ‘De Bijenkorf’ (1955–57) in Rotterdam; research centre of ‘International Business Machines’ (IBM) (1960–62) in La Gaude, France and headquarters of ‘ Department of Housing and Urban Development’ (‘HUD’) (1963–68) in Washington, D.C..