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Biography

Marcel Lajos Breuer Logo

 

Biography

Marcel Lajos Breuer – Lajkó to his friends – was born on 21 May 1902 in the provincial city of Pecs, Hungary. His early study and teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau in the twenties introduced the wunderkind to the older giants of the era of whom three – Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius – were to have life-long influence upon his professional life. By the time he left Germany in 1935 to join Gropius in London, Breuer was one of the best-known designers in Europe. His reputation was based upon his invention of tubular steel furniture, one big residence, two apartment houses, some shop interiors and several competition entries.

Two years later, Gropius asked him to join Harvard’s architecture faculty and, during WWII their partnership revolutionized American house design while teaching a whole generation of soon-to-be famous architects. On his own in New York in 1946, Breuer saw a practice that had been essentially residential finally expand into institutional buildings with the UNESCO Headquarters commission in Paris in 1952 and the first of many buildings for Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN two years later. His New York-based firm moved through three ever-larger offices, with a branch in his beloved Paris to handle work in seven European countries; he gathered five young partners in the process.

By 1968, when he won the AIA’s Gold Medal, he could look back on such world-famous monuments as New York’s Whitney Museum (probably the best known), IBM’s La Gaude Laboratory (his personal favorite), the headquarters of the Departments of HUD and HEW in Washington DC (he finally felt American), and Flaine (an entire ski-town in the French Alps). In that same year, he won the first Jefferson Foundation Medal that cited him “among all the living architects of the world as excelling all others in the quality of his work.” He retired in 1976 and died on the 1st of July 1981 after a long illness.

Marcel Breuer in Flaine France Marcel Breuer discusses Annunciation Priory project
Marcel Breuer in Flaine, France Marcel Breuer (center) discusses the Annunciation Priory project with Mother Edane Volk, OSB and Hamilton Smith

 

 

Selected Works

1924/28
Prototype steel furniture and interchangeable cabinet units

1930
Fuld Factory. Frankfurt (project)

1932
Harnischmacher House I. Wiesbaden, Germany

1936
Doldertal Apartments. Zurich (with A. and E. Roth) Isokon Laminated Furniture Gane’s Stone Exhibition Pavilion. Bristol, England Civic Centre of the Future. London (project: with F.R.S. Yorke)

1938
Haggerty House. Cohasset, Massachusetts (with Walter Gropius) Wheaton College Art Center. Norton, Massachusetts (with Walter Gropius)

1939
Breuer House. Lincoln, Massachusetts

1940
Chamberlin Cottage. Wayland, Massachusetts (with Walter Gropius)

1942
|South Boston Redevelopment (project) Prefabricated houses. Cambridge, Massachusetts (project)

1945
Servicemen’s Memorial. Cambridge, Massachusetts (project with L. Andersen) Tompkins House. Hewlett Harbor, New York Geller House. Lawrence, Long Island, New York

1947
Breuer House II. New Canaan, Connecticut Robinson House. Williamstown, Massachusetts

1948
Breuer Cottage. Wellfleet, Massachusetts

1949
Wolfson House. Pleasant Valley, New York Clark House. Orange, Connecticut

1950
Co-operative Dormitory Vassar College. Poughkeepsie, New York Stillman House I. Litchfield, Connecticut

1951
Breuer House III. New Canaan, Connecticut

1952
Art Center, Sarah Lawrence College. Bronxville, New York Caesar Cottage. Lakeville, Connecticut

1953
Torin Corporation Building. Oakville, Ontario

1953/70
Saint John’s Abbey and University. Collegeville, MN (with H. Smith)

1954
Grieco House. Andover, Massachusetts

1954/57
Institute for Advanced Study Housing. Princeton, NJ (with R.F. Gatje)

1956
Litchfield High School. Connecticut (with O’Connor and Killham)

1956/61
New York University. University Heights, New York (with H. Smith and R.F. Gatje)

1957
De Bijenkorf Department Store. Rotterdam (with A. Elzas) Laaff House. Andover, Massachusetts (with H. Beckhard)

1958
Unesco Headquarters. Paris (with Pier Luigi Nervi and Bernard Zehrfuss) United States Embassy. The Hague Stachelin House. Feldmeilen, Switzerland (with H. Beckhard) Van Leer Headquarters. Amstelveen, Netherlands El Recreo Urban Centre. Caracas (project: with E. Fuenmeyer and H. Beckhard) Resort Development Apartments. Tanaguarena, Venezuela (project: with H. Beckhard)

1959
Convent of the Annuciation. Bismarck, ND (with H. Smith) Hunter College Library. New York (with R.F. Gatje) Hanson House. Huntington, Long Island, New York Ustinov House. Vevey, Switzerland (project with R. F. Gatje)

1960
Charles Center. Baltimore, MD (project with H. Smith)

1960
Flaine Ski Resort. Haute Savoie, France (with R. F. Gatje)

1961
IBM Research Center. La Gaude, Var, France (with R. F. Gatje) Temple B’nai Jeshurun. Short Hills, New Jersey (with H. Beckhard)

1962
Torin Corporation Machine Building. Torrington, Connecticut (with R.F. Gatje)

1963/68
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Headquarters. Washington, D.C. (with H. Beckhard)

1963/70
ZUP Development. Bayonne, France (with R.F. Gatje)

1964
Torin Manufacturing Plant. Nivelles, Belgium (with H. Smith Van der Wal House. Amsterdam (project: with H. Smith) New England Merchant’s Bank. Boston (project: with H. Beckhard)

1965
New York University Dormitory. Bronx, New York (project)

1965/68
Laboratories Sarget. Bordeaux, France (with R.F. Gatje and Daurel)

1965/69
University of Massachusetts Campus Center and Garage. Amherst (with H. Beckhard)

1966
Whitney Museum of American Art. New York (with H. Smith) Stillman House II. Litchfield, Connecticut (with H. Beckhard) Torin Corporation Administration Building. Torrington, Connecticut (with H. Beckhard) Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. Washington, D.C. (project: with H. Beckhard)

1967
St. Francis de Sales Church. Muskegon, Michigan (with H. Beckhard) Interama. Miami, Florida (project: with H. Beckhard) Kent School Girls’ Chapel. Connecticut (project: with R.F. Gatje) Flushing Meadow Sports Park. New York (project: with Beckhard, Tange, and Halprin)

1968
175 Park Avenue Office Building. New York (project: with H. Beckhard) Parish Church. Olgiata, Rome (project: with M. Jossa)

1968/77
Third Power Plant and Visitor’s Center, Grand Coulee Dam. Washington State (with H. Smith)

1969
New York University Technology Building II. Bronx, New York (with H. Smith) Armstrong Rubber Company Headquarters. West Haven, Connecticut (with R.F. Gatje) Yale University Engineering Building. New Haven, Connecticut (with H. Smith) Convent. Baldegg, Switzerland (with Jordi and Gatje) Soriano House. Greenwhich, Connecticut (with T. Papachristou) Office Building. Syracuse, New York (project: with H. Beckhard)

1970
Cleveland Museum of Art. Ohio (with H. Smith)

1971
Cleveland Trust Headquarters. Ohio (with H. Smith)

1975
Stillman House III. Litchfield, Connecticut (with T. Papachristou) Australian Embassy. Paris (with Harry Seidler and M. Jossa) Gagarin House II. Litchfield, Connecticut (with T. Papachristou)

1977
Hubert Humphrey Building. Washington, D.C. (with H. Beckhard) Roxbury High School. Boston (with T. Papachizistou) IBM Complex. Boca Raton, Florida (with R.F. Gatje) Central Library. Atlanta, Georgia (with Smith, Stevens, and Wilkinson) Federal Courthouse and Office Building. Columbia, South Carolina (with H. Beckhard, David and Floyd, and J. Hemphill)

Flaine France St. Francis de Sales Church IBM Research Center, La Gaude France U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development
Flaine, France St. Francis de Sales Church IBM Research Center, La Gaude France U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development

 

 

Breuer at Saint John's

In December 1950, Abbot Baldwin Dworschak, OSB, newly elected sixth abbot of Saint John’s, made a bold and visionary decision resulting in what one art historian has called “a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country.” He contacted twelve prestigious architects among them Marcel Breuer, asking them to submit a comprehensive building design for the second century of Saint John’s. As part of his specifications, Abbot Baldwin required a design for “building a church which will be truly an architectural monument to the service of God.” He explained, “The Benedictine tradition at its best challenges us to think boldly and to cast our ideals in forms which will be valid for centuries to come …”

Saint John’s chose Marcel Breuer and on January 28, 1954, he brought the drawings, models and books for the comprehensive 100-year plan before a meeting of the monastic community. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that an addition to the monastic quarters would begin in the spring of 1954 and a church would follow. The plan was featured in many magazines in the U.S. and abroad and the models were displayed in several U.S. cities. After the completion of the monastic wing in 1957 – the close of the Saint John’s Benedictine’s first century in Minnesota – the Abbey and University Church was immediately begun. Construction lasted from May 19, 1958 to August 24, 1961.

After the Church came the construction of Saint Thomas Hall (1959); Alcuin Library (1964); Peter Engel Science Center (1965); three additional student dormitories – Saints Bernard, Patrick and Boniface Halls (1967); the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research (1968); and the Bush Center for the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library (1975). The original Breuer designs set the style for a creative complex for Saint John’s Preparatory School (1962) and the Warner Palaestra Recreation Center (1974), designed and modified by architect Val Michaelson, former associate of Breuer.

Alcuin Library Exterior Alcuin Library Interior The Athlete Sculpture
Alcuin Library (foreground), Abbey/University Church Alcuin Library "The Athlete" Sculpture

 

 

Breuer architecture at Saint John’s

Breuer Monastic Wing, 1955

Saint Thomas Aquinas Hall, 1959

Abbey and University Church, 1961

Alcuin Library, 1964

Peter Engel Science Center, 1965

Saint Bernard Hall, 1967

Saint Patrick Hall, 1967

Saint Boniface Hall, 1967

The Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, 1968

Bush Center for the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, 1975

 

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