The Wassily chair is one of Marcel Breuer’s most famous and often seen designs. It’s a chair that almost looks like it’s not going to support you, that you will have to sit strangely in, that will feel odd once you are somehow sitting in it and yet, for most people, that’s not so. (Every chair has its detractors.)
Breur designed the chair while working at the Weimar Bauhaus. Which he had joined the Bauhaus as a student in 1920 at the age of 18. He was in his mid twenties and in charge of the Bauhaus furniture workshop when he became intrigued with the tubular steel forms that were being created by a nearby bicycle factory. Many say in fact that the chair itself was inspired by a set of handlebars. The chair today is a rather ubiquitous piece of modern furniture, to really appreciate it one needs to look at the heavy earth pieces that were being produced at the time, not to mention all the traditional styles that would still have been prevalent in Europe. An interesting piece of modern party trivia is that the chair was first called the "Type B3 steel Club Chair”, (which inspires the question, “Was there a Type A2?”)
Breuer worked alongside Modernists that were attending to use products like steel in ways that could be mass-produced with the purpose of making good design, attractive furniture and comfortable housing to all walks of life. He liked the idea of steel tubing because it could be massed produced in a standardized way, was economical at the time, and intrinsically hygienic.
Marcel Breuer was also an architect, his first project being an apartment complex he designed while studying at the Bauhaus. He became an architectural associate of Walter Groupies in 1923 working primarily on public housing projects. He went on to work independently both as a furniture maker and then as an architect for several years. Breuer can be an inspiration to you if you’ve had a hard time with the institutions and code makers that might not immediately see the value of your unique contribution or way of seeing things. While he opened his own firm in Germany in 1928, the German architecture association (BDA) wouldn’t admit Breuer until 1931 and it was then that he then designed his first building, “Haus Harnischmacher.”
WWII brought difficult times to Breuer as it did so many others; he fled first to Hungary in 1933 to escape persecution by the Nazis, then to England in 1935. In 1937 his old friend, Walter Groupies, helped him. It was through Gropius that Breuer came to the United States in 1937 and he began to teach at Harvard alongside Gropius as associate professor of architecture. The list of architects who would have been influenced by his work is long and stellar. It includes Phillip Johnson, I.M. Pei, and Paul Rudolph. He worked on several joint projects with Groupies as well, such as the Pennsylvania Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair. He did go into private practice again during 1941, this time in the United States.
His furniture continues to be produced by Knoll and during his lifetime he designed over 70 modern homes as well as public structures such as university and office buildings. If you are watching re-runs of “Frazier” on TV it might interest you to know that the chair that Dr. Frazier moved to make room for the over stuffed recliner that the senior Mr. Frazier preferred, was a Wassily and it can be at times noticed on the set in its new location.
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