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Marcel Breuer Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MBD
Date: 22 Mar 2012

Biographical History

Marcel Lajos Breuer (1902-1981) was a Hungarian-born American Modernist architect and designer.

Marcel Breuer was born on May 21, 1902 in the southwestern Hungarian city of Pécs. His family home at 4 Irgalmasok Boulevard near Szechenyi square may have afforded a view of the nearby Pasha Qasim mosque (built from the ruins of a Gothic church), or the four landmark towers of the nearby Pécs Cathedral. Noted historically for its diverse ethnic population, Pécs had long been a regional cultural center and a university town (home of the 5th oldest university in Europe), as well as an important religious center. Breuer's father Jakab Breuer was a dental technician from Gyor, Hungary. Breuer's mother, Franciska Kann (sometimes given as "Kan") came originally from Budapest. Breuer had two older siblings, Alexander and Hermina Maria.

Always reticent about the facts of his early life, Breuer's formative years must have been marked by the profound political conflicts that defined the era. He would have been just twelve years old when Hungary entered World War I as part of the Austro-Hungarian/German alliance (incidentally, Breuer's subsequent architectural mentor and partner, Walter Gropius, was severely wounded in 1914 while serving as a German reservist on the Western Front). From 1918-1920, the Baranyi region surrounding Breuer's home town was heavily occupied by Serbian forces who, on the basis of ethnic nationalism, had made significant territorial claims there (tentatively resolved by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920). Against this backdrop, Breuer attended secondary school at Pécsi Allami Forealiskola where he excelled at art and mathematics, graduating summa cum laude and earning a scholarship to the Akademie der bildenden Kunst in Vienna.

Breuer arrived in Vienna in the late summer of 1920, but he quickly abandoned the academy, instead taking up an apprenticeship in the shop of a local cabinetmaker by the name of Bolek. It was during this brief respite that Breuer learned about an innovative new school in Weimar from a fellow Hungarian, the Pécs born architect Alfred Forbat. Within a few weeks, Breuer had assumed a place as one of the 143 students enrolled at the Bauhaus in only the second year of its formative existence.

While there is some uncertainty as to exactly when Breuer began his studies at the Bauhaus during the fall of 1920, it is very likely that he arrived about six weeks into the term and began in the Vorkurs, or Preliminary Course, then taught by Johannes Itten. Later that year, he would have done work in the carpentry workshop under Walter Gropius, the Master of Form for the shop at that time, and Josef Zachmann, the shop's first Master of Craft. While many of the personal relationships forged during these years were crucial for Breuer's artistic development, perhaps none more so than his career-defining linkage with Walter Gropius, it was quite possibly the painter Paul Klee who exerted the most formative influence (later in life, Breuer recollected that Klee had been one of the two most important teachers in his life, the other being his high school geometry teacher). As Franciscono contends, in his history of the school, his [Klee's] lessons were conceived in terms closely analogous to those of architecture...painting itself was understood as a construction built up or put together from repeatable, more or less geometric -- in effect modular -- units in ways generally comparable to the way architecture is put together (quoted in Hyman, p.61, n.73).

Breuer's architectural training at the Bauhaus came largely through apprentice work done in Walter Gropius' active practice, as the school offered no formalized program in architecture during those early years. As such, Breuer gained much hands-on experience on a number of projects -- contributing furniture and interior designs to the collaborative Sommerfeld House project (1921), the Haus am Horn exhibition house (1923), and the Bauhaussiedlung housing project (planned 1922, but not built).

After completing his apprentice work at the Bauhaus, Breuer headed to Paris, eventually landing a position in the office of Pierre Chareau in September of 1924. By the following year though, he was back in Weimar to accept a position as instructor and head of the furniture and carpentry shop at the Bauhaus, just prior to its official relocation to Dessau. In additional to involvement in furniture and interior design work for the new Bauhaus buildings in Dessau -- contributing to the design and furnishing of the canteen, theatre and several of the Master's Houses -- Breuer also developed innovative architectural schemes for a series of houses for junior faculty members, known as the BAMBOS houses (1927).

It was during this second period at the Bauhaus (1925-1928) that Breuer began to make the innovative experiments with bent tubular steel furniture for which he became so famous. The first version of his iconic "B3" club chair was developed around 1925, and many experiments with cantilevered steel constructions rapidly followed. In 1926, Breuer established the Standard Möbel company and began marketing a full line of steel furniture. Later that year, Breuer married fellow Bauhaus graduate Marta Erps, a talented artist who had studied in the weaving workshop and collaborated with Breuer on the Haus am Horm interiors. Their marriage seems to have been short lived, as Erps left Germany sometime around 1928-1929 for Brazil, where she later had a successful career as a biologist and illustrator at the University of São Paolo. Breuer and Erps were officially divorced in 1934.

As internal politics at the Bauhaus grew increasingly volatile in the late 1920s, Breuer joined a major exodus from the school, following Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer and others out of Dessau. Breuer made his way to Berlin, officially joining the Bund Deutscher Architekten and setting up an architectural practice with a former student, Gustav Hassenpflug as his assistant. His commissions were small, primarily apartment and commercial interiors, but he also completed a number of formalized designs for competitions and was represented at many important exhibitions of the period, including the Weissenhof estate exhibition (1928), the Paris exposition of 1930 and the Berlin Building exhibition of 1931. In 1932, Breuer secured his first independent architectural commission to build a modern house in Wiesbaden for Paul and Marianne Harnischmacher. During this period, Breuer also maintained a partnership in Budapest with Farkas Molnár and József Fischer and traveled extensively through southern Europe and North Africa. In 1935, with the assistance of Gropius, Breuer secured papers to relocate to London where he practiced for a short time in partnership with British architect F.R.S. Yorke, while independently developing a line of bent plywood furniture that was marketed through Jack Pritchard's Isokon Control Ltd.

Frustrated by the limited building prospects in England and always concerned about the possibility of political deportation, in 1937 Breuer was again on the move. The efforts of Gropius were once more instrumental, as he was able to help secure for Breuer a faculty position at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Aesthetically, Breuer was well suited to his new environment, sharing with his fellow Bauhaus émigrés a strong appreciation for the structural transparency and efficient design of American industrial buildings. The strong appeal of the traditional New England domestic architecture, though, with its reliance on native stone and balloon-frame construction proved an unexpected source of inspiration for many of the European Modernists, Breuer included. He spent roughly the next decade making his mark with a series of iconic modern houses spread across Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York (for more on the influence of American domestic architecture on Breuer's mid-century work, see Bergdall, Encountering America: Marcel Breuer and the Discourses of the Vernacular from Budapest to Boston, in Marcel Breuer: Design and Architecture).

Initially, Breuer practiced in the U.S. in partnership with his long-time mentor under the official designation, "Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, Architects." The partnership was relatively fruitful during lean economic years, producing a series of now canonical houses, including the Frank House in Pittsburgh (1939), the Hagerty House in Cohasset (1938) and, the Ford (1939), Gropius (1938) and Breuer (1939) houses at the Woods End colony in Lincoln, Massachusetts. In 1940, Breuer married his second wife, Constance Crocker Leighton. Connie, a native New Englander, had grown up in Salem, Massachusetts and attended the Brimmer School. Originally a secretary for Gropius and Breuer, she played an important role in the formative years of Breuer's Cambridge practice (for a brief period, her father, O.S. Leighton, also served as a sort of business manager and accountant for Breuer). Their son, Tamas (Thomas) Breuer was born in 1943.

The Gropius-Breuer partnership ended in 1941, and Breuer set-up shop on his own in Cambridge with the assistance of several of his former Harvard design students. Although work came slowly at first -- building supply shortages during the war made new construction a difficult endeavor -- by the mid-1940s, the Breuer office was operating at a robust pace.

Breuer took several of his Cambridge cohorts to New York in the spring of 1946, opening a practice there on 438 East Eighty-Eighth Street. The subsequent phase of work in the late 1940s marked the pinnacle of Breuer's domestic architectural production. Working from his fundamental conception of the bi-nuclear arrangement of living areas, Breuer progressively refined his design vocabulary into a popular signature style. Stand-out designs of this period include the Geller House I (1945), Robinson House (1948) and Thompson House (1949), as well and the House in the Museum Garden, constructed for a 1949 MoMA exhibition on the modern house.

The 1950s saw the exponential growth of Breuer's creative prospects and subsequent emergence internationally as a seminal figure of modern design (one of the canonical form-givers of the twentieth century, as dubbed in a 1956 Time magazine piece). In an astonishing creative outburst, encompassing roughly the ten year span from 1953-1963, Breuer saw the realization of the half-dozen or so masterworks most definitive of his major phase: the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1953), Saint John's Abbey Church in Minnesota (1953-1958), the De Bijenkorf Department Store in Rotterdam (1953), the United States Embassy at the Hague (1956), the IBM Research Center in La Gaude, France (1960), and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1963). Breuer's work during this period was largely defined by the transition from small-form, residential projects in wood and stone, to monumental sculptural forms rendered in patterned concrete and steel.

In 1956, in order to accommodate the rapid boom in large-project commissions coming into his office, Breuer sought to formalize a partnership agreement with several of the young and talented architects in his employ. Stipulating a formative ten year period under the designation associate, Breuer promised eventual full partnerships to his colleagues. Operating thereafter as Marcel Breuer and Associates, by 1967 Herbert Beckhard, Hamilton Smith and Robert Gatje had all achieved full partner status (former partner Murray Emslie had left the firm in 1965). Later, Tician Papachristou also achieved partner status in the firm.

By the mid-sixties, Breuer had settled his operations at 635 Madison Avenue in New York, and had opened a much needed European office on the Rue Chapon in the former garment district of Paris, an office established by Robert Gatje and later run by Mario Jossa to manage projects at Flaine, the ZUP development in Bayonne and elsewhere on the continent. During these years, Breuer's collaborative partnerships with Smith, Gatje, Beckhard and Papachristou reached their productive peak, yielding a formidable and diverse roster of works: the IBM France complex, the Flaine resort, the Armstrong Rubber Building with Robert F. Gatje; Annunciation Priory, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Grand Coulee Dam Project with Hamilton P. Smith; the HUD and HEW buildings in Washington, D.C. and the Church and Refectory of St. Francis de Sales with Herbert Beckhard; the Soriano House and Stillman House III, with Tician Papachristou.

The effects on Breuer of many years of incessant work and travel began to show by the early 1970s, and after a harrowing trip to Afghanistan that saw Breuer suffer a nearly fatal heart attack, his day-to-day working role in his firm significantly diminished. Breuer's declining health coincided with a difficult economic climate for building; regardless, Marcel Breuer and Associates continued to realize significant building projects throughout the seventies, including the Atlanta Public Library (1971-1980), the American Press Institute in Reston, Virginia (1971), and the Australian Embassy in Paris (1973, with Harry Seidler). These years also saw the realization of two late-phase minor masterpieces -- the third Stillman House (1972) and the stunning slate-roofed Chapel at Flaine (1974-1976). Despite his formal retirement on March 1, 1976, Breuer refused to abandon work altogether, characteristically vowing to his supervising architect at the Baldegg Convent site that he would remain on the project until it was done. The last decade of Breuer's life saw a number of prominent honors and exhibitions of his work. In addition to an honorary doctorate from the Budapest Technical University in 1970, there were major exhibitions at MoMA (1981) and at the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum in 1975 (the first exhibition of his work in Germany since his days at the Bauhaus), as well as a major retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1972-1973), the first ever one-man architectural show in the Met's history. Marcel Breuer died July 1, 1981.

[In addition to material from the collection, this account relied on: Isabelle Hyman, Marcel Breuer, Architect: The Career and the Buildings; Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: Furniture and Interiors; Robert F. Gatje, Marcel Breuer: A Memoir.]

Breuer's Offices/Partnerships

1928-1931 Marcel Breuer, Architekt, Berlin
1933-c. 1935 Marcel Breuer, Farkas Molnar and Joszef Fischer
1935-1937 Marcel Breuer and F.R.S. Yorke, Architects, London
circa Oct 1937-Aug 1941 Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, Architects, Cambridge
Aug 1941-c. May 1946 Marcel Breuer, Architect, Cambridge
circa May 1946-Sep 1948 Marcel Breuer, Architect, 438 East Eighty-Eighth Street, NY
Sep 1948-Aug 1956 Marcel Breuer, Architect, 113 East Thirty-Seventh Street, NY
Aug 1956-Jun 1965 Marcel Breuer and Associates, Architects, 201 East Fifty-Seventh Street, NY
established Nov 1964 Marcel Breuer, Architecte, Paris
Jun 1965-Mar 1978 Marcel Breuer and Associates, Architects, 635 Madison Avenue, NY
established Mar 1978 Marcel Breuer Associates (MBA), 635 Madison Avenue, NY

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Marcel Breuer Papers collects over sixty years of work product generated by a prolific international architectural practice spanning a large part of the twentieth century. The comprehensive collection includes architectural drawings, photographs, project files, published materials, writings, interviews and other materials from every phase of Marcel Breuer's long and distinguished career. In addition, the collection contains biographical material, material related to Breuer's teaching days at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, and material representing his many professional endeavors including awards, exhibitions, writings on architecture and correspondence with artists, architects, editors and clients.

Material in the Personal papers series ranges from Breuer's days as an instructor at the Bauhaus in Dessau to the centenary celebration of his birth held at St. John's University in 2001/2002. The bulk of the material consists of Financial records from his early years in the United States (1937-1943).

The Professional papers series collects material related to Breuer's professional endeavors as an architect and includes records related to awards, exhibitions and juries, as well as non-project related correspondence with important artists, architects, editors and patrons. Additional project related material can be found in the writings and publications subseries, and in the scrapbooks of press clippings and memorabilia that Breuer maintained through the 1940s.

Faculty papers contains administrative and course material from Breuer's years on the faculty of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University (1939-1948).

The vast bulk of the Office records series consists of interoffice correspondence between Breuer's New York and Paris offices between the years 1964-1978. In addition, there are Financial documents and bills, most of which date from the late 1930s to the early 1950s (including small amounts of material from the Breuer-Yorke and Breuer-Gropius partnerships), and extensive travel files (1938-1970) documenting travel arrangements, schedules, contact lists and itineraries for Breuer's many travels during these years. The Administrative Records sub-series includes the Marcel Breuer and Associates partnership agreement and miscellaneous files related to Breuer's architectural licenses.

Sketchbooks contains a number of Breuer's sketchbooks with designs for houses (exteriors and interiors), furniture, and more. All drawings have been digitized and can be found in the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive.

The Furniture series collects materials related to Breuer's furniture designs and furniture business dealings. This series contains several hundred original furniture drawings, and represents the four major phases of Breuer's furniture work -- wood, tubular steel, aluminum and bent plywood.. This series also contains Correspondence (1920s-1960s) with manufacturers and distributors of Breuer furniture (Thonet, Embru, Isokon, Gavina), correspondence with patent attorneys and agencies (including patent applications and drawings), as well as Financial documents, license agreements and contracts. There are a few files related to furniture design competitions, as well as furniture photographs and slides, articles and clippings. Of special note in the Published materials series are several early furniture catalogs from Thonet and Wohnbedarf, including the Herbert Bayer designed Wohnbedarf aluminum furniture catalog.

The Project records series contains the vast bulk of the collection and consists of architectural drawings, project files (correspondence, specifications, Financial records, product literature), published materials and photographs documenting the process of architectural design development, project construction and subsequent presentation/reception of completed projects. The extent of documentation varies by project, but the entirety of Breuer's career is represented, including his earliest architectural work at the Bauhaus (1923-1928), his subsequent work as an independent architect in Berlin (1928-1931), his work in Budapest in partnership with Farkas Molnár and József Fischer (1933-1935), his work in London in partnership with F.R.S. Yorke (1935-1937), his early work in the U.S. in partnership with Walter Gropius (1937-1941) and, by far the majority of the collection, his work as an independent architect and head of the firm Marcel Breuer and Associates (1941-1976). In addition, the collection contains significant project work accomplished by the firm Marcel Breuer Associates after Breuer's retirement in 1976, as well as work completed by his associates under the name BreuerA after his death in 1980. [See Biographical History above for additional information on Breuer's associated firms and partnerships.]

An Alphabetical index of projects and name variants is provided at the end of this finding aid.

Arrangement of the Collection

The conceptual structure for arrangement of the collection follows the recommendations advanced in Waverly Lowell and Tawny Ryan Nelb's guide, Architectural Records: Managing Design and Construction Records (Society of American Archivists : Chicago, 2006). Project identification largely follows the listing in Isabelle Hyman, Marcel Breuer, Architect: The Career and the Buildings.

Personal papers, 1925-2001 (Biographical material, 1938-2001; Correspondence, 1935-1969; Financial records, 1934-1954; House papers, 1935-1952; Legal documents, 1925-1941; Photographs, 1928-1978). Professional papers, 1923-1992 (Associations and memberships, 1940-1960; Awards and honors, 1947-1973; Competitions, 1938-1948; Consulting, 1942-1947; Correspondence, 1935-1981; Exhibitions, 1938-1972; Interviews, 1962-1992; Juries and committees, 1944-1950; Publications, 1923-1983; Reference files, 1933-1981; Scrapbooks and clippings, 1923-1950; Slides (teaching and travel); Writings, 1923-1970). Faculty papers, 1939-1948 (Administrative, 1939-1948; Course Material, 1939-1941). Office records, 1931-1979 (Administrative records, 1931-1976; Correspondence, 1937-1979; Financial records, 1936-1951; Miscellaneous office material, 1930-c.1959; Prospects, 1938-1956; Travel, 1938-1970). Sketchbooks, circa 1939-1978 (Green sketchbook; Red sketchbooks; Miscellaneous non-project sketches). Furniture, 1921-1982 (Catalogs and promotional materials, 1920s-c.1980; Competitions and exhibitions, 1936-1982; Correspondence and business records, 1932-1977; Legal documents, 1934-1936; Patent documents, 1920-1938; Published material and writings, 1929-1981; Drawings, 1928-1970s; Photographs, 1921-1948). Project records, 1923-1984 (subseries for each project, with Drawings; Project files; Published material; Photographs, as applicable).

Because the files are arranged by project, an Alphabetical index of projects and name variants is provided at the end of this finding aid.

Boxes beginning with "SL-" contain glass lantern slides.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

The Marcel Breuer Digital Archive represents a collaborative effort headed by Syracuse University Library to digitize over 30,000 drawings, photographs, letters and other materials related to the career of Marcel Breuer. Many of the items inventoried in this finding aid, up to approximately 1955, can be found in the digital archive.

Additional archival material related to Marcel Breuer is located at The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. An online finding aid is available, A Finding Aid to the Marcel Breuer Papers, and many of the materials in the collection have been digitized.

For additional materials in Special Collections Research Center related to Marcel Breuer, see also:

Subject Headings


Beckhard, Herbert.
Breuer, Marcel, 1902-1981.
Gatje, Robert F.
Gropius, Walter, 1883-1969.
Jossa, Mario.
Papachristou, Tician.
Smith, Hamilton P.
Yorke, F. R. S. (Francis Reginald Stevens)

Corporate Bodies

MBA (Marcel Breuer Associates)
Marcel Breuer Associates/Architects and Planners.
Marcel Breuer and Associates.


Architects -- United States.
Architectural design.
Architectural drawing -- United States -- 20th century.
Architectural firms.
Architectural practice.
Architecture -- Designs and plans.
Architecture -- United States -- 20th century.
Architecture -- United States.
Architecture, American.
Architecture, Domestic.
Architecture, Industrial.
Bauhaus -- History.
Church architecture -- United States.
Furniture design -- United States.
Furniture designers.

Genres and Forms

Architectural drawings (visual works)
Blueprints (reprographic copies)
Change orders.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Detail drawings (drawings)
Exhibition catalogs.
Exterior perspectives.
Interior perspectives.
Lantern slides.
Manuscripts for publication.
Schematic drawings.
Slides (photographs)
Topographic surveys.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Marcel Breuer Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents

Personal papers

Professional papers

Faculty papers

Office records



Project records

Index of projects and name variants