The Chair Man

By GREG COOK  |  April 27, 2009

Arriving in the United States in 1937, Breuer turned increasingly to architecture. He favored rectangles, grids, right angles. He moved horizontally, favoring massive rectangular boxes and flat roof slabs. (He built just one skyscraper.) His structures — like the house he built for himself in Lincoln, Massachusetts, beginning in 1937 — often were a series of various sized abutting boxes.

When Breuer's furniture didn't hit the sweet spot between less is more and less is less, his designs turned awkward, uncomfortable, cold. When his architecture goes wrong it's harsh, oppressive, affected — like New York's Whitney Museum of American Art ('64-'66). The Brutalist design of boxes stacked one atop the next like an upside-down pyramid resembles a fortress.

Better are buildings begun in the late '50s, like Begrisch Hall at New York University or St. John's Abby Church in Minnesota, which channel Space Age optimism and atomic angst. The hall looks like a spaceship perched on three legs. The church features a "bell tower" consisting of a flat stone slab on four legs that resembles a Stone Age radar array. They're weirder and warmer. Like his landmark chairs, they break away from ruthless rectangularity by way of soaring curves.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Harvard University, New York University, Whitney Museum of American Art,  More more >
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