Marcel Lajos Breuer was born in 1902 in the provincial city of Pecs, Hungary. He studied and later taught at the Bauhaus, in Weimar and Dessau in the twenties, where he met Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. These three older giants of the era were to have a life-long influence on Breuer.
Due to the rise of the Nazi party, he left Germany in 1935 and joined Gropius in London. By this time Breuer was one of the best-known designers in Europe. Aside from a residence, two apartment buildings and some competition entries, he was known mainly for his invention of tubular steel furniture, in particular the Wassily Chair, designed in 1925 for Wassily Kandinsky and inspired partly by bicycle handlebars.
In 1937 Gropius asked him to join Harvard’s architecture faculty and together they revolutionized American architectural design during WWII, training a whole generation of soon-to-be famous architects. In 1946 Breuer moved to New York and started his own practice, where he continued to pursue residential projects and eventually, institutional ones, including New York’s Whitney Museum, UNESCO Headquarters in Paris and Flaine, a ski-town in the French Alps.
In 1968 he won the AIA’s Gold Medal and 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.”
Breuer first came to Wellfleet circa 1944 looking for Serge Chermayeff. Jack Phillips sold him a piece of land on Williams Pond. Breuer designed two identical houses (based on his simple vacation house prototype), one for himself and one not far away on Long Pond for his close friend and Bauhaus cohort, Gyorgy Kepes. He executed two more variations on this prototype in Wellfleet and planned a community of five of that same prototype which was never realized.
Breuer (Lajko to his friends) and his wife Constance fell in love with Wellfleet, made many close friends, and spent summers there for the rest of their lives. He retired in 1976 and died in New York in 1981 after a long illness. He is buried under the pines next to his house in Wellfleet. The spot is marked by a simple stone that he and his partner, Herbert Beckhard, brought back from a trip to Japan.
Projects on the Outer Cape Cottage Community, Wellfleet 1945 (unbuilt)
Kepes Cottage, Wellfleet
In 1945 Breuer conceived a small
community of cottages between Higgins, Herring and Slough Ponds in
Wellfleet based on a house prototype he had developed a couple of years
earlier. This prototype was a simple, shed roofed volume that he was
to re-work in many later projects. In this version it is sided with
plywood and has a porch and sun shade suspended from cables. Although
the cottage community was not built, Breuer executed four versions
of this prototype in Wellfleet, including one for his own family, in
1948-49, and one not far away for his friend Gyorgy Kepes. The Cape's
climate and insect life necessitated a roofed, screened porch and tongue
and groove cedar siding over the plywood in the built versions. Breuer's
and Kepes’ cottages were built simultaneously, and the builder,
Ernie Rose, said that because they were identical, he could build both