Written by Pablo Lopez, Senior Architect at AGi architects, Polytechnic University of Madrid PhD, Architecture. Previous post: "The chair as an anticipatoy architectural element (I): useful object vs. semantic object"
In 1928 the art critic Rosalind Krauss said in her essay Sculptures in the Expanded Field, “The transgressions and loans from a mean [scales] to another are a defining characteristic of modernity” and indeed, there seems no coincidence the fact that chair design has been a recurring constant in the career of many architects over the last two centuries and especially during the twentieth century. The chair has become a condensed object of architectural trends in some cases precedents of what was about to happen on a larger scale.
For example the chair of folded steel tubes that Marcel Breuer popularized in the twenties were part of the heroic period of modern architecture, “just as wrappers of transparent glass that replaced the bearing walls” as would say Sigfreid Giedion. A manifest object that were disavow of any composition demoting any plastic content to pure supportive skeleton, while Le Corbusier carried out the implementation of his Dom-ino scheme at the Spirit-Nouveau Pavilion
The realization of the first tubular steel chair, known today with the name of “Wassily”, has become a legend in the history of design. It took place in 1925, while the Bauhaus was moving from Weimar to Dessau. The new building planned by Gropius was still not finished and workshops were provisionally housed in the Städtische Kunsthalle, the municipal art room. Marcel Breuer was then twenty years old and had already designed several wooden furniture pieces heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the Dutch group De Stijl. Gropius commissioned him with the completion of several furniture pieces, folding chairs for classrooms, stools for the canteen, atelier tables and the called “club armchair”. This chair was the first version – there were five- of the Wassily chair. The prototype was made with folding steel tube of Breuer’s Adler bicycle that which gave him the idea of building the chair with the same material. We are aware that wrote the bicycle manufacturer asking to put at their disposal the necessary amount of steel tube, but He considered this a crazy idea and refused. However he got the collaboration of the commercial firm of folded steel tubes Mannesmann, and with the help of a welder completed the first model of which we are aware through the photographs taken by Luzia Moholy-Nagy at the exhibition about Breuer held at the Kunsthalle of Dessau in 1926.
The tubular furnishing established the standard for the new modern interior: aseptic, austere, hygienic and transparent, as opposed to the warm, padding, velvet of bourgeois interior. Breuer himself predicted a resounding commercial failure for his model: it was “too cold and industrial” far away from the paradigm of the homelike. But reality came to contradict him; it was a resounding success among the new Central European bourgeoisie precisely because he knew to anticipate, before anyone else, a new form of domesticity.