S43
Marcel Breuer

S43
Precision of thinking

Nine drawer units, stacked and alternating between contrasting black and white. A vibrant and congenial design (1924/27) by the Bauhaus master. The chest of drawers was designed to remain mobile, therefore it features castors and can be pushed into place with a handle on either side. In an essay on his philosophy, Breuer described his ambitions as a designer: “’Human’ seems to me more than just a pleasant forgiving of imperfection and an easygoingness as to precision of thinking, as to the quality of planning, as to consequences of materials, details, and construction.” Precision as part of human nature, this is the intellectual concept that distinguishes Breuer’s designs and makes them so likeable.

Anyone who sees the S43 chest of drawers next to its little sister, the S41, will immediately notice the family resemblance. Marcel Breuer was paying homage to the huge modern buildings that embraced function after function with every storey and seemed to reach astronomical heights. And yet this comparison is not far-reaching enough. Breuer has meshed a second approach with the architectural principle of addition: that of seriality. Like Constantin Brâncuși’s “Endless Column”, erected in 1937/38 on the southern edge of the Carpathians, the aim was to translate the advantages of the serial into art and transcend the purely material aspect. Instead of truncated pyramids, Breuer “only” stacks boxes. But the effect is noticeable: instead of just stacking functions, Breuer wanted to offer the eye and brain an opportunity to grow and think beyond the purely material aspect.

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Perfection of construction and detail. Of course, the first thing we associate with Bauhaus master Marcel Breuer is one material: tubular steel. And one principle: the cantilever chair, which sparked modern furniture design. “Humankind was freed from the tethers of rigid sitting to enjoy the freedom of the floating seat. The cantilever chair was a symbol of its time.” But this does not really do justice to Marcel Lajos (“Lajkó”) Breuer (1902-1981). What he really pursued was research into the essence of objects: what should, what can a modern piece of furniture do today, was the Bauhaus question.

In 1925, Breuer became head of the furniture workshop in Dessau as a “junior master”. The year before, he had already postulated his definition of contemporary furniture. Although he attached great importance to details, Breuer favoured the precision of thinking over formal aspects. “There is the perfection of construction and detail, along with and in contrast to simplicity and generosity in form and use,” he wrote in an essay outlining his philosophy.

His role in popularising tubular steel for furniture design may also be due to his being one of the first to realise how dynamic our lives had become, demanding equally light and flexible solutions. The cycling enthusiast also embraced the latest trends in architecture, industry and design for a new zeitgeist. “I have specifically chosen metal for these pieces of furniture to achieve the characteristics of modern spatial elements,” explained Breuer. “The heavy upholstery of a comfortable armchair has been replaced by tightly stretched fabric surfaces and a few lightweight springy cylindrical brackets.”

In addition, the construction was no longer hidden, but flashing chrome became a visible part of the design. Cantilever chairs were bolted, not welded, functions stacked and colour-coded. The result was a dematerialised floating appearance and a new spirit of space. The cantilever chair meant a liberation from the thousand-year-old model of rigid throne-like sitting. It was the implementation of the functional, kinetic and constructive counter-principle. This kinetic line, the dawn of the modern era, can still be traced to the young Bauhaus designers today.