Design Classics

Design Classics: #39: Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair

30th October 2012

Marcell Breuer’s Wassily Chair from knoll.com

So today’s question is: What is the link between that chair and this bicycle?

an adler bicycle

The answer is that Marcel Breuer was a keen cyclist. He had an Adler bicycle which he particularly admired for its functional design. An apprentice at the Bauhaus school in Germany, he graduated in 1924 and headed for Paris, but returned the following year at the request of Walter Gropius to run the carpentry workshop.

It was during this time that he began to experiment with extruded steel to create a series of metal pieces. But it was his beloved bicycle that would prove his most important inspiration when he decided to use its principles of flexibility and strength to a chair.

image by Liana Walker

The resulting piece was a perfect example of the Bauhaus use of industrial materials and sleek modernism. It was only possible at this time because a German steel manufacturer had perfected the process of making seamless steel tubing. Prior to that, all steel tubing had had a welded seam which collapsed when the tubing was bent.

According to the manufacturer, Knoll, he named the chair the Wassily because it was designed for his friend and room mate, the painter Wassily Kandinsky. However others claim that Kandinsky had merely admired the prototype, known then as the Model B3, whereupon Breuer made him one for his office. Legend has it that a canny manufacturer later named it the Wassily after learning of the connection between the two men.

image from apartmenttherapy.com

It was first made with fabric strips, but after the War, the Italian firm Gavina bought the licence and started making the leather version. Knoll later acquired, and still holds, the manufacturing rights.

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