The Tale of an Architect and his Bicycle: Marcel Breuer and the invention of tubular steel furniture

April 19, 2023
October 14, 2023

The Hungarian architect and designer Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) is considered one ofthe most important figures among students and teachers of the Bauhaus. Shortly after graduating with honors, he was invited by the founder of the institution, Walter Gropius, to return to the school as head of the carpentry workshop. Up on his arrival to Dessau, Breuer discovered that many of his friends had begun to ride bicycles to get around the city, and he soon purchased a bike for himself as well. But Breuer’s bicycle turned out to be much more than a means of transportation, inspiring him also as a designer: The tubular steel structure that made up the frame of his bike, he thought, was not only strong and flexible, but also light in weight and could be perfect as the basis for furniture. He then contacted the bicycle company Adler, suggesting that they collaborate with him on the creation of a new series of furniture using tubular steel. Adler’s representatives refused, but Breuer was determined to bring his vision to life. He then ordered cut and bent steel pipes directly from the iron factory that was Adler’s main supplier and, with the help of a local plumber, assembled the first tubular steel chair in his studio, naming it ‘B3’ - the result of his third attempted sketch.


Further variations followed suit, until finally Breuer was happy with the results,nicknaming his B3 design ‘Wassily Chair’ to pay homage to his friend and instructor at the school, Wassily Kandinsky. Others around him began to call it “the club chair”, since Gropius placed the prototype in the school's lecturers’ club. Success followed, and Breuer expanded the range of furniture he created from the steel pipes to include theater seats, folding chairs, various tables,and stools. Today, tubular steel furniture is common and familiar to many. It can be found in private homes, commercial establishments, and public institutions, with models ranging from rare and valuable items to more affordable reproductions promoted by large manufacturers – much like a bicycle.