SU Library awarded $350,000 NEH grant for Marcel Breuer digital project

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the Syracuse University Library a $350,000 grant to create a digital scholarly edition of the works of Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer. The project, entitled “Marcel Breuer, Architect: Life and Work, 1922-1955” will run from May 2009 through April 2011 and culminate in the release of the web-based edition in May 2011.

Breuer began donating his papers to Syracuse University Library more than forty years ago, in 1964. Today, the Syracuse Breuer collection includes thousands of original oversized drawings and blueprints, correspondence, and photographs. Upon Breuer’s death in 1981, his widow donated many of his remaining papers to the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. This NEH-funded project will unite these geographically separate collections in an online edition of 50,000 items. It will also incorporate Breuer materials from other international archival repositories.

Based in the Library’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) and led by its director, Sean Quimby, the project is a partnership with the SU School of Architecture. SOA students and faculty will assist with usability testing as the web project develops. SOA faculty member Jonathan Massey and Barry Bergdoll, Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art will serve on an advisory board.

“The Breuer project will not only enable a new generation of Breuer scholarship, it will open a whole new set of questions about the profile and issues of American modernism from the 1930s through the late 1970s,” Bergdoll said in a letter supporting the proposal.

Marcel Breuer was born in Pécs, Hungary, in 1902. At the age of 21, he went to work in the office of Walter Gropius, founder of the modernist Bauhaus school of design. At the Bauhaus school, Breuer taught furniture design, and in 1925 earned critical acclaim for his “Wassily” chair, which combined the radical simplicity of form with tubular steel and fabric. He and Gropius emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, where they taught at Harvard University and maintained a joint architectural firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1941, Breuer established a singular reputation for his “bi-nuclear” house, which organized physical space around new modes of day-to-day life. The “bi-nuclear” house, along with his demonstration house in the garden of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (1949), helped to inspire America’s fascination with housing in the post-war era.

By the mid 1950s, Breuer had designed some 60 private residences and had begun to undertake large-scale, institutional projects, like the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1953), the Whitney Museum of Art in New York (1966), buildings on the campuses of New York University and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and the Cleveland Museum of Art (1970). The collections at Syracuse, the Smithsonian, and elsewhere document not only those buildings which were completed, but also projects that never came to fruition. Together, they document the career of a man that Time magazine in 1956 called one of the “form-givers of the twentieth century.”

For more information on the project, contact Sean Quimby at 315 443-9759 or smquimby@syr.edu.





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