Why Does the Demolition of a Marcel Breuer Home Matter?

LAWRENCE, N.Y. — “Are folks going to care about one little home?” requested Elizabeth Waytkus, who had been alerted some weeks in the past to the likelihood {that a} once-celebrated home by the architect Marcel Breuer could be demolished. She is the manager director of Docomomo US, a nonprofit group that promotes the preservation of contemporary constructions.

Individuals did care, it seems. She has acquired an outpouring of dismay and grief on the news that the 1945 Bertram and Phyllis Geller Home in Lawrence, on the southwestern fringe of Nassau County, had been demolished with out warning on Jan. 26 by the present homeowners, Shimon and Judy Eckstein, who Waytkus stated had assured her solely three weeks earlier that they’d admired it and had no plans to take it down.

It was a good-looking composition of three cedar-sided single-story wings, that zigzagged among the many bushes and shrubs of a spacious web site, every wing topped with a low-sloped roof that gave the home an undulating silhouette. The home had been considerably, however not irreversibly, altered, in accordance with photos on an actual property web site.

Her query makes a bigger level, nonetheless. The Geller home was rapturously lined by the press at its debut as a result of it appealed to an America that was obsessive about making a greater life after enduring sacrifices of World Struggle II and the grinding bleakness of the Nice Despair. It was “among the many most well-known homes of the interval,” stated Barry Bergdoll, a Breuer knowledgeable, who teaches architectural historical past at Columbia College and was the chief curator of structure on the Museum of Fashionable Artwork. But it had fallen right into a sort of obscurity, well-known primarily to aficionados.

Preserving particular person homes is troublesome and costly, defined Waytkus, first as a result of they’re non-public. Docomomo’s modest assets are principally targeted on the preservation of economic, cultural, and civic buildings as a result of they’re usually accessible to the general public. In large-lot suburbs like Lawrence, the lack of a single home is much less jarring as a result of it’s not perceived as a part of an ensemble, as a row of Manhattan mansions or imposing brownstones could be.

Suburbs usually resist native preservation ordinances, particularly these aimed toward midcentury or later fashionable buildings. The style for modernism just isn’t common, and suburban officers usually keep away from enacting landmark ordinances that require homeowners to turn into unwilling custodians of an essential cultural useful resource.

“There aren’t very many instruments to help the preservation of those homes,” Waytkus defined. The most effective activists can do, she says, is promote the worth of postwar structure to the neighborhood, in addition to to sellers. Then attempt to discover consumers prepared to protect them.

The Geller home acquired a substantial amount of consideration when it was constructed as a result of it confidently embodied the brand new values of suburbia: technological progress, and an off-the-cuff, unshowy way of life constructed round youngsters, with quick access to out of doors play and rest. It’s an emblem of a time that has completely vanished: when postwar suburbs, at their greatest, had been locations of risk, of innovation and new concepts. The structure of single-family homes expressed these aspirations and embodied that rising way of life.

The Geller home was described as binuclear, a somewhat self-important approach to underscore the primacy of kid rearing that knowledgeable the design. The customer entered an enclosed breezeway that separated wings for household actions from a bed room wing. Two of the youngsters’s bedrooms confronted a playroom that ran the total width of that wing, which opened on to a garden for out of doors recreation.

On the opposite facet of the breezeway, the kitchen, eating and dwelling areas flowed into one another in a relaxed method — emblematic of the better informality households sought. The homeowners didn’t deal with the home as a showpiece. Joe Geller, one of many Geller’s 4 boys, instructed Caroline Rob Zaleski, the creator of “Lengthy Island Modernism: 1930-1980,” that his mom “didn’t thoughts us as younger youngsters working indoors to open air, and from room to room with all our


The upward sloping roofs in each wings conferred a generosity to the rooms’ modest dimensions, as did intensive floor-to-ceiling window partitions that splashed daylight throughout the flagstone flooring and opened to the greenery exterior.

Marcel Breuer, born in 1902, made his manner from Hungary to review in Vienna, then entered the Bauhaus faculty at Dessau, Germany, the place he would later run the furnishings studio. He designed two celebrated chairs, the Cesca and the Wassily — each had been framed in chromed tubular metal and succinctly captured the Bauhaus synthesis of summary geometries and industrial strategies.

With the rise of the Nazis, Breuer, who was Jewish, would transfer a number of occasions, lastly settling in Cambridge, Mass., in 1937, the place he practiced and taught along with his Bauhaus colleague Walter Gropius at Harvard. Gregarious and charming, “Lajko” turned shut buddies with many purchasers, together with the Gellers, who would rent him to design one other home in Lawrence, in 1967. (Because of this the unique Geller home is now identified by preservationists as Geller I.) The home has been added to however stays largely the best way it was constructed.

In a sequence of homes with Gropius, Breuer would soften the crisp cubic kinds, white plaster or metallic surfaces, and dramatic cantilevers of his Bauhaus work. Geller was designed as Breuer was parting methods with Gropius and transferring to New York.

On this home, Breuer extra absolutely merged his stylistic tendencies with American constructing strategies. The traditional wooden building was clad in vertical cedar siding that gave a modern planar feeling. Inside, he used skinny panels of varnished plywood and contrasted them with expanses of saturated paint colours within the mode of Fashionable artists. Jackson Pollock made one in every of his early drip work — offered way back — for the home.

Breuer anchored this light-weight structure to the earth with a living-room wall and big fire of fieldstone. Low stone partitions projected into the panorama to demarcate locations for play and rest. You might argue that the old style masonry harkens to traditions Individuals cling to — or that the stone is solely a sensual counterpoint to the modern planes of the remainder of the design.

Lots of the concepts Breuer had refined in Geller would seem in a home he designed that was inbuilt MoMA’s garden in 1949, broadcasting its concepts to a global viewers. “Each the Geller and MoMA homes had been meant to be replicable,” stated Bergdoll, “a home {that a} native contractor might construct.”

Whereas many different architects, together with émigrés like Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Richard Neutra, in addition to the architects of the California Case Examine Homes, introduced contemporary concepts to quickly increasing suburbs presently, facets of Breuer’s MoMA design — and, by extension, Geller — appeared across the nation, massaged to swimsuit native circumstances by gifted so-called regionalists, within the Carolinas and Texas, California and the Pacific Northwest. A clear break from the previous, the homes celebrated the modesty and thrift folks carried from the Despair.

I’d argue that the Geller home is extra essential now than it was when constructed, exactly as a result of the qualities that made the period distinctive have largely vanished. As the federal government underwrote the suburban highways, cities emptied, with some later coming again, largely by drawing folks to return to underappreciated neighborhoods, held collectively by those that didn’t depart, with very good however uncared for structure. The concepts and the optimism started to return from cities once more.

Suburbs now wrestle to tame visitors. Some have grown poorer. Thrift and modesty now appear quaint. Land in fascinating areas has turn into unaffordable and tear-downs epidemic — in what had been as soon as middle-class suburbs in addition to enclaves of modern homes commissioned by adventurous shoppers — as the home as funding automobile triumphs over the house as shelter. (In Lawrence, homes that look like three to 4 occasions as giant because the long-time mixture of modest ranch homes and substantial summer season “cottages” from the early 1900s are rising alongside the coastal salt marshes and golf course fairways.) Zaleski, the creator, estimates that greater than two thirds of the homes she confirmed in her 2012 guide have both been demolished or radically altered.

As working from house frees folks from commuting, the indoor-outdoor focus and the innate flexibility of the Geller home and its ilk appear very best, a reprieve for folks glued to screens in dim rooms all day. Regrettably, the teachings such homes educate are misplaced as they develop fewer on a regular basis.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/06/arts/design/marcel-breuer-geller-house-demolition.html Why Does the Demolition of a Marcel Breuer Home Matter?

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