The Chair Machine

In the beginning of the 1920's the German-Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer created an armchair with a framework of nickeled tubular steel and a seat of leather. It was a revolutionary chair in both its materials and its method of manufacture. The use of tubular steel as the constructive framework of an armchair was new. Marcel Breuer got the inspiration for the application of the material one morning on his bike as he cycled to the Bauhaus College. He would like to make a chair from the same material as the handlebars of his Adler bicycle. The chair was called Model No. B3.

Model No. B3, 1926
Woman with mask by Schlemmer
seated in Model No. B3, 1926

The Marcel Breuer Bierfest And Infopoint, Stanley Picker Gallery 2000
The Marcel Breuer Bierfest And Infopoint,
Stanley Picker Gallery, 2000

This piece of furniture was part of a major ideological programme developed around the Bauhaus. Although it was a minor part of the overall production at the Bauhaus, the chair had the whole ideological programme embedded in its morphology. This happened in and through a merger of concrete and ideal elements. The background to the design of the chair was that, in shape and material, it should be suitable for mass-production and in this way correspond to the new and upcoming production methods of the time. In shape and material it should include the industrial way of production; it should be composed of few and solely constructive elements. The piece of furniture should not represent the way it was produced but it should be industrial by the way of being. As Marcel Breuer stated himself: „I regarded these shining, sweeping lines not only as symbols of technology but as technology itself".

The chair with the framework of tubular steel and the seat of leather had ideas embedded in it like iron is embedded in iron ore. Marcel Breuer's chair was charged with an ideological potential through the way it was constructed and manufactured. This potential was released when the chair functioned and related to human beings. When seated in the chair the body is suspended in the air and bent into a position similar to the one it would take if it were in a car or on an aeroplane. The rhythms and desires associated with speed, power and mechanical action were in this way brought into the living room. As an object in use, it should concretely update the human nervous system and way of living to a timeless, clean and functional world.

„The characteristic, ideal posture of any era can best be seen in how people sit. Whereas once it was the saddle or later the imposing attitude of the ruler that affected everyday life, nowadays it is the casual but tense position of a car driver, leaning back, with his legs stretched out, which unconsciously influences our imagination. The tubular steel chair, with its elegant, sweeping lines, is the best match for a body steeled by sport and physical exercise. It allows the contours to be displayed to their best advantage and promotes a relaxed, but also a disciplined posture. Thus, this confident way of sitting furthers awareness of one's physical appearance and also, ultimately, - like light sportswear or short skirts - helps to improve the body". (Walter Müller-Wulchow: Die deutsche Wohnung der Gegenwart, 1932)

The tubular steel was a profane material, which could not cast-off its associations with industry and unskilled labour. Normally living rooms embody every epoch's most bourgeois aspirations and the Model No. B3 armchair was intended to challenge and revolutionise everyday life in the living room. The chair should shape new men. It was produced by machines and should, like a machine, produce human beings. It was a machine to sit in. Time did, however, wear this piece of furniture and it seems like the bindings between the matter and the ideas have weakened and the ideas evaporated by the years, while the remains of the chair are now often found as ruins in entrance halls of many corporate headquarters or other places that would like to be associated with modernity. Marcel Breuer's armchair was not a perpetual motion machine.

Jakob Jakobsen/1996-2000