Hot on the heels of the news that Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK, defunct for the past 16 years, is successfully embracing its jet-set past and being transformed into a hotel complete with martini bar and that 1960s vibe, above, reports that Marcel Breuer’s Pirelli building, below, in New Haven, Connecticut, may be similarly developed, is good news indeed. In a throw-away society, when buildings are often considered as disposable as the products by the IKEA store that owns the Breuer building, it is refreshing to see that there is a growing movement towards adaptable re-use of our modernist heritage.
Marcel Breuer’s legacy is still evident in this part of Connecticut with surviving homes such as Donald N. Clarke House in Orange and 628 West Rd in New Canaan, that was actually Marcel Breuer’s own home. His non-residential, less-local buildings include UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris and Atlanta Central Library (1980) Georgia. Whilst Breuer’s most well-know building is probably the granite-clad striking Manhattan’s Met Breuer, below, (originally the Whitney Museum, completed in 1966), the fact that he was teaching at Harvard and one of the members of the Harvard Five, asserts his rightful place in architectural history.
Ironically, Breuer may be better remembered as the teacher of Philip Johnson, whose Glass House, below, brought European modernism to the US , heralding the introduction of the International Style architecture to the Connecticut residential vernacular.
Despite the inspiration for the Glass House, above, being credited to Mies Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, Johnson’s iconic home is rapidly approaching its 70 year anniversary and is still considered one of the finest examples of modern architecture, with its innovative use of glass and steel and its integration into the landscape. Though it has the privileged distinction of being designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997 and is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, many of Breuer’s buildings lack that protection. Let us hope that his Pirelli building will avoid demolition by joining the ranks of these other modernist masterpieces, recognised for their architectural integrity, ingenuity and for some, adaptability.