Marcel Breuer's first binuclear house, Geller I in Lawrence, New York has been demolished in the dead of night. Geller I is largely considered the project that propelled Breuer to private practice in New York and prompted the Museum of Modern Art to commission Breuer to design an exhibition house in the museum’s courtyard entitled The House in the Museum Garden in 1949. The following text was written in the last few days as Docomomo US and our colleagues were working to make this concern public. We are saddened by such an unnecessary loss and will continue to post updates as they are known.
In 1945, Marcel Breuer designed a revolutionary house for Bertram and Phyllis Geller built in Lawrence, New York, a newly developing suburb just outside New York City. Described as a “tour de force”, The Geller house was pivotal from the moment it was completed. It is Marcel Breuer’s first completed “binuclear” house design where living and sleeping areas are separated into two different formal elements.
Soon after it was completed, the Geller House was widely published in the United States and in Europe. It was featured in an 8-page article in House & Garden in January of 1947. Progressive Architecture, long among America’s most respected architectural journals, published an extensive 17-page article in February of 1947. Progressive Architecture also awarded the design a Citation in the Residential category of the 1946 Progressive Architecture Awards. In Europe, the project was published in the late 1940s in Architectural Review in England, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui in France, and Werk in Switzerland.
The first house constructed after his partnership with Walter Gropius, the success of Geller I helped establish Breuer’s reputation as an independent designer and propel the transition of his office from Cambridge to New York. It generated a flood of calls from families looking for what House & Garden magazine titled “Tomorrow’s House Today.”
The Geller House and Breuer’s other residential designs of the 1940s and 1950s were both extremely innovative and widely influential. The interest and demand for modern family dwellings post-World War II prompted the Museum of Modern Art to commission Breuer to design an exhibition house in the museum’s courtyard entitled The House in the Museum Garden (1949), “a country home for the commuter, intended to be built by any contractor.” The exhibition drew over 70,000 visitors and transformed the public’s idea of a new type of home for the modern American family.