Iconic Marcel Breuer house on Long Island has been demolished

The demolition of Geller I house is a case that worries the preservationists. Modernist architecture in the United States appears now to be in real danger.

The world of architecture mourns the loss of Geller I house and the non-profit preservation society Docomomo US said it is the most significant loss in recent times. According to historians, in fact, the house – designed by Marcel Breuer in 1945 for Bertram and Phyllis Geller in a Long Island suburb, just outside New York City – was one of the main projects which helped Breuer to develop the unmistakable style that made him a leading postwar architect.

The project represented the first binuclear house designed by Breuer, who at that time had just left the studio he ran with Walter Gropius. The modernist design of Geller I house broke with architectural convention by separating the bedrooms from the living quarters with a central hallway, as a kind of absorber space, instead of dividing the areas between two floors. The home became a showcase for avant-garde aesthetics complete with furniture designed by Breuer himself and a site-specific Jackson Pollock painting (that was later sold separately from the house and now is located in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, in Iran).

Even if subsequent owners remodeled the interiors and whitewashed the wood and the stone structure’s earthy tones, the floor plan remained intact through the years and preservationists said that the building was likely eligible for the National Registers of Historic Places and had attempted to secure a historical landmark designation, but without success. Officials said that the current owners followed all local rules and did not violate any laws, but some affirmed that this loss demonstrated how housing market dynamics and loose landmarking of buildings rules have put modernist architecture at risk.

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