Modern Designers

William Muschenheim

Design Profession: Architect

Building Types: Commercial, Educational, Religious, Residential

William Muschenheim was born in New York City in 1902 where his family ran the Hotel Astor near Times Square. Muschenhiem attended the Cutler School and Williams College before enrolling in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) architecture program in 1921. Stifled by MIT's Beaux Arts-based curriculum, he left in 1924 to travel in Europe with the intent of exploring the "freshness" of European Modernism. He visited the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, and worked briefly for the architect Arthur Korn in Berlin. Muschenhiem enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, in 1925 where he studied under Peter Behrens. He was awarded the prestigious Behrens Prize in 1927.

Muschenheim returned to New York City in 1929 and worked in the office of architect Joseph Urban. Urban, a former set designer for the New York Metropolitan Opera and Ziegfeld Follies, had become an architect popular with New York's elite. One of the firm's most critically acclaimed projects, the dance laboratory in the New School for Social Research, is credited to Muschenheim. In 1932 Muschenheim's work was included in Philip Johnson's Rejected Architects exhibition, the precursor to the Museum of Modern Art's Modern Architecture International Exhibition, which introduced the International style to America. His talent for integrating bold geometric color into architectural design became widely known when he directed the use of exterior color and lighting for the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago.

In 1934 Muschenheim opened his own architectural practice in New York City. He worked on residential projects throughout New York and Long Island as well as major commissions such as the alteration to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1939 and the Marine Transportation Building for the New York World's Fair in 1939.

While practicing in New York, Muschenheim joined the Congres Internationale d'Architect Moderne (CIAM), an international society of architects organized by Le Corbusier and twenty European modern architects in 1928. CIAM's objective was to promote and advance the principles of the Modern movement through meetings and symposiums. Members included Walter Gropius, Luis Sert, Knud Lonberg-Holm, and Harwell Hamilton Harris. Muschenheim was also a founder of a legendary supplement to Architectural Forum magazine called Plus: Orientations of Contemporary Architecture, whose purpose was to showcase the Modern Movement in America. Only three issues were produced and the contributors included the most important Modern architects of the day.

Muschenheim joined the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Architecture in 1950. He received the Sol King Award for Excellence in Teaching Architecture in 1971, before retiring in 1972. He authored a number of books including Elements of the Art of Architecture in 1964 and Why Architecture in 1980. In 1984 he was awarded the Michigan Society of Architects Gold Medal.

Over the course of Muschenheim's career the majority of his almost two hundred commissions were residential. His own home, which he designed and constructed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, incorporated a color palette of thirty-five colors.

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