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Designed by famed architect Marcel Breuer for the Armstrong Rubber Company in 1968, the building has been a New Haven icon ever since.  However, since the early ‘90s, it’s been vacant and a symbol of New Haven’s struggles. Today a rebounding and more confident city must bring the building back to vibrancy.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City opened a new museum this past March, The Met Breuer. The building was formerly occupied by the Whitney Museum of American Art and was designed by Architect Marcel Breuer.

Breuer also designed a signature building on New Haven’s Long Wharf, originally built for Armstrong Rubber in 1968, it is now known as the Pirelli Building.

The building is listed in the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places and is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. 

Perhaps New Haven’s most high profile and signature building, the Pirelli Building has been vacant since the early 1990s and there have been almost no real attempts to put it back in use.

In 1996, former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano proposed the demolition of the Pirelli Building to make way for construction of a shopping mall at Long Wharf. 

A legal challenge from Milford Mall owner Westfield and some local opposition combined with a weak economy scuttled the project.

A few years later, the IKEA company purchased the site and hoped to completely demolish the Pirelli building. Preservationist opposition halted the complete demolition, although part of the historic signature building was destroyed to facilitate more parking for the retailer.

Ingvar Kamprad, 90, is the founder and owner of IKEA and is estimated to be worth more than $40 billion. IKEA is an apparent hit with consumers, including here in New Haven, company sales are approximately $25 billion. IKEA owns and operates 384 stores in
48 countries. 

IKEA prides itself on its corporate citizenship and regularly proclaims its “sustainability” efforts, including solar panels and a soon to be constructed Fuel Cell at the New Haven store. 

That is all well and good and we applaud those efforts, but today
we expect more in the way of
“corporate citizenship” than cashing in government energy credits or funding a fireworks display every few years.

Breuer was one of the most popular architects of the 20th Century. He was born in Hungary and considered a “Master of Modernism.” He was first known for his design of modern furniture as well as buildings, he died in 1981 at 79. 

Breuer furniture styles remain popular to this day and probably can be found at IKEA in some iteration.

Breuer was forced out of Germany by the Nazis and moved to Boston in 1937 to join the faculty at Harvard. Among the students taught by Breuer and his mentor, Walter Gropius, were famed Architects Paul Rudolph, Eliot Noyes, I. M. Pei, Ulrich Franzen, John Johansen, and Phillip Johnson.

Despite Breuer’s innovations, his “street cred,” The Breuer Met and his design of dozens of iconic buildings—here in New Haven, Breuer’s Pirelli building has not received the respect one would expect.

After all, New Haven boosters have long and rightly promoted the city’s great architecture and the Yale University School of Architecture is arguably the finest in the world.

Perhaps it would be different if Breuer was a “Yale man.” But for more than a dozen years, the Pirelli building, and quality
architecture along with it, has been completely “disrespected” as IKEA draped the signature structure with Sale Signs and the City acquiesced in the building’s decay.

Finally, New Haven is a bolder and more confident place, and it no longer should be pushed around by a recalcitrant big box retailer that claims to be a good corporate citizen.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Economic Development Administrator Mathew Nemerson [see page 3] need to step up and insist that IKEA rehabilitate, sell or forfeit the property to the city – Time’s Up!

Harp succeeded in pressuring Iberdola into providing funds to clean up the English Station Power Plant, now there’s one more “big dog” holding back New Haven’s progress to go.

And the timing is right – the new “Boat House” that former mayor DeStefano insisted the State build as part of the Quinnipiac Bridge Project is under construction and it will create a new vision for Long Wharf and probably bring new customers to IKEA as well.

We respectfully suggest it wouldn’t hurt if Deborah Berke, the new Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale, showed some community leadership chops and gathered support and pressure from the University and New Haven’s world class architects in supporting a quality restoration of the Pirelli building. BNH