The Met Breuer Architecture Tour

The Metropolitan Museum of Art partnered with Acoustiguide to create The Met Breuer Architecture Tour. The building, both adored and detested by New Yorkers, has always elicited controversy and questions even before opened in 1966. This audio tour sets out to address the controversies, answer the questions, and provide a lively behind-the-scenes experience of the building itself. Designed with a podcast-style approach, people can listen to as they walk through the building at their own pace… or anywhere else, via SoundCloud.

Key to this tour’s success was communicating Breuer’s grand ideas without a rarefied tone or overly technical vocabulary. Instead, the approach is clear and informative but also direct and fun. Who knew, for example, that this legendary architect could cook up a mean Hungarian goulash? To cap off the conversational, podcast style of the tour, we did not engage a professional voiceover narrator. Instead, the tour was narrated by Nina Diamond, the Managing Editor and Producer (Content) for The Met’s Digital Department, chosen as a result of user testing that indicated people preferred the voice of an “ordinary” but knowledgeable host.

Before digging into the creative development, The Met Digital team approached the museum’s Visitor Experience staff and asked them to share the top questions from the visiting public. Among them: Who was Marcel Breuer? How do you pronounce his name? How many lights are there in the lobby? What does “Brutalist” actually mean? And hey, is this building even an example of Brutalist architecture? (Spoiler alert: not necessarily.)

The hosts are insiders who set the building in context, and share their unique insights on the architect, his creation, and the legacy of this iconic building. One of them is Marcel Breuer himself, via excerpts of a radio interview we uncovered from 1962, conducted by WNYC. Breuer is joined by:

  • Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University and co-editor of Marcel Breuer: Building Global Institutions;
  • Jack Beyer, lead architect of the restoration and co-founder of Beyer Blinder Belle;
  • Flora Biddle, former president of the Whitney Museum and granddaughter of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (founder of the Whitney);
  • Brian Butterfield, senior design manager for exhibitions at The Met, who advised on the restoration, and
  • Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Met.

With this stellar cast of experts on-hand to illuminate what defines the building and its impact, we highlight the specific architectural details that reveal Breuer’s ideas at play—and guide visitors to discover (and sometimes touch) them. For example, Breuer spoke in somewhat philosophical terms about “humanizing” concrete, but where can a visitor see what that actually means? Right here: as when the tour points out those elements in the lobby which display the variety of different treatments Breuer applied to concrete.

Breuer’s legendary attention to detail and willingness to experiment are also visible throughout the building—once you know where to look. The tour explains what’s notable about the stairwell’s teak banister capped with blackened brass, the bluestone pavers he darkened with pigmented wax, and the lobby’s wall clock that he set in a custom-cast section of concrete. Listeners will also discover areas of construction where Breuer added chips of obsidian to catch the light—a luxe detail that might otherwise be overlooked. Each of these design elements has a particular purpose and story, and fits into Breuer’s broader vision for the museum.