One of the most infamous remnants of New Haven’s urban renewal period looms over an IKEA parking lot. The Pirelli Tire Building, designed by Marcel Breuer, has been a striking feature of the city’s harbor for decades.
In 1966, when the Armstrong Rubber Company was looking to build a new headquarters near the intersection of Interstates 91 and 95, Mayor Richard C. Lee saw a unique opportunity. Rather than move forward with a low-rise structure, as Armstrong Rubber had planned, Lee proposed a taller building, one that would draw the attention of vehicles on the highway. The result was a concrete monolith designed by Breuer, an internationally-known modernist architect.
Breuer, a Bauhaus alumnus, believed that sections of a structure should be separated by their functions. He designed this building in two sections: a two-story research and development space, and a four-story office building suspended above it. The negative space between these two sections serves twofold: while it was supposedly meant to reduce sound in the offices above from the labs below, it also frames a snapshot of the city’s skyline from the perspective of passing drivers.
Armstrong Rubber owned the site until 1988, when it was acquired by the Pirelli tire company. Pirelli soon sold the building, and it sat unchanged until IKEA purchased the site in 2003 and demolished most of the bottom two stories, a move that was criticized by numerous preservation groups. Further neglect of the building led many to believe it would be demolished, a move that seemed all too possible given its unpopularity among locals (a 2018 Business Insider article ranked it as the state’s ugliest building). Instead, it became perhaps the world’s most architecturally significant IKEA billboard.
But fans of Brutalism breathed a sigh of relief in December 2019, when local developer Bruce Becker purchased the building with the intention of turning it into a net-zero energy hotel and conference center. The Hotel Marcel, named for its legendary architect, will be open for reservations later in 2021.
Know Before You Go
The building can easily be viewed from the parking lot of New Haven's IKEA store, but the hotel is not yet open.