Born 1926 in Austria, Hauer studied sculpture at Vienna's Academy of Applied Arts. In 1950 he began to explore perforated modular structures that lent themselves to architectural usage. In 1955, following some large-scale architectural installations in Austria, Hauer earned a Fulbright grant and did postgraduate work at the Rhode Island School of Design and Yale University. He continued to develop his patented designs along with the technology to produce them, and installed the modular, light-diffusing walls in buildings throughout the United States and seven other countries. At the invitation of Josef Albers, Hauer joined the Yale faculty in 1957 and taught there until 1990. He continues to work as an independent sculptor in Bethany, Connecticut.
Following the 2004 publication of Erwin Hauer: Continua by Princeton Architectural Press, there was renewed interest in his designs. Currently, Hauer and his partners in Erwin Hauer Studios, LLC are regenerating his designs and adding new ones, using contemporary digital technology and production methods.