Mart Stam (1899-1986)

Dutch architect, urban planner and furniture designer Mart Stam’s design style is New Objectivity. The art movement formed against Expressionism during the 1920s German depression.

Mart Stam Photo in black and white where he appears to be looking off into the distance.
Mart Stam Photo

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About His Life

Mart Stam was born in Purmerend, Holland, on 5 August 1899, and entered life among progressive people with activist temperaments. After he turned 21, he joined the Rotterdam design group Opbouw, where talks of design purity and industrial production were fervently rising. After some time, he met up with Hans Schmidt, Alfred Roth and El Lissitzky, and others in Zurich, where they founded the ABC group. His personality was shaped by obstinance, idealism, courage and outspokenness and led him to state, “we have to change the world.”

However, in 1920, Stam’s fervent ideals led to his imprisonment, lasting six months, for refusing to serve in the military. Then, between 1928 and 1929, he worked as an architect in Frankfurt, where he helped build the Hellerhof housing estate. In that period, he was a guest lecturer at the Bauhaus, teaching elementary construction theory and urban planning. Later, in 1939, he assumed the top position at the Academy of Arts and Crafts in Amsterdam, and in 1950 he was named director of the Conservatory for Applied Art in Berlin-Wei├čensee. He returned to Amsterdam in 1953, but immigrated with his wife to Switzerland in 1977 and withdrew from public view. He died in 1986 in Zurich.

Mart Stam's natural leather chair: A dark metal legged and armed chair with white a white leather cushion and back.
Mart Stam’s natural leather chair

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Working with Leather and Steel

After moving to Berlin, Stam devised a steel-tubing cantilever chair, using  lengths of standard gas pipe and standard pipe joint fittings as the basis. Inspired by a cantilever tubular steel seat that he saw installed in a 1926 Tatra T12 two-door saloon car, he developed the gas pipe chair. During the Die Wohnung exhibition, he displayed his first set of cantilever chairs, which helped reshape furniture as a whole. From that moment onwards, his style developed more and lead to more elaborate models, such as the s33 and s43 chair (1926). In addition, steel was the material used in modernist circles, and it revolutionized the modern conception of furniture design, due to the strength of the material and the solidity of its structure. Then, Stam entered a dispute with Marcel Breuer over the rights and ownership of this innovation, eventually seeing his chairs in production by Thonet, in 1932.

Stam was extraordinarily well-connected, and his career intersected with turning points in the history of 20th-century European architecture, including his work on chair design at the Weissenhof Estate. The housing estate, built for exhibition in Stuttgart, around 1927, was as an international showcase of the International style of modern architecture. The permanent housing project put him in the company of Le Corbusier, Peter Behrens, Bruno Taut, Hans Poelzig, and Walter Gropius, resulting in an exhibition that had as many as 20,000 visitors a day.

Mart Stam Haus in Stuttgart: A light blue building with black-trim rectangular windows in two distinct rows.
Mart Stam Haus in Stuttgart

Image source: by cottage industries

Le Corbusier in Stuttgart: A large white building with a skinny row of rectangular windows along the top. Additionally, there is a red porch with blue pillars for support.
Le Corbusier in Stuttgart

Image source: by cottage industries

Stam’s Style

His 43 cantilever chair is the most famous of his works. He combined tubular steel with molded plywood to strip down the form of his original 1927 cantilevered tubular steel chair. Further, his style of design, heavily influenced by his determination and beliefs, is classified as New Objectivity. Notably, the style has by clean lines, and a straightforward, functionally minded approach to construction. Even at the beginning of his career, Stam had his attention nonetheless captured by simple designs devoid of ornaments.

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