Mart Stam (1899-1986)

Dutch architect, urban planner and furniture designer, Mart Stam strode into the world of architecture at just 21. His style of design has been classified as New Objectivity, an art movement formed against Expressionism during the 1920’s German depression.

Portrait of Mart Stam

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About His Life

Mart Stam was born in Purmerend, Holland, on 5 August 1899, entering life among people of progressive beliefs and activist temperament.

We, young people, want light and freedom, instead of darkness.

he wrote. When he was 21, he joined the Rotterdam design group Opbouw, where talk of design purity and industrial production were fervent and rising. After some time, he met up with Hans Schmidt, Alfred Roth and El Lissitzky, fellow designers and architects, 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.

Mart Stam, by 1928

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However, in 1920, Stam’s fervent ideals led to his imprisonment, lasting six months, for refusing to serve in the military. 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-Weißensee. He returned to Amsterdam in 1953 but emigrated with his wife to Switzerland in 1977 and withdrew from public view. He did in 1986 in Zurich.

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 then developed the gas pipe chair, the first of a set that made history. During the Die Wohnung exhibition, he expounded his first set of cantilever chairs, which woud help reshape furniture as a whole; from that moment onwards, his style had developed more and more, leading to more elaborate models – such as the s33 and s43 chair (1926),  created via curved steel tubes as well. This was considered the material of the future in modernist circles, and in fact it revolutionized the modern conception of furniture design, due to the strength of the material and the solidity of its structure. Stam would enter a dispute with Marcel Breuer over the rights and ownership of this innovation, eventually emerging victor and seeing his chairs being put into production for the first time by Thonet, in 1932.

S33 chair; by Mart Stam

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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 Bauhaus, the Weissenhof Estate: this was a housing estate, built for exhibition in Stuttgart, around 1927; it was an international showcase of what would later become known as 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.

Haus Mart Stam, Rotterdam, Arbeitszimmer, Eisenmöbel Entwurf, 1927

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Stam and style

S43 cantilever chair; by Mart Stam, 1931

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Mart Stam is undoubtedly best known for his S43 cantilever chair: within its design, he combined tubular steel with molded plywood, to strip down the form of his original 1927 cantilevered tubular steel chair. His style of design, heavily influenced by his determination and beliefs, has been classified as New Objectivity, an art movement that arose as a reaction against Expressionism during the German depression in the 1920s. Stam’s style is characterized by clean lines, and a straightforward, functionally minded approach to construction, even at the beginning of his career, when Stam, not yet interested in the bending effect obtained with cold-bent steel tubes, had his attention nonetheless captured by simple designs devoid of ornaments.

Welded gas pipe cantilever chair, 1926

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