Mart Stam

Mart Stam

Mart Stam (1899–1986), born in the Dutch town of Purmerend, trained as a joiner and drawing teacher. He first worked in the Netherlands, later in Berlin and Switzerland in various architecture offices, including with Max Taut and Hans Poelzig. In 1924, he founded the Swiss avant-garde magazine “ABC” together with architect Hans Schmidt.

Stam felt an obligation to build and design rationally. Simplicity was not an end in itself for him. The visionary architectural studies he published made him internationally famous. In 1925, he began experimenting with gas pipes, from which he composed an innovative chair without back legs – the basic idea of the cantilever chair, which Thonet has been producing under various model numbers to this day – was born. In 1926, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe invited him to participate in the Werkbund exhibition “The Dwelling” in Stuttgart, where Stam created a row house with three units. He furnished two of them himself, and Marcel Breuer furnished the third. It was there that Mart Stam presented his cantilever chair without back legs – the prototype for countless cantilever chairs – for the first time. In 1928, he moved to Frankfurt am Main, where he tested the typification of cheap housing. In the winter semester 1928/29 he was a guest lecturer for urbanism at the Bauhaus Dessau. In 1930, he went to the Soviet Union to plan cities together with Ernst May (“Brigade May”) and his wife Lotte Stam-Beese. After refusing to plan a city in an especially inhospitable environment in 1934, he had to leave the USSR. In 1939 he took over the direction of the Institute for Applied Arts Education in Amsterdam. After 1945, he was unable to continue his former successes. In 1948, he moved to the east of Germany and became director of the Dresden Art Academy, and then of the Berlin-Weißensee Academy of Art starting in 1950. During the Cold War, the inventor of the cantilever chair without back legs found himself trapped between a rock and a hard place: In the GDR, Stam was considered a formalist with close ties to the Bauhaus, while in the Netherlands, where he returned to in 1953, he was viewed as a leftist reformer. From 1977 onward he withdrew to Switzerland. Stam was awarded the artistic copyright for the cantilever chair, which is today owned by Thonet.


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