Mart Stam (1899 – 1986) Dutch architect and designer

1927 Residence for Weissenhof Estate exhibition, Stuttgart Mart Stam
1927 Residence for Weissenhof Estate exhibition, Stuttgart Mart Stam

Architect, urban planner and furniture designer

Mart Stam (1899 – 1986) was a Dutch architect, urban planner, and furniture designer. Stam was extraordinarily well-connected, and his career intersects with essential moments in the history of 20th-century European architecture, including chair design at the Bauhaus, the Weissenhof Estate, the Van Nelle Factory, an important modernist landmark building in Rotterdam, buildings for Ernst May’s New Frankfurt housing project then to Russia with the idealistic May Brigade, to postwar reconstruction in Germany.

His design approach has been categorised as New Objectivity, a counter-movement and outgrowth of Expressionism that emerged during the Great Depression in Germany in the 1920s.

Biography

Early life

Martinus Adrianus Stam was born on August 5, 1899, in Purmerend, Netherlands, to a tax collector and his wife. Between 1917 and 1919, he attended a local school in Purmerend before attending the Royal School for Advanced Studies (Rijksnormaalschool for Teekenonderwijzers) in Amsterdam for two years.

Stam began working as a draughtsman for an architectural office in Rotterdam after qualifying in 1919. Between his education and his first job, he confidently said, “We have to transform the world.” Granpré Molière, an architect, was in charge of the firm. Molière was a traditionalist with a distinct design approach than Stam. Still, the two got along swimmingly, maybe because they were both Christians. Stam was invited to work for Molière in his Rotterdam office.

Stam was imprisoned in 1920 for refusing to serve in the military (dienstweigeren), which was mandatory in the Netherlands. Those who refused to conscribe were imprisoned for the duration of the conscription period. Fortunately, Stam was released in 1922. Later that year, he achieved his first significant achievement: he was hired to draw up urban infrastructure plans for the Hague region after winning a competition. In many ways, this was a typical layout. Still, the most notable characteristic was that most roadways, particularly along the coast, ran perpendicular to the shore. Stam’s decision to design them in this manner is still unknown.

1920s Germany

Stam had moved to Berlin by the end of 1922, where he began to establish his style as a New Objectivity architect. He worked well in two big agencies during the three years – Bureau Granpré Molière and To Van der Mey. This effort would be highly beneficial to him in his later years.

Architectural projects Germany

His first significant project in Berlin was under the direction of well-known architect Max Taut. Stam was tasked with designing various structures in Germany, most notably assisting Taut on the German Trade Union Federation Building in Düsseldorf. He also collaborated with Russian avant-garde architect El Lissitzky around this time. The Wolkenbügel, or cloud iron, was the pair’s most remarkable design, a t-shaped skyscraper supported by three metal-framed columns. The structure, which was never erected, was a stark contrast to America’s vertical architecture style since it only rose to a modest height before expanding horizontally over a junction to better use space. Its three posts were stationed on three distinct street corners, surveying the area. It was featured on the front cover of Adolf Behne’s book Der Moderne Zweckbau. Lissitzky wrote pieces about it for the Moscow-based architectural journal ASNOVA News (journal of ASNOVA, the Association of New Architects) and the German art journal Das Kunstblatt.

Co-founder of magazine ABC Beitrage zur Bauen

In 1924, he and El Lissitzky co-founded the magazine ABC Beitrage zur Bauen (Contributions to Building) in Zurich. Hans Schmidt, future Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer, Hans Wittwer, and Emil Roth were among the other editors.

ABC – Beiträge zum Bauen 1924-1928
ABC – Beiträge zum Bauen 1924-1928 

Stam is also credited with designing the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam, erected from 1926 to 1930. (dates vary). This coffee and tea plant, which was recently restored into offices, is a stunning example of early modernist industrial architecture. Stam left the office of Leen Van der Vlugt, the credited designer, due to an awkward argument regarding the design’s origin.

Tubular Steel Chair (patent dispute)

After moving to Berlin, Stam designed a steel-tubing cantilever chair, utilising lengths of standard gas pipe and ordinary pipe joint fittings. According to a new study, Stam was influenced by a cantilever tubular steel seat found in a 1926 Tatra T12 two-door saloon car. During the planning for the Weissenhof Siedlung, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became aware of Stam’s work on the chair and informed Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus. This prompted Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer to create variations on the cantilevered tubular-steel chair motif almost immediately, spawning an entire genre of chair design.

Cantilever chair in chrome and leather, 1926 by Mart Stam
Cantilever chair in chrome and leather, 1926 by Mart Stam

Breuer and Stam, both claiming to be the primary cantilever chair design principle inventors, were involved in a patent case in German courts in the late 1920s. Stam won the lawsuit, and certain Breuer chair designs have been erroneously credited to him since. Because Breuer assigned the rights to his designs to Knoll in the United States, the identical chair ascribed to Stam in Europe and Breuer in the United States can be found.

Exhibition Die Wohnung

The permanent housing project constructed and presented by the exhibition Die Wohnung (“The Dwelling”), staged by the Deutscher Werkbund in Stuttgart, included a house designed by Stam. This put him alongside Le Corbusier, Peter Behrens, Bruno Taut, Hans Poelzig, and Walter Gropius, and the exhibition drew up to 20,000 visitors each day. In 1927, he co-founded the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne with Gerrit Rietveld and Hendrik Petrus Berlage (CIAM).

New Frankfurt Project & Soviet Union

Stam was a member of the New Frankfurt project team in the late 1920s. Stam was one of 20 architects and urban planners led by Frankfurt city designer Ernst May who moved to the Soviet Union in 1930 to build a string of new Stalinist cities, including Magnitogorsk. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, her husband Wilhelm Schütte, Arthur Korn, Erich Mauthner, and Hans Schmidt were among the May Brigade’s members. In February 1931, Stam was there to take part in the struggle to construct rational worker housing from the ground up, an effort that was ultimately thwarted by lousy weather, corruption, and poor design judgments. In 1932, Stam relocated to Ukraine’s Makeyevka, then to Orsk, where he worked with his colleague Hans Schmidt (again) and Bauhaus student and future wife Lotte Beese, and finally to the copper-mining Soviet city of Balgash. In 1934, Stam returned to the Netherlands.

Post World War 2

Stam went on to become the director of the Netherlands’ Institute of Industrial Art. He travelled to postwar Germany, where he worked on large rehabilitation projects from 1948 until 1952. In 1948, he was appointed to the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Dresden, where he began advocating for a modern, strict structure for the heavily demolished urban landscape, a plan that most citizens rejected as an “all-out attack on the city’s identity” that would have obliterated most of the city’s remaining landmarks. Stam became the director of Berlin’s Advanced Institute of Art in 1950. After returning to Amsterdam in 1953, Stam and his wife relocated to Switzerland in 1966 and went into hiding. He died in Zürich at the age of 86.

Sample of Mart Stam Works

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, February 16). Mart Stam. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:38, June 23, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mart_Stam&oldid=1007112284

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