Mart Stam  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Mart Stam (Aug 5 1899, Purmerend - Feb 21 1986, Zürich) was a Dutch architect, urban planner, and chair designer. Stam was extraordinarily well-connected, and his career intersects with important 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 Weimar Frankfurt housing project then to Russia with the idealistic May Brigade, to postwar reconstruction in Germany.


Stam studied at the Royal School for Advanced Studies in Amsterdam, then worked as a draftsman in an architectural practice through the year 1922. In Zurich in 1923 he co-founded the magazine 'ABC Beitrage zum Bauen' (Contributions on Building) with architect Hans Schmidt, future Bauhaus director and Swiss communist Hannes Meyer, and El Lissitzky.

Stam is also credited for at least part of the design of the Van Nelle Fabriek in Rotterdam, built from 1926 through 1930 (dates vary). This coffee and tea factory is still a powerful example of early modernist industrial architecture, recently rehabilitated into offices. An embarrassing dispute over the authorship of this design caused Stam to leave the office of Leen Van der Vlugt, the credited designer.

After moving to Berlin, Stam devised a steel-tubing cantilever chair, using lengths of standard gas pipe and standard pipe joint fittings. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became aware of Stam's work on the chair during planning for the Weissenhof Siedlung and mentioned it to Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus. This led almost immediately to variations on the cantilevered tubular-steel chair theme by both Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, and began an entire genre of chair design. In the late 1920s, Breuer and Stam were involved in a patent lawsuit in German courts, both claiming to be the inventor of the basic cantilever chair design principle. Stam won the lawsuit, and, since that time, specific Breuer chair designs have often been erroneously attributed to Stam. In the United States, Breuer assigned the rights to his designs to Knoll, and for that reason it is possible to find the identical chair attributed to Stam in Europe and to Breuer in the U.S.

Stam contributed a house to the 1927 Weissenhof Estate, the permanent housing project developed and presented by the exhibition "Die Wohnung" ("The Dwelling"), organized by the Deutscher Werkbund in Stuttgart. This put him in the company of Le Corbusier, Peter Behrens, Bruno Taut, Hans Poelzig, and Walter Gropius, and the exhibition had as many as 20,000 visitors a day.

In 1927 he became a founding member, with Gerrit Rietveld and Hendrik Petrus Berlage, of the Congrès Internationaux d`Architecture Moderne (CIAM).

In 1930 Stam became one of the 20 architects and urban planners organized by Frankfurt city planner Ernst May who traveled together to the Soviet Union to create a string of new Stalinist cities, including Magnitogorsk. The "May Brigade" included Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, her husband Wilhelm Schütte, Arthur Korn and Hans Schmidt. Stam was there in February 1931 to participate in the struggle to build rational worker housing from the ground up, an effort ultimately defeated by adverse weather, corruption, and poor design decisions. Stam moved to planning activities in Makeyevka in Ukraine in 1932, then to Orsk, with his friend Hans Schmidt (again) and with Bauhaus student and future wife Lotte Beese, then to the copper-mining Soviet city of Balgash. Stam returned to the Netherlands in 1934.

Stam was later named director of the Institute of Industrial Art in the Netherlands. From 1948 to 1952 he moved to postwar Germany, with its major reconstruction projects. In 1948 he took a professorship at the Academy of Figurative Arts in Dresden and began advocating a modern, strict structure for the heavily destroyed city, a plan which most of the citizens rejected as an "all-out attack on the identity of the city", and which would have obliterated most of the city's remaining landmarks. In 1950 Stam became director of the Advanced Institute of Art in Berlin. Returning to Amsterdam in 1953, beginning in about 1966 Stam and his wife moved to Switzerland and withdrew from public view.

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