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Mart Stam

Biographies
Mart Stam

*  1899 Purmerend
† 1986 Goldbach


Mart Stam was born as Martinus Adrianus Stam in the Dutch town of Purmerend in 1899. At first he made an apprenticeship as a carpenter and drawing teacher in Purmerend and in Amsterdam. In 1922 he moved to Berlin in order to work for, among others, Hans Poelzig and Max Taut, as he had always been interested in architecture and had even completed a distance study course in architecture. In Berlin Mart Stam also came into contact with representatives of the Czech and Russian vanguard.
Having participated in the Weimar Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, Mart Stam went to Switzerland for some time, the country that he had chosen to be the place of his self-imposed isolation in the last decades of his life.
The year 1926 marked the beginning of an important period for Mart Stam: He was invited by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to participate in the Stuttgart Weißenhof exhibition. Mart Stam did not only put the plans for a terraced house into practice for this project, he also developed what would become his most prominent work, the steel tube 'Kragstuhl' without rear legs, which would go down in design history as the cantilever chair.
In terms of architecture, Mart Stam was concerned with the most urgent social problems in those days and thought up solutions for mass construction of humane and functional housing. After the CIAM conference in 1928, in which Mart Stam represented the Netherlands together with Gerrit Rietveld, Ernst May enabled the young architect to participate in projects for the "Neues Frankfurt" (New Frankfurt), for instance the Hellerhof housing estate. At the same time Mart Stam was also lecturing at the Bauhaus, being fascinated by its innovative teaching concepts.
Urban development projects lead Mart Stam, Ernst May and his staff members to Russia in 1930. He married the Bauhaus student Lotte Beese in Moscow, together with her and Willem van Tijen he started an architecture firm in Amsterdam in 1935/36, after they had returned from Russia, however, the firm was not crowned with success as they were not awarded many commissions. From their own initiative they began to construct reduced and functional terraced houses with ground floor garages in Amsterdam, this type of house became known as so-called "Drive-in-Flats".
After the war years, which Mart Stam had spent as the director of the Amsterdam School of Applied Art ("Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs"), he decided to move to the country that was to become the GDR, in the mean he had been divorced from Lotte Beese and married Olga Heller. However, the hopes he had in the new socialist Germany were bitterly disappointed: His attempts to reorganize the Academy of Fine Art and the School of Applied Art in Dresden, following the Bauhaus concept, was not crowned by success, which is why he took over the post as director of the Berlin School of Applied Art. His sometimes too liberal Bauhaus ideas also encountered resistance there, he was even ordered to stay away from the facility in 1952. It is therefore not surprising that Mart Stam, disappointed by the cultural policies of the GDR, left the country frustrated in 1953, in order to return to Amsterdam. He continued to work as a self-employed architect up until 1966, when he retreated to Switzerland after having suffered from a severe disease. He did not participate in public life ever after and died in Goldach in 1986 at the age of 87.

Cf.: Mart Stam 1899-1986. Architekt - Visionär - Gestalter. Sein Weg zum Erfolg 1919-1930, ex. cat. Deutsches Architekturmuseum Frankfurt am Main, Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau und Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Tübingen et al, 1997.