A study in classic furniture design for 85 years – Thonet tubular steel cantilever chairs at the Leipzig National Library
The landmark main building of the splendid library in the centre of Leipzig is characterised by impressive statues, busts and gilt decorative elements from the turn of the 20th century. Creating a contrast to the rather pathos-laden architectural style of the building, which dates from the late Wilhelmine period, the interior of the natural science reading hall embraced the objective and functional influences of the Bauhaus as early as 1933. To this day, those undertaking research and study at the library can enjoy the elegance and comfort of iconic Thonet model S 43 F tubular steel cantilever chairs (design and artistic copyright: Mart Stam) at over 100 workstations. Classic lamps from the 1920s enhance the reading hall’s neat rows of desks and complement the utilitarian and reduced aesthetics of the 300 m² rectangular hall.
The original chairs were supplied by furniture manufacturer Thonet in 1933, with 100 of the model S 43 F chairs (with armrests) delivered to the library. This pioneering design had been developed only a few years before by Mart Stam, one of the leading lights of the Bauhaus movement. The cantilevered tubular steel frame offers particular comfort due to its subtle flex which enables a relaxed seated position – even during long working days. The reduced and clear form of the chairs lends a timeless grace to the light-flooded reading hall. The black hue of the moulded plywood seat, backrest and armrest elements is repeated on the desks, which accommodate two chairs each.
While the quality of the design and manufacture affords a remarkable durability to the chairs, after World War II and the foundation of the German Democratic Republic it became impossible to replace any of the chairs in the reading hall for several decades. However, following reunification, Thonet was delighted to receive an inquiry for the addition of eight new chairs to the existing, and beautifully lasting furniture in the natural science reading hall.
Thus in 2002, after more than 70 years, the Frankenberg based company once again delivered a consignment of S 43 cantilever chairs, and repaired minor damage to two more of the existing models. The majority of the original chairs are still enjoyed at the Leipzig National Library today; with only some renewal of the tubular steel frames of these historic pieces needed in 2006, due to their continued daily use. All the wooden elements of the original chairs were reused, offering a fine testament to the quality and durability of Thonet furniture.
Mart Stam’s S 43 chair (with armrests), from Thonet
A gem in Leipzig’s inner city
The Leipzig National Library was inaugurated in 1916 as the “German Library”. Since then, it has been documenting and archiving all German and German language publications in print and audio that have been published since 1913 and making them accessible to the public. The building on Deutscher Platz is among Germany’s most beautiful and admired library buildings. Since the first foundation stone was laid, four extensions were added – most recently the futuristic building complex designed by the Stuttgart architect Gabriele Glöckler in collaboration with ZSP Architekten in 2011. In 1990, the German Library merged with the Frankfurt Library – together, the institutions have presented themselves since 2006 under the name “German National Library”.
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