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New exhibition celebrates the Bauhaus’s tubular steel furniture

Meet Anton Lorenz, the man behind the steel tube aesthetic

Black and white photo of steel tube furniture
Smoking area in the day room of Anton Lorenz’s Berlin apartment, 1932.
Photo: Emil Leitner, © Verlagsanstalt Alexander Koch

In 1925, Marcel Breuer designed the Wassily Chair, a sleek seat made from structural pieces of leather bound by a frame of tubular steel. The chair shot a young Breuer to fame thanks to its novel use of metal and cool utilitarian looks. Lesser known is Anton Lorenz—the man who helped make Breuer’s tubular steel designs and many others’ a reality.

“Anton Lorenz: From Avant-Garde to Industry,” a new exhibition at Vitra Schaudepot of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, looks at Lorenz’s legacy as the man behind the Bauhaus’ famous “machined aesthetic.” Lorenz was a designer, but he was first and foremost a businessman who was able to identify the steel tube trend and make it accessible to both designers and customers through his manufacturing ventures.

The 100,000th Barcaloafer, Anton Lorenz standing, 1947.
© Vitra Design Museum, Estate Anton Lorenz
Assembling of the Barcaloafer, ca. 1947.
© Vitra Design Museum, Estate Anton Lorenz

At the time, tubular steel designs were considered exceedingly modern. The reimagining of metal allowed for new forms to take shape—they were light but sturdy, and some designs, like the cantilever chair, seemed to defy physics. “Like virtually no other material, tubular steel embodied avant-garde ideals of the Bauhaus such as the quest for a ‘machine aesthetic’ and radically new structural solutions,” the curators say.

Black and white graphic
Cover of the Standard Möbel catalogue, 1927
Photo: © Vitra Design Museum

Though Lorenz didn’t have a hand in every tubular steel design produced during the Bauhaus era, he did work with a number of manufacturers including Standard Möbel, Desta, and Thonet, while establishing his own businesses and getting patents for a large number of tubular designs.

Many of the pieces and photos in the exhibition are taken from Lorenz’s estate, which was given to the Vitra Design Museum in 1989. But the show also explores a breadth of designs including Mies van der Rohe’s MR10 chair and Hans Luckhardt’s LS22 lounger.

Wicker chair with tube legs
Anton Lorenz, armchair “KS41g,” 1929-30
Photo: Jürgen Hans, © Vitra Design Museum
Black leather cantilever chair
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, chair “MR10,” 1927
Photo: Jürgen Hans, © Vitra Design Museum

“Anton Lorenz: From Avant-Garde to Industry” runs through May 19.