smow Design Blog


Belgium is uncharted territory for us. Not literately, we’re in Belgium fairly frequently. Indeed so frequently that we are often asked why we don’t move to Belgium. Because we’ve been to Belgium, we reply (JOKE!!))

But Belgium is uncharted territory in terms of our annual #campustour: the design school summer showcases in Belgium tending as they do to run parallel to those in London, and that in previous years we’ve had good reason to be in London at that time, we’ve, logically, not been in Belgium. This year ’twas different, we had absolutely no reason to be in London and every reason to be in Belgium, which, yes, does sound like a metaphor. Isn’t, but does sound like one…… And so took the opportunity to visit a trio of Belgian design schools, technically a quartet, but legally a trio……

#campustour 2019: Belgium


“This house is a work by Le Corbusier” announces a yellow and white sign on the edge of the Zürichhorn park, “I commissioned it in his honour, and as a location from which to spread his ideas amongst a wider public”

With the exhibition Mon univers the Pavillon Le Corbusier Zürich attempt to do just that via an exploration of the Swiss architect, artist, designer, author, et al, through a very specific filter: that which he collected.

A Spanish Tinaja, ships cowls, and furniture by Le Corbusier/Jeanneret/Perriand, as seen at Mon univers, Pavillon Le Corbusier, Zürich


It’s almost impossible to reflect on design education without reflecting on Bauhaus. Especially this year. And especially when a tour of design school summer exhibitions takes you to Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen, to those (contemporary) German States where for 100 years Bauhaus both began and found its de facto end.

And while there will be time in coming posts for those reflections on the Gropius school and the developments of the century past, the focus of our 2019 #campustour visits to Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen, specifically Halle and Weimar, is and was the contemporary students and the work realised in the year past.

#campustour 2019: Germany – Sachsen-Anhalt & Thüringen


The Chinese government warning pro-democracy demonstrators to end their street protests. Central Americans risking their lives, and dodging border guards and fences, to cross into America in search of the, much vaunted, American Dream. A dogmatic right wing English Conservative government showing their contempt for the people of Scotland.

Thankfully, the world has moved on since 1989……

 Postmodern furniture and the Brandenburg Gate, as seen at 1989 - Culture and Politics, The National Museum Stockholm


With its abundance of forests, earths, coals and waterways the contemporary Nordrhein-Westfalen has long been an important centre of production, industry, trade and by extrapolation design and creativity; at various stages in history important impulses and innovation radiating from communities such as Aachen, Hagen, Krefeld, Essen, Soest or Düsseldorf…….

………and since the end of the 19th century from the myriad of art, applied art, architecture and design schools dotted throughout the region: a myriad from which logistical realities, and some most unfortunate timetabling, regrettably, meant that the 2019 smow blog #campustour only visited two. If two that represent very different approaches to design education…….

#campustour 2019: Germany – Nordrhein-Westfalen


Small as the Netherlands may be in the global jigsaw, it has been the source of numerous significant impulses in terms of architecture and design, numerous significant impulses which for reasons of brevity we’ll reduce to the Dutch gable as a defining feature of baroque architecture, to De Stijl as leading protagonists of the early 20th century European avant-garde, and to that late 20th century Dutch avant-garde that developed in the course of the 1990s and which did so much to force an evolution in understandings of design, including allowing for an increasing popular acceptance of conceptual design and thereby the understanding that design isn’t necessarily the object but how one gets there and what we (can) collectively learn from the journey.

How the coming generation of Dutch, and in the Netherlands trained non-Dutch, designers are making their way, what they’ve learned thus far from their journey and why they are undertaking the journey, were among the motivations for taking our 2019 #campustour to the Netherlands.

Small as the Netherlands may be in the global jigsaw, our visits to its design schools was the source of more than could comfortably be accommodated in one post, and so we’ve split it into two, starting in Maastricht and Arnhem…….

#campustour 2019: Netherlands - Maastricht & Arnhem


Whereas in the natural world spring ushers in new life but once a year, in the design museum world re-awakenings are biannual: a spring spring as curators awake from their winter hibernation and an autumn spring as they awake from their summer dormancy. Both bringing forth not only the promise of growth, energy, of a new esprit, of new experiences, new sensations, but confirming the eternal nature of existence, that we are but a moment on an endless spiralling continuum…….

Our five new stimulations for September 2019 can be found in Berlin, Helsinki, Weil am Rhein, Stockholm and ‘s-Hertogenbosch…….

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for September 2019


In 1968 the East German designer Rudolf Horn opined that “the changed tenor of industrial production in the socialist society, in relation to its task of satisfying cultural needs on a mass scale, raises the question of how despite mass production the consumer can realise an individual [domestic] environment, and in addition forces us to consider the problem of how the cultured personality can creatively contribute to the design of their immediate surroundings.”1

How indeed….?

It was, however, a largely rhetorical question, because, and as the exhibition Rudolf Horn – Wohnen als offenes System at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden explains, in 1967 Rudolf Horn had already formulated an answer, or perhaps more accurately put, in 1967 formulated a framework via which to allow each and everyone of us to approach our own answer…..

Rudolf Horn - Wohnen als offenes System, the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden


If the recent history of Germany is one of East and West, the longer history is one of North and South; a history which, and simplifying to the point of falsehood, saw the rivalry and conflict between the Hanseatic League and the traders of the southern states become a rivalry and conflict between Prussia and the realms of Baden, Württemberg, Hessen and Bavaria: the latter being the most reluctant to ratify the 1870 November Treaties and join the new Deutsches Reich. A reluctance expressed not only by the then Bavarian parliament’s protracted deliberations on, and initial rejection of, the Treaties, but Bavaria’s then King, Ludwig II, he of the fairytale castles, absence from the formal proclamation of the Kaiserreich in January 1871.

Yet despite Bavaria’s long, deep, and (arguably) continuing, resistance and hostility to the union, it is Weißbier, Lederhosen and FC Bayern, and fairytale castles, which stand representative for many a non-German’s understanding of German identity.

Conversely, while Bavaria has contributed much to the development of contemporary design in Germany, not least through the efforts of, and amongst many others, the late 19th/early 20th century Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, Die Neue Sammlung as one of the oldest and largest dedicated design museums, the Munich born and based designer Konstantin Grcic or Stuttgart born but Chiemgau based design publisher Nils Holger Moormann, the popular understanding of “Designed in Germany” lies outwith the Freistaat, in the realms of gute Form, largely developed in Ulm and arguably most popularly understood through Braun; in Stuttgart’s Porsche or Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen; or, and this year of all years, by Bauhaus, an institution which as we noted in context of our 2019 smow Song Contest coverage, was very, very Prussian in its make up, students from Bavaria being outnumbered by those from Mars. More or less.

But what can Bavaria’s design schools contribute to altering such a position? To raising the profile of Bavarian design? We can’t offer any concrete prognosis, or at least not here, logistic realities meaning that we only visited two Bavarian design schools, technically three but we’ll get to that, at length; however, from the two (three) we did visit……

#campustour 2019: Germany - Bavaria


Partly for reasons of its size, and partly on account of the way the then nations of the contemporary Germany responded to the challenges and realities of late 19th/early 20th century industrialisation, Germany is home to a truly outrageous number of architecture and design schools, certainly more than it would be logical, prudent or congenial to pack into one post.

And so to save your nerves, and our fingers, we’ll present the German leg of our 2019 #campustour via a series of regional postings, starting in and around the German capital.

campustour 2019: Germany - Berlin & Brandenburg


The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was (reportedly) the opinion that, “in art there are only fast or slow developments. Essentially it is a matter of evolution, not revolution.”

A position one, arguably, could apply to all expressions of contemporary culture and society.

And a position the exhibition SPACES. Interior design evolution at the ADAM Brussels Design Museum explores in context of domestic interiors.

SPACES. Interior design evolution, ADAM Brussels Design Museum, Brussels


Alongside Switzerland’s most important contributions to contemporary society – bobsleigh, Dada and muesli – a trio we regularly combine on a Wednesday evening, Switzerland has also contributed much to the (hi)stories of architecture and design: quite aside from creatives such as, and remaining for reasons of brevity in recent history, the likes of Max Bill, Le Corbusier, Susi Berger, Fritz Haller or Sigfried Giedion, organisations such as the Schweizerische Werkbund were every bit as important as their German and Austrian counterparts in disseminating inter-war ideas, similarly the retailer/manufacturer Wohnbedarf, established in Zürich in 1931 was one of the more proactive commercial protagonists in the popularising of interior understandings of the pre/post-War decades, while, and as we learned from the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich’s permanent collection exhibition, ’twas in Switzerland that aluminium smelting was developed. A metal which has contributed much to the (hi)story of design and society.

Charged with ensuring that Switzerland remains relevant in coming decades are the country’s architecture and design schools, a collection of institutions with a wide range of foci and formats: the logistics of an undertaking such as a #campustour meaning however that we only made it to Basel and Zürich…… Apologies to all others, it wasn’t lack of interest which kept us from your doors. Yet although we visited but a fraction of the Swiss design school cheese, it was to two exhibitions that represented different approaches to the design school summer showcase: the graduation show and the review of semester projects…..

#campustour 2019: Switzerland


For Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince Summertime may very well be a “Time to sit back and unwind”, for us Summertime is when our year finally, finally, gets going.

While others spend the long hot days of summer on the beach, in the mountains, riding around in their Jeep, their Benzo, Nissan or eating pizza at Lorenzos, we’re to be found either riding backwards in trains, our eyes fixed firmly on the past as we race into the future, terrified that a metaphor is becoming an omen, or wandering the corridors, ateliers and workshops of European design schools, considering and reflecting on not only the students’ semester and graduation projects, but contemporary European design education, the positions of the coming generation of designers, and questioning if the world, the society, laid out before us is one we we want to be part off? Weeks of travel, reflection and existential anguish sustained by no more than our endless curiosity, more water than we consume the rest of the year and the promise of a (near) daily falafel.

That’s our “new definition of summer madness”

Drrrums please…….


According to our old friend Roget possible synonyms for “August” include great, noble, impressive or worshipful.

We can’t promise the following quintet of exhibitions will exactly meet such qualities; however, they promise to be anything but frivolous, undignified or flighty explorations of their subject, and therefore certainly should be tending to the August in August 2019…….

5 New Architecture and Design Exhibitions for August 2019


In these dispatches we once doubted the prevalence of designer furniture in comics, noting and acknowledging the regular appearance of popular furniture designs in other visual media, we, off-handedly, opined, “… Designer furniture in a comic?”

Elegantly proving us very, very wrong the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition Living in a Box. Design and Comics not only explores the use and depiction of designer furniture and lighting in comics, but also considers how comics have contributed to and influenced furniture and lighting design.

Living in a Box. Design and Comics, Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot


According to the Greek philosopher Anaximenes of Miletus, air is the source of everything.

And whereas in the intervening 2500 years we have come to better understand the true nature, character and properties of air, as the exhibtion Design on Air at the Centre d’innovation et de design Grand-Hornu illustrates, air remains a very potent, stimulating, and protean creative force.

Design on Air, Centre d'innovation et de design au Grand-Hornu


On May 14th 2019 the European Court of Justice ruled that all employers are required “to set up an objective, reliable and accessible system enabling the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured.” 1

On July 15th 1855 Johannes Bürk was granted a patent for just such a system.

A system which, as the Uhrenindustriemuseum Villingen-Schwenningen’s exhibition Time, Freedom and Control – The Legacy of Johannes Bürk explains, paved the way, certainly in spirit, for many of the developments in terms of recording, monitoring and managing time which not only developed in the course of the industrialisation of the late 19th/early 20th century, but were imperative to industrialisation’s success.

And which continue to inform and define our post-industrial society.

Time, Freedom and Control. The Legacy of Johannes Bürk, the Uhrenindustriemuseum Villingen-Schwenningen


July was once known as Quintilis, and was the fifth month of the Roman calender. The fifth of ten. “Winter” being but an ill-defined cold and dark period between December and March.

And sensible as such as an arrangement sounds, and much as we could live with such an arrangement today, with the rise of the Roman Republic the wise decision was made to divide winter into January and February.

Wise not least because it means our contemporary year has 12 months: and thus two extra months in which to enjoy even more architecture and design exhibitions, and thereby to allow us all to even better understand the world which surrounds us.

Our quintet for Quintilis 2019 can be found in Stuttgart, San Francisco, Weil am Rhein, Melbourne and Dresden……

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for July 2019


On this, the longest day, a radio smow playlist devoted to that which Europe for the next 24 hours will have more of than at any other time this year. And which somehow still won’t seem enough.

We could do with a lot more light, a lot more illumination, in our contemporary society…………………

Fire. The first man made light....and still the most endearing....


To paraphrase the title of the recent exhibition at the Deutsche Architekturmuseum, with the Neues Frankfurt project the team of architects and urban planners around Ernst May and Ludwig Landmann sought to develop new housing for new humans.

With the exhibition Wie wohnen die Leute? the Historisches Museum Frankfurt explore the contemporary reality of the Neues Frankfurt estates and thereby the new housing of then in context of the new humans of today.

A home adapts by the group Historischer Stadtspaziergang, as seen at Wie wohnen die Leute? Historisches Museum Frankfurt


According to the old saying “Human spirit and the June wind often change swiftly”, and while we can undertake only little to influence the wind, a visit to an architecture or design exhibition should help strengthen, enhance, embolden and thus stabilise the human spirit. In June, or at any time of the year.

Our five recommendations for new exhibitions opening in June 2019 can be found in Ulm, Hornu, Munich, Gothenburg and Boston……

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for June 2019


In centuries past traditions were something that were established slowly, often becoming such long after those who had began them, who had understood their origins, meaning and function in contemporary society, had shuffled off this mortal coil; in our contemporary world traditions arrive over night, no-one having the patience to wait, no-one wanting to miss out on anything.

In which sense, celebrating in 2019 its second edition, our traditional 3daysofdesign Copenhagen #embassytour.

3daysofdesign Copenhagen 2019 embassytour


“I assure you that you and your work are the model case for what the Bauhaus has been after” wrote Walter Gropius to Wilhelm Wagenfeld in April 1965.

Just how Wilhelm Wagenfeld developed that “model case” “after” Bauhaus is explored, as least in terms of one design genre, in that genre for which Wilhelm Wagenfeld is most popularly known as a Bauhaus model, in the exhibition Wilhelm Wagenfeld: Lamps at the Wilhelm Wagenfeld Haus Bremen.

Tropfen (l) & Düren (r) by Wilhelm Wagenfeld for Glashütte Peill & Putzler, as seen at Wilhelm Wagenfeld: Lamps, Wilhelm Wagenfeld Haus, Bremen


The German town of Boppard sits on two of the most pronounced and prominent curves on the Mittelrhein.

Can it be a coincidence that Boppard’s most famous son, Michael Thonet, is most popularly known for his curving bentwood chairs?

Can it really be a coincidence?

Possibly. Almost certainly.

What is less contentious is that the flow and meandering of first Michael Thonet’s creativity and vigour and subsequently that of the company Thonet has carved its mark not only on the Rhenish Massif furniture design and on understandings of furniture, but also the furniture industry, from production to sales and distribution.

With the exhibition Thonet & Design the Neue Sammlung Munich embark on a voyage along some 200 years of Thonet design (hi)story.

Thonet & Design, Die Neue Sammlung - The Design Museum, Munich


For all the controversy surrounding smow Tel Aviv’s victory in the 2018 smow Song Contest, not least the question if there even is a smow Tel Aviv, the staging of the 2019 Contest in Israel does allow for a very nice reinforcing of the central theme of the 2019 smow Song Contest….

smow song contest 2019