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Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe – Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

If a central component of the Bauhaus philosophy was, in essence, to make art useful for industrial production and thus give art a contemporary relevance and function, what to do in a post-industrial world?* The answer from the German art historian and architecture theorist Heinrich Klotz was to unify art with digital technology, and thus give art a contemporary relevance and function.

Or the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, to give it its formal name; and an institution which subsequently gave rise to the neighbouring Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe.

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe

Established in 1989 the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie – Centre for Art and Media Technology – is a combination of digital media museum, laboratories and studios which in addition to archiving and explaining the history of digital media and digital technology also understands itself as a platform for both research into contemporary aspects of digital media and also for the production and realisation of new projects – in which context an important element of the wider institution is the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe.

Formally opened on April 15th 1992 the Hochschule für Gestaltung, HfG, Karlsruhe primarily owes its existence to the position of the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, ZKM’s, founding director Heinrich Klotz, that education was just as important as presentation and research, and thus that if Karlsruhe was going to develop as a centre where “traditional” art and “contemporary” digital media existed as equals and in a fashion where one enriched, enlivened and advanced the other, then a college was an essential to allow for a close co-operation and exchange of ideas between the established and the contemporary and between theory and practice.

Although often considered as an “electronic Bauhaus” Heinrich Klotz understood the HfG Karlsruhe much more as an “electronic HfG Ulm”, or perhaps better put, as being the next logical link in an evolutionary chain that started with Bauhaus, was updated and intensified by the HfG Ulm and which achieved its next logical metamorphosis in the HfG Karlsruhe and in particular the realisation of what Heinrich Klotz refers to as a Zweite Moderne – a Second Modernism.

The First Modernism having developed for the industrial age, the second for the digital. The third? That’s still very much open, and in any case we first of all need to get through the inevitable stylistic confusion of the coming post-digital era…..

In addition to offering courses of study in areas such as Media Art, Communication Design or Product Design a further important column on which the HfG Karlsruhe is built is Art Research and Media Philosophy; as such it is perhaps no accident that the Product Design Department at the HfG Karlsruhe has been led since 1994 by Professor Volker Albus, a designer and architect widely considered not only one of the most important theoreticians of the post-modern – or post-first-modern to remain true to Heinrich Klotz’s position – Neue Deutsche Design of the 1980s, but of German design since the 1980s.

The course of studies at the HfG Karlsruhe is project based, mixed across years and specialisations and every student is free to develop their course of studies as they see fit.

And despite the school’s grounding principle of the importance of digital media, that doesn’t mean that design students from the HfG Karlsruhe only produce digital products or lose themselves in the ceaseless creation of ever more Apps for ever more specific, niche, and thoroughly unimportant, areas of our lives. Far from it. Much more the considerations of and with contemporary media tend to take place in context of contemporary understandings of the relevance and function of design and architecture, rather than a direct application of digital technology. And indeed some of the most inspired analogue student projects we have seen originate from Karlsruhe. As ever, we refer the interested reader to the college’s kkaarrlls collection.

A taste for what students at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe have undertaken over the past year could be had at the 2016 Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016 end of term exhibition

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe - Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe – Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe – Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

As a project based course of studies the main focus of the 2016 Rundgang was such projects, among the most interesting of which for us were, LED/OLED it move! undertaken in cooperation with Stuttgart based lighting manufacturer NIMBUS and which sought concepts for transportable, battery powered lights; BETON – “Metamorphosen”Concrete – “Metamorphoses – with Volker Albus and which took its impulse from the Concrete Design Competition ran by the German Concrete Information Centre and which sought new ideas for working with the variability inherent in concrete as a material; or SKIN, die Macht der OberflächeSKIN, The Power of the Surface Material – by and with Kilian Schindler in which the current obsession – our word not the HfG’s – of the furniture industry with presenting established products in new material finishes and/or colour pallets and calling it a “new” product was placed under a conceptual microscope.

In addition the 2016 Rundgang provided a very welcome wiedersehen with the project Old World – New World which sought contemporary applications for cork, and we were also very taken with the wilful, and extremely humorous, misappropriation of Egon Eiermann’s table frame for exhibition design purposes. Having never met Professor Eiermann we can’t be 100% certain if he himself would necessarily have agreed with the idea; but given that he developed his table frame in Karlsruhe, and for use by Karlsruhe students, even if of the TU rather than HfG genus, we can think of no more appropriate place for such a development of the object. Nor a better example of the complexity that can exist with the simplest system.

If we did have one complaint it would be the three metre high presentation walls: yes the Aula of the HfG Karlsruhe has the space for such, but they did make it ridiculously difficult to properly view projects up high. Unless you happen to be three metres tall. Which we aren’t. Thus there were a couple of projects which from our terrestrial position looked very promising, but….

However, despite such considerations the 2016 Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe provided a concise, if thought-provoking, entertaining and highly informative insight into not only the work undertaken by HfG Karlsruhe students but the approach undertaken by the teaching staff to support and encourage that work, and the school’s pedagogical position. And that is ultimately what make such presentations valuable, interesting and worth visiting

Full details on the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe can be found at

* An interesting theoretical question in this context of course is if one can have a post-art world? Or does the fact that art exists for itself mean that it cannot not exist?

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe - Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe – Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe - Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe – Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe - Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe – Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe - Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe – Rundgang durch die Lichthöfe 2016

NeoCon Chicago 2016 Interview: Josef Kaiser, Chief Sales Officer, Vitra

Although geographically the (hi)story of Vitra begins in Basel, spiritually it begins in America and arrives in Switzerland in 1957 with the licences to produce works by US designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Girard; and then grows over the subsequent decades under the influence of the close co-operations which thus developed, for all those with George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames.

Given this close affinity with and to America it was perhaps inevitable that Vitra would one day set their sights on the American market, in many ways it is and was a “home” market, and in the mid-1980s the first, tentative, American steps were undertaken; even if trading in America meant, and means, trading without the works of Eames, Nelson et al, the US production and distribution licences for such designers remaining with Herman Miller.

That Vitra began trading in American in the mid-1980s was arguably no coincidence: not only was that a period when Vitra was increasingly developing its own products, and thus moving away from its “American” origins, but the company was also in the process of adding a new string to its bow, office furniture. In 1976 the Vitramat by Wolfgang Müller-Deisig was Vitra’s first self-developed office chair, and was closely followed by the Persona by Mario Bellini in 1979, Figura by Mario Bellini in 1984 and the AC 1 by Antonio Citterio in 1988, complimenting the office chairs came desk and storage systems such as Metropol by Bellini or Spatio from Citterio; while the 1993 research project and exhibition Citizen Office by and with James Irvine, Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and Michele De Lucchi marked Vitra’s first attempt to define the demands of future office environments and saw the proposition of new office concepts and new office furniture typologies.

Thus Vitra entered the American market in the 1980s with its office furniture programme, established its reputation in America with its office furniture programme, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, the office and contract market remains a major focus of Vitra’s American business and thus NeoCon Chicago one of the most important events for Vitra USA.

At NeoCon 2016 Vitra staged the American launch of both the Hack table system by Konstantin Grcic and the Belleville chair collection by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, while, and in nice demonstration of the closeness that exists between Artek and Vitra in the USA, also used NeoCon 2016 to launch the Bouroullec’s Kaari Collection for Artek.

We took the opportunity afforded by NeoCon Chicago 2016 to meet up with Vitra’s Chief Sales Officer, and former Vitra USA President, Josef Kaiser, to discuss the differences between the US and European markets, the challenges of the American market for a company such as Vitra, and life for Vitra without Eames et al, but began by asking how the situation in America has developed since Vitra took those first, tentative, US steps…..

Josef Kaiser: When Vitra first started trading in America it was somewhat difficult because in those days office systems were all about cubicles, and that wasn’t a market we wanted to get involved in or with, and so our focus in the early years was purely office chairs. However, because we were here we have been able to play an active role in the development away from cubicles and towards open office concepts, and in particular in the last five years or so things have changed radically. The cubicles still exist, are still being installed, but you don’t see them, for example, at fairs anymore, and more importantly attitudes are changing, are moving away from the fixed idea of the cubicle, and that means for us it is now much easier to talk to customers about the opening of the office environment, about flexible, variable office systems and the effect that can have on the office culture and workflows.

smow blog: And when you speak of “customers” is that companies directly, or do architects play a role in the American market?

Josef Kaiser: For us the market in America is much more dependent on architects than is the case in Europe. Here it is often the case that for any changes in an office an architect must be involved and that means that you generally always have an architect who specifies what is sourced and from whom. And in that sense a fair such as NeoCon is very important not only as an opportunity to present and explain our concepts, to explain the added value inherent in our office systems, but also in terms of establishing and developing relationships with architects.

smow blog: From which two questions arise, the first being does that mean in America the dealer network is less important for a company such as Vitra than in Europe or….

Josef Kaiser: ……no the dealers are still important, but it is a completely different culture. In America the dealers are often large corporations, at least in terms of the contract market, and there are numerous US dealers with turnovers of several hundred million dollars per year, which are scales we don’t have in Europe. And whereas in Europe Vitra has a leading position in our market, in America we are one of a hundred or more suppliers, and so as a relatively small, European, manufacturer it isn’t always easy to become established with American dealers.

smow blog: Which by extrapolation we presume means the main difference between NeoCon and Orgatec would be that here architects are the focus, whereas at Orgatec the main focus is the dealers and dealer networks?

Josef Kaiser: Exactly. Although that said at Orgatec 2016 we will be trying to be more interesting for architects, without losing the focus on the dealers, which will be challenge, but one we’re looking forward to, not least because this year we have our own hall, something which also underscores the difference in the markets, here in Chicago we have 370 square metres and in Cologne our own hall.

smow blog: What? A whole hall? All by yourselves?

Josef Kaiser: We will be in Hall 5 this year, a new hall for Orgatec, one which is being opened specially for us, and no we won’t be completely by ourselves, it will be a case of “Vitra + Friends”.

smow blog: Very intriguing, but we suspect you’re not going to tell us any more, and so let’s return to America. Aside from hall sizes how do the figures compare, how large and/or important is the American market for Vitra?

Josef Kaiser: At the moment America represents around 7% of our total turnover, which for us is a good figure and importantly one which has potential for further growth. And to place it in context, the market in America is for us much smaller than say Germany or Switzerland, where in both countries we have more customers and more turnover than here in America. Which isn’t to say America isn’t an uninteresting market, just very challenging.

smow blog: And in terms of the split office/domestic….?

Josef Kaiser: Office is the majority. In Europe we sell, for example, a lot of Eames in the home market, which obviously we don’t have here, while in terms of domestic furnishings not only is the nature of the market very different, but the tastes in furniture and interior design are very different from those in Europe, American’s tend to buy different things in different ways, and so for us the home market represents around 15-20% of our American business. However in the home market we are also seeing changes and increasing numbers of Americans who are interested in contemporary European design and the home furnishing solutions Vitra offer.

smow blog: We’ve been talking about “America” in general, we would however assume the most important markets for Vitra are essentially the major centres, or…..?

Josef Kaiser: Not entirely, America is very interesting for us in coastal areas. New York is our main market and then it remains interesting along the east coast both north towards Boston and south towards Washington. In contrast the centre, including Chicago, is less interesting for us, here the markets are much more traditional and not necessarily so interested in contemporary design concepts; but then on the west coast, San Francisco, Los Angeles, but also further north Seattle, Redmond and on to Canada and Vancouver, then there is much more interest in both the sort of solutions Vitra can offer and also for contemporary European design.

smow blog: Purely on account of some of the towns you mentioned, we’re assuming therefore that the creative industries, digital economy and similar branches are particularly relevant for yourselves?

Josef Kaiser: Very much so, and one particularly interesting example in that context is Austin, Texas, a relatively small city but one with lots of creativity, which is home to many creative individuals who are interested in and are looking for new ideas, and a city which is becoming ever more interesting for us and which offers more potential than many larger cities in the centre of the USA. However we also have a lot of customers in more traditional industries such as banking, pharmaceuticals or education where for all the adult education market, so colleges and universities, is very interesting for us.

smow blog: You stated a couple of times that the American market is “challenging”, what are the particular challenges that you have over here, or perhaps better put, where does the American contract furniture market vary most from the European?

Josef Kaiser: I’d say there are three main areas. Firstly on account of the nature of rental contracts the planning horizon in America is relatively short, certainly in comparison to what we know in Europe. In America an office is rarely planned for more than seven years, our products have a much longer lifespan, and so we have a quality which is better than that which is required for the American market, and so we need to find premium customers who have an interest in a premium product. Similarly, as a country America is, generally speaking, one that tends to buy cheaply and which thinks and handles with a tendency towards a throwaway mentality, that is moving more towards sustainability, but very slowly. And thirdly the bond between employer and employee that we know in Europe isn’t necessarily present in America. Employees don’t necessarily associate themselves to a company, while many employers promote a hire and fire mentality, and this combination doesn’t always result in positive, respectful, workplaces, and so not workplaces where much thought or attention is paid to the furniture. Consequently we need to find those companies where the opposite is the case and who are interested in developing a positive corporate culture.

smow blog: As you already mentioned, in America you can’t sell Eames et al, which means you’re, effectively, reliant, on European designers, does that pose a further challenge?

Josef Kaiser: Yes, very much so, but for us it also an excellent opportunity to prove ourselves in a market without Eames and Nelson, and thus to demonstrate that we can be successful without such classics. Classics are important and with the Prouvé collection we have a very interesting collection and one which is positively received in America, similarly with Artek and Alvar Aalto we now have designs which are very well known and well loved in America. However our main business in America is with contemporary European designers, the Bouroullecs, for example, are very important here, as are the products from Antonio Citterio or Alberto Meda, and so I see our success in America as evidence of the strength of the Vitra portfolio, and for all how the Vitra portfolio has positively developed in recent years through our focused co-operations with younger European design bureaus.

smow blog: Which is a nice link, European design vs American production. We know you have a facility in America, but do Vitra actually produce in America?

Josef Kaiser: We have a small plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where we undertake both final assembly and also local sourcing with the aim that 80% of our portfolio is either finished in America or the raw materials are sourced here. Products which require specialised manufacturing or where we simply don’t sell in relevant quantities are then imported from Europe.

smow blog: Which naturally raises the question, why?

Josef Kaiser: The principle reason is to allow for flexibility. Delivery times are very important in America, and that generally means short delivery times, and when you solely import from Europe that is very difficult and so in that respect local production and local sourcing is important in order to respond to customers’ demands.

smow blog: And from our European perspective on, let’s say,  American patriotism, we would imagine American’s also favour “Made in America”? Or is there an appreciation of European production and European quality standards?

Josef Kaiser: One finds both, there are those customers who want European design produced with a European manufacturing quality, but then, and especially in corporate America, there are increasingly internal guidelines which state that “Americans buy American”, and we can happily meet the demands of both groups.

smow blog: To end, the stand here is, let’s say, very Artek heavy for a Vitra showroom, we’re presuming this isn’t a “Vitra + Friends” dress rehearsal, so why not two stands, why the integration?

Josef Kaiser: In Europe we separate the brands much more deliberately, and acutely, than in America, not least because the nature of the American market means that promoting two brands independently is much more challenging, even given the traditions and strengths of both Vitra and Artek. Consequently for us it was a logical decision to, as it were, present Artek under the Vitra brand, not least because of how such a presentation concept helps explain the ideas of collage and of mixing and integrating products which underlies the Vitra philosophy. Things are however now changing, and for example in our New York showroom we have begun to present Artek much more as a standalone brand, and I expect that in the future we will, in all probability, represent both brands independently at such fairs.

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee – Rundgang 2016

As East Berlin’s Art and Design College the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee was in many ways symbolic of East Germany’s difficult relationship with Bauhaus and the legacy of inter-war functionalism. On the one hand the DDR needed the reduced, cost effective, mass-market, industrial objects striven for during the period. On the other a need to define a new, socialist, tradition for the new, socialist, state meant an almost dogmatic rejection of everything associated with the pre-war “Germany”, of anything and everything considered “capitalist”. Including functionalism. But then Bauhaus was closed by the Nazis, many functionalists, whether Bauhaus alumni or not, were banned from working and thus many choose to emigrate, as such Bauhaus and functionalism had relevant, anti-fascist propaganda value.

Thus while in the immediate post-war years functionalists were positively encouraged in the DDR, with the start of the so-called Functionalism Debate in the early 1950s they soon found their work denounced as a “weapon of imperialism”1, before in the second half of the 1950s such resistance faded and ultimately gave way to the pressures of social and economic reality.

And so it came to pass that in 1950 the Dutch architect and designer Mart Stam was appointed Rector of the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee, before departing in 1952 under conditions which couldn’t exactly be termed as “friendly”, even terming them “hostile” would underplay the nature of the relationship which had developed between Stam and the DDR authorities by late 1952. However in 1955 the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee’s then Professor of Architecture, and holder of Bauhaus Diploma Number 100, Selman Selmanagić, created an extension for the college: an extension that remains in use today, and which is in many ways symbolic of East Germany’s difficult relationship with Bauhaus and the legacy of inter-war functionalism.

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee

Established in 1946 as a pure art school, the institution’s programme was extended in 1947 to incorporate applied arts and architecture and thus, effectively, establishing the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee, KHB Weissensee, we know today. During Mart Stam’s short tenure at the KHB Weissensee a further, key, component of the KHB Weissensee philosophy was established: a universal introductory course on the basics of art and design to be undertaken jointly by students of all disciplines, be that art or design. A practice reminiscent in many ways of Bauhaus and a practice that remains in force today, which constitutes the first two semesters of all courses and thus is the foundation of all studies at Weissensee. A further central feature of the KHB Weissensee is the workshops, workshops which range from traditional technical wood and metal workshops over modern technical workshops, for example, CAD, film and photo workshops and on to more applied workshops such as those for printing, bronze casting or textiles, workshops which exist independently of the departments and which students from all disciplines are free to use as and when required.

What this approach means for the contemporary product design education at the KHB Weissensee, and how the students respond to the cross discipline approach could be reviewed at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee 2016 Rundgang.

The presentation of selected Product Design Master & Bachelor Projects, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

The presentation of selected Product Design Master & Bachelor Projects, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee – Rundgang 2016

As a relatively small design school, the annual Rundgang semester exhibition at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee is traditionally a compact, concise affair and the 2016 edition was no different. In addition to presenting a selection of the most recent Master and Bachelor projects the 2016 Rundgang also presented the results of selected semester courses, from which we were particularly taken by Stab-il with Professor Susanne Schwarz-Raacke and which sought concepts for simple “bases” – for example for tables – which can be quickly assembled and dissembled, and a course which produced a couple of interesting positions. And one very, very interesting idea, an idea so pleasing it still causes us to wake up in the middle of the night smiling. Sadly we’ve yet to find out by whom, and so will say now more. For now.

Projects from the semester project Stab-il, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Projects from the semester project Stab-il, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Merging Loops by Bára Finnsdóttir

In addition, and neatly demonstrating that at such exhibitions one should always move outwith your comfort zone and explore subject areas that you wouldn’t normally dream of approaching, we were very taken with Merging Loops, the Textile & Surface Design Bachelor Project by Bára Finnsdóttir.

Essentially an acoustic panel/room divider concept Merging Loops does things we’ve, quite frankly, never experienced before, and does them in very competent, satisfying and practical ways. Conceived as being either a modular free-standing or a ceiling attached, curtain/blind, system, the Merging Loops panels are essentially flat, can however be folded in on themselves, merged one could say, and thus allow for the individual and ever variable definition and delineation of space, and thus creation of individual and ever variable room micro-architectures. Aside from the practicality of the functionality, and in the case of the free standing version the simplicity of the inter-panel connections, the free standing versions can be stored flat when not needed, a genuine bonus. We see a lot of such acoustic/divider/room-in-room solutions, Merging Loops is one of those that will remain with us for a while to come yet, one in which we see a lot of capacity for further development, and it is certainly to be hoped that Bára is able to take the project further.

All in all a very informative and entertaining presentation, if we did have one complaint it was the date. Traditionally the KHB Weissensee Rundgang takes place parallel to that at the UdK Berlin and FH Potsdam, thus allowing for a very pleasant couple of art and design days in Berlin and Brandenburg. This year the Weissensee Rundgang was a week before the other two. Not good. Not practical. Not something we hope is repeated next year.

More information on the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee can be found at

1. Anne-Kathrin Weise, “Leben und Werk von Marianne Brandt” PhD Thesis, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, 1996

Merging Loops by Bára Finnsdóttir, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Merging Loops by Bára Finnsdóttir, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Grand Rapids Art Museum presents Modern Design at GRAM: 20th Century Furniture

“Does the world really need ever more chairs?”, is arguably the question we are most regularly asked.
Alongside, “What do you actually do all day?”

The answer to the second question depends on who posed it, in how far we hope to impress them or in how far we fear they may stop us doing what we do were they to discover what that actually is.

The answer to the first question is “Yes”

Or “Yes, if the new chair represents an advance over existing chairs”

A chair being not something you sit on, but a process, a material, an idea.

And an advancement not being simply a new colour or textile covering, but something which fundamentally improves the process, material or idea. And in the best cases, all three.

An impression of what that means can be found in the exhibition Modern Design at GRAM: 20th Century Furniture on show at Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Modern Design at GRAM: 20th Century Furniture

Modern Design at GRAM: 20th Century Furniture

Modern Design at GRAM: 20th Century Furniture

More a showcase than an exhibition per se 20th Century Furniture presents a very concise selection of the Grand Rapid Art Museum’s design collection through which in the words of the GRAM’s Chief Curator Ron Platt they aim to “introduce some of the different forms, shapes and thinking that have gone into twentieth century design and thus explain not just why the exhibits are visually appealing but also the thought, functional innovations and production practices which make them genuinely interesting”, and thereby, hopefully, expand the public’s understanding of what furniture design actually is. And that it isn’t just about objects which look “cool”

To this end the presentation features 20th Century Furniture designs by the likes of Verner Panton, Marcel Breuer, Frank Gehry or Charles and Ray Eames.

The latter being an inclusion which, and given that the Herman Miller factory, and thus the point where Charles and Ray’s visions became reality, stands just 30 kilometres down the road, poses the obvious question, “Does a 20th century furniture design exhibition in West Michigan have to include works by Charles and Ray Eames?”

“No not all,” laughs Ron Platt in response to our impudence, “I can well envisage an exhibition without the Eames and I don’t think they’d be upset by that! However we are lucky enough to have some marvellous objects by them, and objects which are always a pleasure to show”

And for us one of the genuine highlights of the showcase is just such a “marvellous object”: a bar stool designed by Charles and Ray Eames for the La Fonda restaurant in New York. The La Fonda chair is well known, equally the La Fonda table. But the La Fonda bar stool? Although arguably it is a much more interesting piece, not just formally, and functionally through the three separate footrests rather than the more normal ring, but also technically: whereas the La Fonda chair is constructed from two different die-cast aluminium elements, the La Fonda bar stool comprises three identical die-cast aluminium elements and thus represents a much more rational and economic construction and production system.

In addition through works by the American designer Peter Shire and his English colleague George Sowden 20th Century Furniture neatly reminds us that Memphis wasn’t a purely Italian phenomenon, the scattering throughout the museum of works by the likes of Hector Guimard or Paul T Frankl neatly expanding the story of 20th century design and helping place the developments in context of general developments in arts and crafts, while the untitled Harry Bertoia sculpture on the first floor reminds us that furniture designer is less a profession and more a talent.

And for all an understanding that a chair is not something you sit on, but a process, a material, an idea……..

As an exhibition Modern Design at GRAM: 20th Century Furniture is bijou, but does provide a very competent, entertaining and for all interesting and informative introduction to some of the essentials of contemporary furniture design.

Modern Design at GRAM: 20th Century Furniture runs at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, 101 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 until Sunday September 4th

Full details can be found at

Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd – Semester Exhibition 2016

On the steps leading to the entrance of the Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd is embossed “Ich will Designer werden” – “I want to be a designer.” With the criticism from Schwäbisch Gmünd alumni Markus Jehs concerning the quality of the discourse in global design education still ringing in our ears, we felt a very real need to grab a marker pen and add “, because…”

We didn’t. That would have be vandalism.

Although if we’re correctly informed graffiting on design schools is allowed, as long as you invent a new typeface specifically for the job and adequately document the development process. Otherwise it is vandalism. And plagiarism.

Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd - Ich will Designer werden

Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd – Ich will Designer werden

Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd – Semester Exhibition 2016

Established in 1907 as the Königliche Fachschule für Edelmetallindustrie – Royal College for the Precious Metals Industry – the modern Hochschule für Gestaltung, HfG, Schwäbisch Gmünd started to develop as a design institute during the 1920s when, and in the shadow of institutes such as Bauhaus or the Kunsthochschule Frankfurt, the first class in industrial styling and form giving was established. Post-war the largely craft based pre-war eduction was augmented by an increasing focus on formal elements before in 1983 the product design department was formally constituted and in 2005 the “Fachhochschule für Gestaltung” became the Hochschule für Gestaltung – the name is not irrelevant, the first Hochschule für Gestaltung was Bauhaus, the second the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, a post-war attempt to revive the Bauhaus tradition, and that just 60 kilometres from Schwäbisch Gmünd. In their approach to design education and the understanding of the design profession Schwäbisch Gmünd has clearly positioned itself

The product design degrees at the HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd begin with three joint semesters before the students move on to specialise in either product design or process design, specialisations supported by classes in more general design subjects such as, for example, aesthetics, ergonomics or material science, in addition to a compulsory practical semester with an external company, agency or institution through which the theory and practice of the studies should, ideally, be connected to the reality of the outside, non-academic, world.

How that theory and practice is taught at the HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd could be experienced at the 2016 summer semester exhibition in a broad range of showcases from across the years and  workshops and specialisations.

As ever, design student projects are about the way not the result and comparisons are always subjective, emotional and highly unfair…. that said the following three projects particularly caught our attention…

Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd

Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd

Lesalys by Julia Konrad and Eleonora Massarelli

To the traditional bedroom inventory belongs the bedside table and the bedside lamp. Tradition in addition dictating that the bedside lamp take up a third or more of the space on the bedside table and thus reduce the usability of the table to a level where it is just practical, but no more. Wouldn’t it, we have never asked ourselves, make more sense to integrate the two and thus create an object in which both function at 100%? We have never asked ourselves that question; Julia Konrad and Eleonora Massarelli did and in the context of the class “Intelligentes Licht/Wasser im öffentlichen Raum” – “Intelligent Light/Water in Public Spaces” – under the guidance of Matthias Wieser developed Lesalys

Now apart from the very obvious, and frankly worrying, question of since when the bedroom has been a “public” space, the idea is as charming as it is eloquent; a reading lamp is built into the frame of the bedside table. LED technology means that lamps constructed from pieces of wood with embedded LEDs have become a common occurrence, in effect Julia and Eleonora have taken what is normally free-standing or free-hanging and integrated it into an object; made it give up its freedom for the common good. Or at least they have done theoretically, which in no way guarantees that a final product is feasible and for all achievable in a sensible and pleasing form that allows for economic mass production …. but it is a first step. And one we hope they get the opportunity to develop further.

Lesalys by Julia Konrad und Eleonora Massarelli, as seen at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd Semesterausstellung 2016

Lesalys by Julia Konrad and Eleonora Massarelli, as seen at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd Semester Exhibition 2016

Design ausstellen – Ausstellen durch Design

Designing a design exhibitions is a tricky business. Art exhibitions are in many ways much easier, art objects being largely self-explanatory, or not, but always open to free interpretation. Design objects are however on display for a reason, are meant to impart some specific piece of information or transmit a particular purpose, and thus must be legibly and coherently displayed. Consequently it was especially pleasing to see the results of the project Design ausstellen – Ausstellen durch DesignExhibiting design – Designing Exhibitions – by and with Prof. Dr. Dagmar Rinker and looking at how best design can be presented in an exhibition context. We suspect we may have been the only people who were of that opinion, everyone else invariably looking for new, innovative products; but design needs to be explained, and for all design needs to be explained in our modern world where everything is design, even that which patently isn’t.

Analysing design exhibitions from the perspective of both the exhibition designer as well as that of the visitor the project sought to explore, amongst other aims, in how far scientific tools can or could be used to optimise the design of design exhibitions, while in the project presentation a nice comparison of four different ways of presenting the mundane coffee cup neatly explained how layout can affect perception. Much like we don’t believe an algorithm can tell you how to write a good and interesting blog post, we equally don’t believe that there is a universal approach to exhibition design, not least because the design concept is often largely defined by the space and the nature of the objects; that said a lot of design exhibitions could benefit from a lot more thought and so the more people who concern themselves with the specific problems of design exhibitions, and the more an exchange occurs, the better.

Design ausstellen - Ausstellen durch Design, as seen at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd Semesterausstellung 2016

Design ausstellen – Ausstellen durch Design, as seen at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd Semester Exhibition 2016

Warteraster by Stefanie Schneider and Moritz Gäckle

Such is the nature of our lives we spend an inordinately large amount of time at railway stations. Invariably at ridiculous hours of the day and night, equally invariably with troublesome baggage, both physical and emotional, while hunger and weariness burden every step: and naturally we wouldn’t have it any other way. Train stations are however, as a general rule, and regardless of in which country one happens to find oneself, dirty, unwelcoming and not particularly well suited for the needs of those travelling. Which we suspect is why Professor Susanne Schade asked students to look for solutions to improve the railway station experience. Amongst a raft of very interesting suggestions the most interesting for us was without question Warteraster by Stefanie Schneider and Moritz Gäckle.

Now normally, and thoroughly justifiably, we’d roll our eyes at the sight of a bench made from taught cord, and carrying on walking. That on this occasion we didn’t has several reasons. More an integrated spatial design concept than items of furniture per se Warteraster is a very intelligent and thoughtful response to the brief and one in which through the way the utilised metal, concrete and cord contradict creates a very pleasing formal tension. But mostly we like the way the formal language is used over dimensions and directions And of course the idea of a few plants in train stations, even if we fear no one will properly care for them. Which is of course the real reason train stations are as they are: they are not operated to be welcoming places for travellers, the economic model on which train stations run simply doesn’t include customer experience. Thus changing the train station experience requires a change in focus on the part of station operators, not new furniture solutions. Sadly.

Warteraster by Stefanie Schneider and Moritz Gäckle, as seen at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd Semesterausstellung 2016

Warteraster by Stefanie Schneider and Moritz Gäckle, as seen at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd Semester Exhibition 2016

5 New Design Exhibitions for August 2016

Such are the vagaries of the autumn/spring cycle in the global design exhibition industry, and it is an industry people, let’s not fool ourselves otherwise, August is traditionally a very lean month: curators are on holiday, critics are on holiday, exhibition designers are on holiday, protagonists are on holiday. Who wants to open an exhibition?

The following five museums. That’s who……….

“Dream out Loud” at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Holland

Whereas museum exhibitions generally begin with the posing of a question and/or the establishing of a position before the curators select objects with which they hope to explain their position and/or approach an answer to their question, the exhibition Dream out Loud at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam began with a call for projects. For objects. Not because the curators couldn’t think up any interesting questions, but because that was the question: what is currently happening in Dutch design, who is moving in which direction, what ideals are being promoted, which positions represented.

According to the museum some 400 designers responded to the call, submitting 750 proposals from which the international jury selected 26. Featuring works from designers as varied as, and amongst many others, Marjan van Aubel, Pieke Bergmans and Dirk van der Kooij, the curators promise an exhibition which presents the selected designers’ visions as to how we can create a better, more sustainable and fairer world. It also promises to be a fairly thorough review of contemporary Dutch creativity.

Yes, one could argue that because the displayed projects have been selected by a jury they represent the subjective opinion of that jury as to what is interesting, relevant, good, contemporary in contemporary Dutch design; or put another way, represent objects with which the curators hope to explain their position and/or approach an answer to their question……

Dream out Loud opens at the Stedelijk Museum, Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam on Friday August 26th and runs until Sunday January 1st

Phenomeneon by Pieke Bergmans, part of Dream out Loud opens at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (Photo Mirjam Bleeker, courtesy  Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

Phenomeneon by Pieke Bergmans, part of Dream out Loud opens at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (Photo Mirjam Bleeker, courtesy Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

“TBI: The Youth, the City and the Heritage” at the Museum of Architecture and Design, MAO, Ljubljana, Slovenia

The German singer Herbert Grönemeyer is famously of the belief that “The world belongs in childrens’ hands”, but how would that work out practically in terms of architecture and urban planning? Focussing on the results a project undertaken in the western Slovenian town of Idrija, The Youth, the City and the Heritage promises to provide insights into how the local youth can be engaged to participate in what the organisers refer to as “bottom-up urbanism” as well as potential points of conflict in such an approach. In addition to the exhibition an important component of the event promises to be the associated talks and lectures in which the results and conclusions will be discussed and debated in more depth, and thus potential lessons for other communities elucidated and exchanged.

TBI: The Youth, the City and the Heritage opens at the Museum of Architecture and Design, MAO, Grad Fužine, Pot na Fužine 2, 1000 Ljubljana on Wednesday August 10th and runs until Sunday September 25th

TBI: The Youth, the City and the Heritage at the Museum of Architecture and Design, MAO, Ljubljana

TBI: The Youth, the City and the Heritage at the Museum of Architecture and Design, MAO, Ljubljana

“Occupied” at the RMIT Design Hub, Melbourne, Australia

As any fool know, our growing global population needs ever more space. The space we have is however limited, and as moving to other planets is, currently, not feasible we need, with increasing urgency, sustainable ideas for safely, securely and healthily housing the future population. And for all for housing future urban populations. The exhibition Occupied at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Design Hub takes the position that the all-encompassing, clean sheet, start-anew city planning approaches of previous centuries are no longer compatible or viable with and in our integrated contemporary cities, and instead presents proposals from international architecture practices focussing on adapting, transforming and re-appropriating existing urban spaces; small scale interventions in the urban fabric which, if you will, think between the lines of the existing city and which thus seek to find new solutions and new answers. And which one would presume are universally applicable.

Occupied opened at the RMIT Design Hub, Building 100, Corner Victoria and Swanston Streets, Carlton, 3053 Melbourne on Friday July 29th and runs until Saturday September 24th

Occupied" at the RMIT Design Hub, Melbourne, Australia

Occupied at the RMIT Design Hub, Melbourne, Australia

“Rudolph M. Schindler’s Inaya Furniture” at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Vienna, Austria

Even we are going to struggle to make this sound like an exhibition….. it’s four pieces of furniture. A dinning table, a chair, two chests of drawers…….

Born in Vienna in 1887 Rudolph M. Schindler was a student of Otto Wagner’s at the city’s Akademie der bildenden Künste before moving to Chicago in 1914 where he worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. In addition to being a bridge between the early stages of European and American Modernism, Rudolph Schindler was also an important, if regularly overlooked, protagonist in the movement’s subsequent blossoming: works such as the Schindler House from 1922, the El Pueblo Ribera Court from 1923 or the Lovell Beach House from 1926, and all in California, may not be universally known, but set new conventions in terms of materials, construction principles and geometry.

Similarly Rudolph M. Schindler’s furniture design work goes very much its own way: on the one hand completely inaccessible and alienated, Schindler’s furniture nonetheless manages to appear very familiar, almost calming, a state of affairs we attribute to the fact they contain elements of the traditional, the classic and the familiar, just presented in forms that are anything but.

The so-called Inaya Furniture is a collection of objects created by Rudolph M. Schindler in the late 1940s for Los Angeles resident Beata Inaya, nine pieces of which belong to the MAK Vienna permanent collection – a dining table, a dressing table, four chairs and three chests of drawers. Quite aside from the formal and construction peculiarities of the pieces a particular highlight is the way Schindler worked the surface with a wire brush to focus attention on the grain. Four pieces of furniture may not constitute an exhibition. Do however constitute a fascinating insight into the work of Rudolph M. Schindler, his views on form, function and aesthetics, and also the undeniable truth that a piece of furniture is no more a piece of furniture than a poem is a poem, a painting a painting or an opera an opera.

Rudolph M. Schindler’s Inaya Furniture opens at the Museum für angewandte Kunst, Stubenring 5, 1010 Wien on Wednesday August 3rd and runs until Sunday August 28th

Rudolph M. Schindler, Chair for Beata Inaya's apartment in Los Angeles (Photo Georg Mayer, courtesy MAK Wien)

Rudolph M. Schindler, Chair for Beata Inaya’s apartment in Los Angeles (Photo Georg Mayer, courtesy MAK Wien)

“Textile Art at Burg Giebichenstein in the 1920s” at the Kunstverein Talstrasse, Halle, Germany

That a central tenet of the education philosophy at “modernist” schools of the 1920s such as Bauhaus and Burg Giebichenstein Halle was the connection between art and craft, it should come as no surprise that textile and carpet design have a long tradition in eastern central Germany. Staged as part of “Große Pläne”, the region wide celebration of modernism in Sachsen-Anhalt, Textile Art at Burg Giebichenstein in the 1920s promises an exploration of not only that claimed in the title, but also an expansion to Burg’s near neighbour Bauhaus: a not illogical extension given not only the information and idea exchange that invariably occurred between the two institutions but also the personnel exchanges, Benita Koch-Otte, for example, training in the Weaving Workshop at Bauhaus Weimar before transferring to Burg Giebichenstein in 1925 to take over the Weaving Workshop.

In addition to looking at regional textile art from the 1920s the exhibition at the Kunstverein Talstrasse also promises examples of more contemporary carpet design work by the French artist Jean Lurçat and thereby an exploration of the influence Lurçat’s work had on designers in post-war eastern central Germany, and potentially still has today. And thus, ideally, continuing the story of textile design in the region from the 1920s until today.

Textile Art at Burg Giebichenstein in the 1920s opens at the Kunstverein Talstrasse, Talstraße 23, 06120 Halle (Saale) on Thursday August 11th and runs until Sunday November 20th

Liegende Wolle,  1924,  by Johanna Schütz-Wolff, part of Textilkunst an der Burg Giebichenstein in den 1920er Jahren (Image Nachlass Schütz-Wolff Courtesy Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau)

Liegende Wolle, 1924, by Johanna Schütz-Wolff, part of Textilkunst an der Burg Giebichenstein in den 1920er Jahren (Image Nachlass Schütz-Wolff Courtesy Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau)

Fachhochschule Potsdam – Werkschau 2016

The 18th century Prussian Monarch Friedrich der Große, or Alte Fritz – Old Fritz – as he is popularly known, has many claims to fame, not least of which is his promotion and advancing of the cultivation of the potato in the lands under his command, thus making him responsible for the tuber’s contemporary popularity in northern Germany. And hence his other title: The Potato King. Friedrich was also a patron of the applied arts and handicrafts and in 1763 took over Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky’s financially struggling porcelain company and thus established the contemporary Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, KMP, Berlin: an early example of the state intervening to assist local craftsmen, and a decision taking by Friedrich largely on account of his appreciation for the quality of the company’s craftsmanship and also the aesthetics of the porcelain objects being produced.

Friedrich der Große’s most famous estate is arguably Sanssouci in Potsdam, and we like to think Alte Fritz, interested as he was in the world around him and the developments of the age, would take the short horse ride from Sanssouci to the Fachhochschule Potsdam to peruse their annual Werkschau end of term exhibition. If he’d find anything that tickled his fancy quite like the potato or Berlin porcelain, is of course another question…..

Fachhochschule Potsdam

Fachhochschule Potsdam

Fachhochschule Potsdam – Werkschau 2016

Established in 1991 the Fachhochschule Potsdam is one of the youngest colleges in Germany; and the only one we know to have a smiley in its logo. We’ve never asked why.

The Fachhochschule Potsdam design department was established in 1992, parallel to the architecture and civil engineering departments, and offers degrees in Interface Design, Communications Design and Product Design, in addition to a BA and MA in European Media Studies organised in cooperation with Potsdam University.

Following three joint introductory semesters Potsdam design students focus on their chosen speciality in a largely project based/practical course of studies, albeit one which also offers modules in, for example, design theory, design management and, and most joyously, design history.

Amongst a wide rage of individual and group projects from the past year at the Fachhochschule Potsdam, including Vom Amtsschimmel zum Bürgerross, which sough ideas for making the council offices in the town of Gransee more welcoming and inviting for visitors and staff, Atelier Farbe, which explored various aspects of colours and asked students to “present” a colour in all its glory and as they saw best fit, or Neue Türen – PORTA Wettbewerb which presented the results of a design competition ran by the Polish door manufacturer PORTA amongst Fachhochschule Potsdam students, we were particularly taken with the projects Smart Lighting from Professor Jörg Hundertpfund and Desktop Wire Production from Professor Hermann Weizenegger. Two projects which produced three very interesting responses*

Presentation of the project "Neue Türen - PORTA Wettbewerb" at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016

Presentation of the project “Neue Türen – PORTA Wettbewerb” at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016

Bright Slide by Shai Keren

Organised in context of an eponymous student design competition Smart Lighting asked participants to design functional, contemporary “smart” lighting solutions, and amongst some more, some less interesting creations the highlight for us was without question Bright Slide by Shai Keren. We regularly see lighting design projects which use motion to turn a light on and off, generally in the form of a see-saw effect or where the on/off function is realised by turning the object over; Bright Slide’s use of movement as a switch is however one of the more aesthetically and formally pleasing proposals we have seen. Presenting a mix of glass, wood and metal Bright Slide functions by moving the lamp head, in form of a glass ball, along a metal arch, thus transferring it from one side of the wooden base to the other. Left side on/right side off. Or vice versa depending on your perspective. A very sculptural object Bright Slide thus not only promises a pleasingly simple usability, but also to interact with a room through more than just illuminating it and thus to function as a decorative as much as lighting object. The emphasis being on “promises”, for what was presented at Werkschau was but a model, and one with at least 8 million questions that need to be clarified before it can even make it to the prototype stage. And thus less a work in progress as an idea in progress; and one we hope Shai Keren gets that opportunity to develop further because as a project it was genuinely delightful.

Bright Slide by Shai Keren as seen at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016

Bright Slide by Shai Keren as seen at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016

Wire We Knot Outside by Jonathan Wellmann

The project Desktop Wire Production from and with Professor Hermann Weizenegger sought to explore the possibilities of a recently developed computer controlled desktop wire bending machine; possibilities which in our fully subjective opinion Jonathan Wellmann and Melissa Kramer exploited particularly well.

The joyously named Wire We Knot Outside by Jonathan Wellmann is a “bag” for use on/with a bike and which hangs in the triangular space in the frame. And in that sense is and was nothing new. What however particularly appeals to us about Wire We Knot Outside is on the one hand the very strong formal language that arises from the chosen combination of wire and wood, but for all the method by which it is attached to the bike frame, stupefying simple, yet the sort of ridiculously obvious solution which one has to arrive at. And which you can only achieve when you understand the nature of the problem at hand.

Wire We Knot Outside by Jonathan Wellmann, as seen at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016

Wire We Knot Outside by Jonathan Wellmann, as seen at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016

Skeleton Shelf by Melissa Kramer

Similarly Skeleton Shelf by Melissa Kramer represents a very keen observation of the problem of desk organisation. Even if Melissa herself pitches it as a general wall shelf it is unquestionably, if subconsciously, a response to the problems of desk top storage options. And for all to the experience of knowing that that which you have is never enough, never correct, never that which you in that moment are looking for. Skeleton Shelf handles the problem by, in effect, ignoring it and offering the user forms which imply familiar desk storage tools, but which are just bent bits of wire and thus freely interpretable. And endlessly applicable. In addition, the use of wire means that the true volume of the object is concealed by its transparency, thus you don’t, or at least shouldn’t, have the feeling that you are placing the world on your desk: while giving yourself neigh-on unlimited options for the long and/or short term storage of folders, files, utensils, hardware, muffins and all those other contemporary office essentials. Yes, of late we’ve complained an awful lot about the number of filigree wire objects currently on the market, Skeleton Shelf isn’t such, it is a practical, functional object, that just happens to be crafted from metal wire.

Further details on the design department at the Fachhochschule Potsdam and their courses can be found at:

Skeleton Shelf by Melissa Kramer, as seen at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016

Skeleton Shelf by Melissa Kramer, as seen at the Fachhochschule Potsdam Werkschau 2016



*As ever design college exhibitions are never about the results, but the way they are achieved. Sometimes however very interesting things are achieved…..

Köln International School of Design – KISDparcours 2016

An important commercial, financial and administrative centre since the middle ages Cologne has contributed greatly to the development of European society, culture and politics, while with the Kölner Dom the city is home to not only one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, and thus one of the most important religious institutions on the continent, but posses an excellent example of logical, considered, coherent, urban planning: by building the cathedral on a raised platform directly next to the main railway station the architects not only optimised the transport connections for pilgrims and reduced the stress on the local urban transport network, but also eased the process of taking tourist selfies with the cathedral as backdrop.*

If the current crop of Köln International School of Design students possess the same ability to logically analyse problems, the same attention to detail in the realisation, and are capable of the same coherent thinking as the city’s 13th century builders, could be assessed at the rather ungainly named KISDparcours 2016

Köln International School of Design, KISD

Köln International School of Design, KISD

Köln International School of Design – KISDparcours 2016

As noted in our post from the exhibition Endstation Ubierring 40 at the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum, the contemporary Köln International School of Design, KISD, traces its distant origins back to 1879 and the establishment of the Cologne Werkschulen; but owes its contemporary incarnation to a decision in 1987 by the then regional government to cease art education at Cologne Fachhochschule and thereby transforming the city’s former combined art + design institute into a pure design school.

Established on the basis of the co-called “Kölner Modell” – “Cologne Model” – the course of studies at the KISD is project based and in none of the Bachelor or Masters courses predefined; rather the students are free to construct their own course from subject areas such as, and amongst others, service design, production technology, interface design or ecology and design.

What results from such an approach could be seen at KISDparcours 2016 in the form of numerous individual and graduation projects and also in the results of group semester projects such as Models, In Reality with Prof. Carolin Höfler which sought to explore theoretical aspects and potential uses of models; Radically Simple, a project undertaken in cooperation with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, RMIT, and in which small groups of students developed ideas of radicalism and simplicity in design; or So Geht DesignThat’s How Design Works – supervised by Prof. Jenz Grosshans and Prof. Andreas Wrede and which explored the nature of the design process and presented the concept of FEIDI: Frame, Explore, Ideate, Develop.

In our interview with the KISD’s Director Wolfgang Laubersheimer he told us that “making is back”, and while that was unquestionably on show at the KISDparcours 2016, there were also some very nice demonstrations of conceptual design, social design and design that spoke so fluently and poetically the language of art, one could easily imagine the ghost of the former art department stalks the corridors of Ubierring 40 looking for suitable souls to invade and commandeer.

As ever, design education is neither beauty contest nor about realising successful products, but about learning and enjoying the freedoms and follies of youth; however, the following three projects on display at the KISDparcours 2016 particularly caught our attention and imagination….

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016 Final Thesis presentation

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016: Final Thesis Presentation

Cirquids – Turning Paper Into Fluid Circuits by Dorothee Clasen

“Electrifying” paper in the sense of adapting paper so that it can conduct electricity isn’t a new idea, isn’t, as it were, an electrifying concept. The interesting aspect of Dorothee Clasen’s project Cirquids is however less that she has transformed the otherwise passive fibres of paper into an actively conducting material and much more how that has been achieved, namely through a mix of wax, salt and water, and thus Dorothee has developed a low cost, low-tech, local method to allow paper to conduct electricity. Now many will query the sense of electrified paper products, some will even no doubt attempt to create such…. but, again, that’s not really the point, not really the electrifying on the project. The interesting, the electrifying, aspect is that by allowing for low cost, low-tech local electrification of paper objects, the process allows for the simple, inexpensive electrification of paper models, thus making it a potentially very useful tool and process in modelling, prototyping and product development.

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016: Cirquids Turning Paper Into Fluid Circuits by Dorothee Clasen

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016: Cirquids – Turning Paper Into Fluid Circuits by Dorothee Clasen

Shoeshelf by Elisabeth Prehn

In the interests of fairness we must state that we are currently more than a little obsessed with reduced wrought iron products. Why that is we something we hope to be able to elucidate in the coming months. But we are. As such it was, more or less, inevitable that we would be attracted to Elisabeth Prehn’s wrought iron shoe holders. However, with a little time and distance since seeing them, and relying as ever on the unnerving brutality of our objectivity, we’re still lovin’ them.

Shoe storage is a tricky business, not least because shoes aren’t shoes, shoes are dress shoes, work shoes, garden shoes, sport shoes, casual shoes, party shoes, guest shoes, guest’s shoes and also because shoes form a direct link between indoors and out and thus, as Crowded House would no doubt phrase it, bring the weather with them: rain, dust, snow, mud.

Shoe storage is a tricky business. And not one for which there is or can ever be a universal solution; however, for us Elisabeth’s “shoe irons” are a particularly charmingly elegant solution.

Created in context of the class Archetypes of Design: Forging by and with Prof. Hatto Grosse Shoeshelf clearly isn’t, but does allow for the very logical storage of shoes, in particular we are thinking sports shoes, work shoes, garden shoes, so shoes that are especially prone to getting wet, dirty and sweaty, and which would thus benefit from being stored in a free-hanging position. And when not in use – and assuming that as in our vision you’ve attached your Shoeshelves to the wall in/on a veranda, porch, outhouse, garage, balcony, etc – you have very nice decorative elements.

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016: Shoeshelf by Elisabeth Prehn

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016: Shoeshelf by Elisabeth Prehn

Bauhaus, Wchutemas, Black Mountain College: Parallelen und Differenzen Drei Bildungsstätten der Moderene by Ingrid Walter

Design is unquestionably about now. It’s why Modernism is so beautifully misnamed. What Modernism is was modern, is now historic; Modernism is, was and always will be that which is contemporary. That which is too fresh, too new, too unrefined to be an “-ism”. And which may never become one. Yet that which was modern remains part of the story, remains, as the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition The Bauhaus #itsalldesign explains, relevant, if not modern. Design’s past is important, for as in all walks of life understanding historical developments, historical thinking and historical mistakes is important to understanding the current situation.

Created as her final thesis, Bauhaus, Wchutemas, Black Mountain College: Parallelen und Differenzen Drei Bildungsstätten der Moderene is according to Ingrid Walter the first German language comparison of three schools which in their own way all played a role in the development of international modernism, and by extrapolation subsequent ideas and understandings of design. And also of why Bauhaus has the dominate popular position in such considerations.

We’ve not read Ingrid’s work, thus cannot comment on the quality of it, but find the fact that for their final thesis a student choose to undertake a more academic, theoretical study of design’s recent history rather than develop something new, both important and correct: a bit more theory, a bit less product and we might just manage to bring the equilibrium back into the system. Unfortunately in our excitement we forgot to photograph the book cover… sorry!

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016: Radically Simple

Köln International School of Design KISDparcours 2016: Radically Simple

* This introduction is our homage on the traditional Cologne carnival joke: locally based, takes pride in the local peculiarities, is slowly, unobtrusively, constructed, and ultimately not that funny……

smow blog Interview: Markus Jehs – Discourse is the most important aspect of design

Although Stuttgart based design studio Jehs+Laub are in many respects best known as the winners of the inaugural Moormann Bookinist Cup, they are also one of Germany’s most prolific and successful furniture design studios.

Markus Jehs and Jürgen Laub met while studying Industrial Design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd, their friendship developed over the course of a practical semester in New York, led them to complete a joint Diploma Project and ultimately saw the establishment of Jehs+Laub in 1994, originally in Ulm before the subsequent relocation to Stuttgart.

Focussing principally on furniture and lighting design Jehs+Laub have developed a wide range of products for international manufacturers as varied as, and amongst many others, Fritz Hansen, Wilkhahn, Knoll, Belux and Cassina. Away from furniture design Jehs+Laub have also developed numerous product and interior design projects including the multi-award winning hot water bottle Pill for Authentics, the tableware collection Connect for Schönwald, the delightfully minimalist clock Stelton Time for Stelton and the global interior design concept for Mercedes-Benz showrooms.

Back at Orgatec 2012 we spoke briefly with Jehs+Laub about the differences between designing for the office and the domestic sectors and Stuttgart as a creative city. Keen to learn more, we met up with Markus Jehs to discuss studying at Schwäbisch Gmünd, twenty years in furniture design and the state of the current design industry, but began, as ever by asking how he arrived at design?

Markus Jehs: After finishing school I was uncertain as to in which direction I should go, explored various options and then arrived at design in a very general sense, explored further, initially more so graphic design and at some point it was clear to me that it was product design which interested me and then once I started studying it was very clear that I had found that after which I had been searching.

smow blog: You studied at Schwäbisch Gmünd, why, what was the motivation, or impetus, for Schwäbisch Gmünd?

Markus Jehs: To be honest, initially I didn’t want to enrol at Schwäbisch Gmünd because it is very close to where I grew up; however, after visiting several colleges I decide that in terms of the basics the course at Schwäbisch Gmünd was the best one for me. At that time a lot of the teaching staff in Schwäbisch Gmünd were former HfG Ulm students, and so you had in a way a continuation of the Bauhaus philosophy, and that appealed to me. What I really appreciated was the discourse over design that occurred, both between the students and the professors but also amongst the students, it was all quite small, close, and discourse is the most important aspect of design, not just creating something that’s nice to look at.

smow blog: We’re assuming that at that time Schwäbisch Gmünd was still very much a classic functionalism, gutes Design, approach…..

Markus Jehs: Exactly, that was what we learnt, and then both Jürgen and myself spent a semester in New York, Jürgen with Smart Design and myself at Henry Dreyfuss Associates, and there we experienced a whole new world, they weren’t going as deep, and so although as students we had in a way rejected this regimented, dogmatic German approach, having had this other experience we really learned to appreciate it, this solid German education.

smow blog: And then following your graduation you established a joint studio, why the decision to cooperate?

Markus Jehs: At Schwäbisch Gmünd we both worked regularly with Professor Knauer who taught the introductory course Grundlagen der Gestaltung, and he told us that he had never had two students who cooperated as well as we did and that we should consider working together, finding a good business partner being in his opinion harder than finding the perfect wife! After graduating we both initially did our own things, before then deciding to establish a joint studio.

smow blog: Which raises the obvious questions, why did Professor Knauer think you worked so well together? And do you?

Markus Jehs: He said that we’d get further together than each of us individually, that there would be an exponential effect. And it was the case that when we started working together we realised that we were genuinely achieving a lot more together than we were alone. With us both its all about the job in hand, it’s never about who has which idea, rather one of us has an idea, the other says very directly if they find it good or not, and why, and then the discourse begins and then everything moves very quickly, because through this discourse, this explaining why you find something good or bad, listening to the other’s arguments, through such a process you develop in a way a distance to the project and thus a clearer understanding of the project. And ultimately nothing leaves this office if we are not both 100% convinced it is correct. And we are both very forthright about saying if we’re not happy with something.

smow blog: Which we take to mean that a large part of the development process with yourselves takes place through discussion and not necessarily quietly on the computer or sketching alone somewhere……

Markus Jehs: Exactly, the one asks the other what do you think of this, we both look at it, discuss it in an open and honest fashion and then go back to what we were doing. And such can occur every 10 minutes or so, which is also the reason we work in the same room and at the same desk, to ensure such a fluid conversation is possible.

smow blog: Working on projects means having projects, how did you go about acquiring your first contracts?

Markus Jehs: Having established the studio we had no work, were in effect unemployed, and so decided to go to Italy and to try to find some partners. And so we developed projects, made appointments with companies in Milan, travelled down to Milan, presented our work and eventually were able to find the first manufacturers.

smow blog: Why this focus on Italy? Did it have to be an Italian manufacturer, or was it just a case of naively thinking you had the best chances in Italy?

Markus Jehs: Naturally we were naive, but for us it was the case that the Italians were the leading producers, Milan was the centre of the industry and if we wanted to achieve success then for us that was only possible with Italian companies. In addition, for us the Italians approached the subject very emotionally, with a lot of understanding and gut feeling.

smow blog: And for you is Italy still the most important furniture design nation, or…..?

Markus Jehs: Today I wouldn’t necessarily say that is the case, today everything is more international. In our case, we work today with all manner of companies, in America as well as Europe, and for me the mix is what makes it interesting, because you are continually learning. We always strive to develop, to learn, and for example American companies are focussed on different markets than European manufacturers, or the Scandinavians have their own way of assessing products, and to experience how they all work and the different views of the same subject is very enriching. The Milanese architect and designer Cini Boeri once said to us that as studio we are much more international than the Italians, who generally sit in Milan and design for Cassina, Cappellini, Artemide, Kartell, and all the rest, and this view was interesting because one does tend to look at Italy and think “Wow, look how international they all are!”, but in practice many Italian designers are based in and focussed on Milan, and of course once a year the industry comes to them and so why should they go elsewhere!

smow blog: Coming back to the 1990s, having decided to focus on Italian producers, where did you then begin?

Markus Jehs: The one company with whom we definitely wanted to work with was Cassina, for us Cassina are and were the pinnacle of Italian design, and were the company with the best craftsmen and the best product developers. And so that was where we started. Naturally they turned us down, and told us that they work with the most famous designers and didn’t need our designs. Then however the first commercial products we realised were with the Italian lighting manufacturer Nemo, who were then taken over by Cassina. And so we mentioned to Nemo that we’d like to work for Cassina, were introduced to Umberto Cassina, and that was our way in, and the first products with Cassina then made things much easier and opened doors, not only with the Italian manufacturers, but also with for example, Fritz Hansen and eventually then the German manufacturers.

smow blog: And then having secured those first contracts how long did it take before you could say you were “established” as a studio?

Markus Jehs: The first products for Nemo were so 1997, 1998, however that income which you earn from license fees in the first few years is not to live enough on, and so before you are actually established as a design studio it takes about 10 years, so before you have the security that you can live from your work, that manufacturers will contact you, that you will receive commissions and don’t need to go knocking on doors quite as much. And that is something we hear from more or less all our established colleagues, that it takes so ten years. Gott sei Dank! we were so naive at the beginning, and simply hadn’t understood what it all entailed, or that the chances that everything would work out positively are relatively low.

smow blog: Which we assume means that the first few years were a mix of non-design work and freelancing?

Markus Jehs: No, no, not at all, we decided from the beginning to concentrate fully on developing our projects. Design is a very concentrated process and not one where you want to be regularly distracted through for example developing a project for someone else as a freelancer, or doing some completely unrelated work, because then it all takes even longer.

smow blog: And then as you say after ten years came a degree of security, is that then something which comes through the mass of products one has in production, or does one need a big seller?

Markus Jehs: I would say it is more a case that after ten years one has the experience and thereby has developed a better feeling that you are developing the correct product at the correct time, so objects that will actually be sold in shops or which architects actually want for their projects, and it takes bit of time to develop this feeling, but then once you have developed it you can tell quite quickly if a project will be successful or not and so work more efficiently.

smow blog: But does that also mean that you are now in a position where you can focus on selecting projects which interest you, or is there still an economic necessity to do as much as possible?

Markus Jehs: We don’t do projects for the money alone, rather ask ourselves does it interest us, does it bring us further, will we enjoy it and most importantly is their a good relationship with the client. Often there isn’t any money at the beginning. Die Zeit, for example, once sent us a list of product types which are formally unattractive but yet whom no one appears interested in improving. They had approached numerous international studios with a request to develop some new ideas for such product types and planned to publish some of the best, most interesting, results. We decided to spend five minutes brainstorming each product type and see if any ideas arose. If so we would contribute, if not, then not. We did then have a couple of ideas which we developed on the computer and sent Die Zeit as rendered images. One of the objects was a hot water bottle which was then published in Zeit Magazine, and soon afterwards people started calling, asking to buy it, to which we had to reply, “Sorry it doesn’t exist!” Subsequently we contacted Authentics explained the situation to them, they agreed to develop and produce it, and today market it very successfully as Pill. But as a project it started without any thought of money and purely as an interesting sounding project.

smow blog: But when money is discussed, as a studio do you request development payments ahead of starting any work?

Markus Jehs: That is always dependent on various factors; however, we prefer not receive such development payments because when the manufacturer turns round later and says that for whatever reason they don’t want to release the project, then we can take it elsewhere. It is our work. However if we’ve received money for developing it, then it is morally more difficult, yes we could still take it elsewhere, but…. And so for us it is preferable to simply remain with the licence payments.

smow blog: Changing tact slightly. We assume that over the years many a student has undertaken an internship with yourselves. Given your experience over the past two decades, do consider that students today are being properly prepared for that what awaits them in their professional careers?

Markus Jehs: We have had interns here from all over the world, and for me they generally aren’t that well prepared because for me the discourse over design, the discussion culture around design, the arguing for design, isn’t given enough priority in design education, rather they are all trained more or less as soldiers, perfect in all manner of computer programmes and competent in the realisation from ideas, but in terms of developing concepts, analysing situations and drawing the correct conclusions, that doesn’t seem to have a priority. One has the impression that the colleges need to recruit as many students as possible so that they receive as much funding as possible, but in my opinion it would be better if there were fewer graduates but better trained.

smow blog: Which we assume means that for you if the discourse isn’t encouraged and promoted amongst students there is a risk that in the long term product design will suffer….

Markus Jehs: It will become more superficial! One sees that today at trade fairs, there is only very occasionally anything genuinely interesting or exciting. In the past one always had definite breaks which changed things, but today such events which allow one to view things differently or from another perspective, they occur only very rarely. Today a lot of design is simply just decoration.

smow blog: Which does raise the question as to if there isn’t a responsibility on yourselves to do more teaching and to discuss such directly with students and to encourage more discourse?

Markus Jehs: In principle we do see a responsibility to pass our experience and understanding, but in terms of time we simply currently cannot afford that. We have to regularly turn down projects as it is and so with the best of intentions, the time simply isn’t there. But what we do try and do is to encourage the development of such skills within those students who come here, and we do notice that when you start talking with students about projects that a genuine interest is there and one can have good discussions.

smow blog: And is there also a risk that you as a studio become complacent in such a market?

Markus Jehs: There is a definite risk that we could become too comfortable, that we lean back and say “OK, while everything is working so well, lets just continue in the same vein regardless”, but we are concious of that fact and don’t that, as a studio we want to continue to develop.

smow blog: Which means that for yourselves, the future is furniture……

Markus Jehs: Yes, furniture is our passion, but we are always open for anything interesting, anything new. For example, through the cooperation with Fritz Hansen we were given the opportunity to create a suite for an Ice Hotel, which obviously was something completely new for us and was a lot of fun. We are naturally inquisitive and enjoy doing things from which we previously had no inkling, where we can approach it completely naively. That’s always fun and rewarding.

More information on Jehs+Laub and their work can be found at

Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart – Rundgang 2016

With its postal address of “Am Weissenhof 1” it should come as no surprise that the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, ABK, Stuttgart was not only the first building on that now fabled site on Stuttgart’s Killesberg, but also that it played a role, when albeit a relatively small one, in helping create the fable: Professor Adolf Schneck designing two of the houses, the school’s workshops, under the supervision of Hilde Zimmermann, being responsible for the kitchen of one of Schneck’s houses, while students and alumni including Camille Graeser, Rudolf Frank and Hermann Gretsch contributed to the interiors of further houses. Away from the constructions and interiors per se, former student, and future Professor, Willi Baumeister was responsible for the exhibition’s typography and together with fellow alumni Karl Straub formed the “Graphics Department” and thus were responsible for what today would be termed the corporate identity.

That however was then. An impression of the now at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart could be found at the 2016 Rundgang end of term and graduate exhibition.

Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2013 Neubau 1

Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart – Neubau 1 (Photo 2013)

Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart

The original college building at Am Weissenhof 1, the so-called Altbau – Old Building* – was erected in 1913 for the, then, newly established Kunstgewerbeschule – Arts & Crafts College, – and was designed by the college’s director Bernhard Pankok. Pankok’s vision however extended far beyond the walls of his Kunstgewerbeschule and foresaw an institution which unified Stuttgart’s numerous applied and fine art colleges and which would thus allow for an integrated, cross-discipline approach to art and architecture education; something which despite Pankok’s best efforts before the First Word War, and the presence of so many similar minded modernists in Stuttgart in the inter-war years, wasn’t formally realised until 1946 and the establishment of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste.

In terms of product and furniture design the post-war new start was largely defined by Professors of the calibre of Herbert Hirche, Hans Warnecke or Adolf Schneck, the following decades seeing the likes of Arno Votteler, Herta-Maria Witzemann or Richard Sapper take up the baton before passing it on to Uwe Fischer and Winfried Scheuer who are today responsible for the Vordiplom – Prediploma – classes: a fact which underscores that at the ABK Stuttgart the final qualification is still the Diplom and not as is increasingly the case in German design education Bachelor and/or Master.

Presentation of the project Piu, as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

Presentation of the project Piu, as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart – Rundgang 2016

As befits a design school which arose in the first half of the twentieth century, workshops and practical training have always played a central role at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart, technical skills which in the Industrial Design department are joined by a strong emphasis on entwerfen – draughting, conceptualising, styling, planning, designing, as Peter Mark Roget would no doubt translate it.

For architecture and industrial design students at the ABK Stuttgart the first year is a joint one in which the basics of draughting, drawing and construction are taught, and a set of courses which produced for us one of the more interesting showcases at the 2016 Rundgang namely Sitzen – Von der Idee zum Objeckt (Sitting – From the Idea to Object): a class which asked participants to create a chair/stool from a single plank of wood – 4,5 m long, 45 mm wide, 19 cm thick – and that in just 9 hours. The results were, if we’re honest, surprisingly original, and in their originality neatly underscored on the one hand the validity of the position that restriction is often the best motor for inspiration and on the other that having ideas isn’t something that one can necessarily teach, either you are capable of having an idea or you aren’t. How one then develops that idea from a sketch, or in this case quickly built model, up to a prototype and further to an end product is however something that can be taught. How that is taught at the ABK Stuttgart was then the underlying, elemental, message in the further showcases.

Presentation of Sitzen - Von der Idee zum Objeckt as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

Presentation of Sitzen – Von der Idee zum Objeckt as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

No Entry – Industrial Design 2016

Under the title “No Entry – Industrial Design 2016” the Industrial Design department of the ABK Stuttgart presented group projects, individual projects and diploma projects from the past semester, the corridor of the Werkstatt building darkened save for red lights; a presentation concept which gave one the impression of being in an overly stereotypical brothel, and which thus naturally caused one to reflect on the current condition of the design profession. We don’t know if that was intended. Or just us.

Amongst presentations of the results of projects such as Unleashed – Autonomous Intelligence which explored the possibilities of autonomous intelligence in product design and by extrapolation how designers can and/or should handle and utilise the new possibilities or Kleiner Schlossplatz, a project undertaken in cooperation with the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart and which sought proposals for a new layout of the city’s Kleiner Schlossplatz, the project Coffice supervised by Bastian Müller particularly caught our attention. Focussing on objects for co-working spaces none of the presented objects particularly appealed to us, all having something we couldn’t in all honesty buy into, were all, as it were, unable to convince us of their raison d’etre: did however all represent very interesting takes and perspectives on the differences between co-working and conventional office spaces, highlighted the differing demands of, for and on the furniture and accessories required for such and thus demonstrated the diligence, discernment and attention to detail with which the students had approached the brief. And made clear the very real need for co-working space specific solutions, objects we didn’t see at NeoCon 2016 and are now thoroughly looking forward to hunting for at Orgatec 2016.

And naturally the ABK Stuttgart 2016 Rundgang also brought a very welcome wiedersehen with the Più di Pegoretti project as shown in Milan.

More information on the Industrial Design department at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart can be found at:

*The name neatly differentiates it from the more recent Neubau 1 and Neubau 2 – New Building 1 & 2

"No Entry - Industrial Design 2016", Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

“No Entry – Industrial Design 2016”, Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

Presentation of Coffice, as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

Presentation of Coffice, as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

Presentation of the project Kleiner Schlossplatz, as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

Presentation of the project Kleiner Schlossplatz, as seen at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart Rundgang 2016

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