Skip to main content

Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

smow blog 2014. A pictorial review: March

December 24th, 2014

According to our pictorial review of March 2013 it was “a month of travelling: Stuttgart, Chemnitz, Weimar, Dessau….. its amazing we found time to actually write anything…….”

March was 2014 was the same. Just replace “Stuttgart, Chemnitz, Weimar, Dessau” with “Frankfurt, Münsingen, Berlin, Weil am Rhein”

It also explains the large number of half-finished drafts from March. Obviously we didn’t find time to write everything!

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin New Architecture Modern Architecture in Images and Books Erich Dieckmann

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin: New Architecture! Modern Architecture in Images and Books

USM powder coating facility Münsingen

The new USM powder coating facility in Münsingen

Playboy Architecture 1953 1979 Deutsches Architekturmuseum Frankfurt am Main Designs for Living

Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979 at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt am Main

Konstantin Grcic Panorama Vitra Design Museum Public Space

Public Space. Konstantin Grcic - Panorama, Vitra Design Museum

The Kramer Principle Design for Variable Use Museum Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt am Main Chair B 403 Thonet

Chair B 403 for Thonet by Ferdinand Kramer, as seen at The Kramer Principle: Design for Variable Use, Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main

smow blog 2014. A pictorial review: February

December 23rd, 2014

Cold as February 2014 unquestionably was, we managed to warm ourselves with exhibitions looking at the 1920s medial representation of Bauhaus Dessau, the life and works of Marianne Brandt and the work of Berlin based designer Birgit Severin. And got all excited by some USM window fittings!

usm window handle

A USM window handle!!!

Marianne Brandt Villa Esche Chemnitz Kaffeemaschine

A coffee percolator, by Marianne Brandt as seen at Villa Esche Chemnitz

Birgit Severin Lifetimes at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin

Birgit Severin Lifetimes at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin

bewundert verspottet gehasst Das Bauhaus Dessau im Medienecho der 1920er Jahre Metallische Fest

Photos from the 1929 Metallische Fest, as seen at bewundert, verspottet, gehasst - Das Bauhaus Dessau im Medienecho der 1920er Jahre

The Urburb – Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ, Berlin

December 8th, 2014

Until February 8th 2015 the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, DAZ, in Berlin is presenting the exhibition “The Urburb: patterns of contemporary living”

Developed by Ori Scialom, Dr. Roy Brand and Keren Yaela Golan The Urburb was Israel’s contribution to the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and aims to place the current state of urban planning and architecture in Israel in context of historical developments.

To this end The Urburb features four so-called sand printers – industrial plotting machines which continuously sketch examples of typical Israeli houses, towns, estates and regions into Negev Desert sand and then, and much like the Etch A Sketch of our youths, wipe out what they have created. And start again. And then destroy again. And then start. And then destroy. Start. Destroy. Start. Destroy.

The Urburb Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ Berlin

The Urburb Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, DAZ, Berlin

In addition to developing The Urburb as an installation Ori Scialom, Dr. Roy Brand and Keren Yaela Golan also developed the Urburb as a word and concept to describe their interpretation of contemporary Israeli planning as neither urban nor suburban, a phenomenon which for the trio has its origins in an inherent Israeli dislike of large cities and whose contemporary position as the basis for Israeli architecture and urban planning has its roots in one of the first attempts to bring some form of order to urban planning in the new State of Israel, the so-called National Outline Plan.

Developed from 1951 onwards by the Bauhaus educated, Polish born architect Arieh Sharon, the National Outline Plan was essentially concerned with moving the Israeli population away from its principle centres on the western shores and spreading them throughout the country. Sharon’s plan saw a grid network of new towns laid out across the habitable areas of Israel. Largely based on a modernist interpretation of the English garden city principle the new towns were composed of a loose connection of individual sectors, or “neighbouring units”, who were to exist independently of one another.

The problem, according to the curators, is that the plan didn’t work, didn’t provide for sustainable, effective communities which could form the basis for a sustainable, effective nation but rather created a disjointed grid of dysfunctional conurbations.
And much worse, that successive Israel governments have compounded the initial problems by simply repeating the same approach over and over again; continually expanding Sharon’s initial grid without making any changes to the plans. Or perhaps better put have only recently stopped repeating the same errors over and over again within the limits of Israel’s 1967 borders, but are continuing to repeat them within the occupied territories. As such the new settlements are not just political problems but are also creating long term urban planning disasters.

The Urburb sand printers reflect this continual, thoughtless repetition.

And as such make clear that modernism and its readily transferable, standardised solutions doesn’t necessarily make things better, at least not if simply left to blithely and blindly repeat the same dogmatic ideas without allowing for and undertaking any correction to rectify faults in the system.

And of course that is something that is not just applicable to modernism and Israeli urban planning and architecture, but to urban planning and architecture globally.

In addition to exploring the development of Israeli urban planning at an over-regional level The Urburb also looks at smaller scale developments. The contemporary Israeli city, for example, is explored in context of its development from the first British expansion plans for Jerusalem in 1944 over the plans for Hadera, Holon and Yahud, and again in doing so reflects a philosophy based on repetition of what has gone before rather than of leaning from what has gone before an developing new, site-specific solutions. The explorations of neighbourhoods and the building unit similarly concentrate of the sense of Israeli architecture and urban planning repeating that which has gone before, regardless of any evidence that may suggest change is advisable.

The Urburb Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ Berlin

The Urburb Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, DAZ, Berlin

In Venice The Urburb was presented on two levels within the Israeli Pavilion, we never saw it in Venice, however suspect that its presentation in one room in Berlin is a more rewarding experience. As is, again we assume, the decision to completely fill the DAZ exhibition space with sand rather than simply piling dunes next to the sand printers as was done in Venice.

Not least because through the presentation approach the curators have created a very welcoming and engaging space in which to view the exhibition.

Architecture exhibitions can often be singularly unrewarding experiences. The Urburb – Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ, Berlin is however one of the genuinely more accessible architecture exhibitions we have ever visited. We’re not afraid to admit that we often we visit architecture exhibitions and simply do not have a clue what is happening. Even after the curator has explained it.

The Urburb avoids such intellectual inaccessibility with a very simple slight of hand. Although the exhibition is technically the sand printers, the room full of sand, the gentle background music coming from Daniel Kiczales’ accompanying Urburb Music Box sound installation combined with the repetitive humming of the plotters causes you to largely ignore the printers and concentrate on the texts. Yet always returning to the printers to visualise what you have just read. The switch between mediums underscores the message and creates a comprehensible, uncomplicated and highly enjoyable exhibition experience.

The Urburb Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ Berlin

Plotting Jerusalem à la Henry Kendall's 1944 plan

On account of its history and rapid, unnatural, population growth combined with its largely desert topography Israel has a unique set of architecture and urban planning challenges. The geopolitical relevance of Israel however make it very important that the country’s politicians correctly respond to these challenges.

The Urburb presents an interpretation of the current state of architecture and urban planning in Israel, yes it is one opinion by one group of architects and academics, but nonetheless presents a convincing and clearly formulated perspective on how Israel got to where it is today and, and much like the 2011 exhibition Kibbutz and Bauhaus at the Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, makes clear that part of the current problem is lessons not being learnt or at least not leading to fundamental changes.

The Urburb doesn’t offer any solutions for new approaches, doesn’t advise the government how to rise to the challenges, but doesn’t set out to; because the curators understand that new approaches can only come once all involved have accepted the current reality and for all how one got there.

An important understanding that can be freely and liberal applied elsewhere and in other contexts.

The Urburb – Patterns of contemporary living can be viewed at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, DAZ, Köpenicker Straße 48/49, 10179 Berlin until Sunday February 8th.

Full details can be found at

The Urburb Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ Berlin

The Urburb Patterns of contemporary living at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, DAZ, Berlin

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

December 5th, 2014

Just as it seems that the press conference ahead of the opening of the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin’s new exhibition, “VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity”, is approaching its end, yet another, final, question is posed. Martin-Gropius-Bau Director Gereon Sievernich smiles warmly and responds with a very good natured “My, have you all got a lot of questions today!”



Exhibitions, or indeed any form of academic presentation, about the Russian art school VKhUTEMAS don’t exactly occur on a regular basis.

Yet much like Der entfesselte Blick at Marta Herford, VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity covers a moment of architecture history, and for all an architecture institution, that really does deserve more public attention and understanding.

VKhUTEMAS A Russian Laboratory of Modernity Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Established in Moscow in 1920 VKhUTEMAS thanks its dauntingly ungainly name to the acronym of its full title: Vysshiye Khudozhestvenno-Tekhnicheskiye Masterskiye or Higher Art and Technical Studios for all without the benefit of an East German education.

Conceived as an institution where art and architecture could combine to help form a new Russia, and for all new Russians, VKhUTEMAS comprised eight faculties teaching subjects such as, for example, printing, textiles, ceramics, painting and architecture.

In its first year VKhUTEMAS had some 2000 enrolled students and counted amongst its teaching staff leading Russian artists and architects of the age including Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko and Nikolai Ladovsky.

Largely avant garde in its outlook VKhUTEMAS not only helped develop and propagate influential art and architecture movements including constructivism or rationalism, but through contact with other institutions and protagonists also helped disseminate and popularise the ideals of European modernism; most notably perhaps with their contribution to the 1925 L’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris, a fair which saw the first large scale international presentation of VKhUTEMAS projects including Konstantin Melnikov’s Russian Pavilion, Alexander Rodchenko’s “Workers Club” and Lyubov Popova’s textile designs.

In 1927 evolving attitudes towards the avant garde saw the teaching direction and focus change, as did the institutions name, VKhUTEMAS becoming VKhUTEIN, and by 1930 the changing political realities in Stalin’s Russia made an institution such as VKhUTEIN and its un-Russian approaches and ideas impossible; consequently it surprised no-one when in 1930 VKhUTEIN was formally closed.

And that is about as brief a history of VKhUTEMAS/VKhUTEIN as you will find in VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity, for despite the title the exhibition isn’t about the school itself but rather about the architecture faculty and for all how the students learned and the projects that were developed there, if only very rarely realised.

Curated by the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture in Moscow VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity presents some 250 sketches, paintings, models and collages through which the teaching methods and structures in the architecture faculty are elucidated, including, for example, the relevance, importance and indeed revolutionary nature of classes in subjects such as “determination of space”, “determination and representation of volume and weight” or “determination of the geometric characteristics of a form”. Particularly fascinating and entertaining are the numerous diploma projects presented. From the very beginning VKhUTEMAS students completed diploma projects based on real, existing architecture and urban planning projects of the period, and a genuine highlight in this regard is Ivan Leonidov’s 1928 project for the V. I. Lenin Institute for Librarianship. In addition a special mention must go to the presentation of designs VKhUTEMAS students created for the competition to construct the so-called International Red Stadium (MKS) in Moscow. A competition Nikolai Ladovsky won, but on account of the volatile nature of late 1920s Soviet politics was unable to realise. Just one of the many great unbuilt designs to be found in the exhibition.

Despite being largely an exhibition of seventy year old sketches, VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity is a very open, affable and unintimidating exhibition which provides the information you need and then leaves you to follow those tracks that most interest you. Sounds obvious we know, but is not a state of affairs all exhibitions achieve. Especially not all architecture exhibitions.

VKhUTEMAS A Russian Laboratory of Modernity Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Given VKhUTEMAS’ avant garde approach, the range of subjects taught, the focus on the future society and it ultimately being closed by a repressive, populist, regime, VKhUTEMAS is often referred to as the Russian Bauhaus: a not completely inaccurate comparison but also a completely misleading one. However, given the lack of information most of us have on VKhUTEMAS Bauhaus is the most obvious reference, and so a little over generalising is perfectly valid. Not least because just as there were similarities between the two institutions, there was also close contact. Aside from Wassily Kandinsky who taught at both institutions, members of both schools regularly met at exhibitions and congresses throughout the 1920s and in 1928 Gunta Stölzl travelled with a group of students to Moscow and VKhUTEMAS. And perhaps most infamously, following his sacking as Bauhaus Director in 1930 Hannes Meyer transferred to VKhUTEMAS, just before it was closed.

As a brief aside, during the aforementioned press conference it was revealed that the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture and Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau had/have been in talks about organising some form of exhibition exploring the links between the two institutions. However, it appears that the driving force on the Dessau side was former Bauhaus Dessau Director Philipp Oswalt and that since his removal, sorry, since the non-renewal of his contract, the plans have lain somewhat on ice. It is to be hoped new Bauhaus Dessau Director Claudia Perren picks up that particular baton. It would certainly make an interesting addition to the forthcoming Bauhaus centenary celebrations in 2019. And course the VKhUTEMAS centenary celebrations in 2020.

VKhUTEMAS A Russian Laboratory of Modernity Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin Alexander Vesnin

Abstract compositions from 1922 by Alexander Vesnin, as seen at VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Just as there are invariably hoards of architecture smart alecks who claim to always have been huge admirers of Heinz and Bodo Rasch, so to will you invariably meet someone who claims to have always understood VKhUTEMAS and its role in the development of the European art and architecture traditions. Ask such people to name four members of the VKhUTEMAS teaching staff. Apart from Wassily Kandinsky. They’ll struggle.

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin however makes deliciously clear that we all should be able to name four members of the teaching staff, if not more, and also explain both the nature of the inter-collegial conflicts which plagued the institution and in how far the school’s legacy can be found in contemporary architecture and design. We should be able to do such not just on account of the works the students produced and the contribution they made to the development of our modern understanding of space and the built environment, but also on account of the teaching methods and structures the school developed and propagated.

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity is an excellent place to start learning. As an exhibition it doesn’t explain the complete story, and yes at times could be accused of being a little too superficial, perhaps even a little too uncritical; however, as an exhibition it does more than enough to not only provide an accessible introduction to the subject but also to inspire you to learn more. To ask a few questions. And then just one more……

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity runs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin until Monday April 6th 2015.

Full details, including information on the accompanying fringe programme, can be found at

5 New Design Exhibitions for December 2014

November 30th, 2014

One of the advantages of having been running our “5 New Design Exhibitions” series for over a year is that we now possess what we can optimistically refer to as an “archive”

And looking in that “archive” we discover that for December 2013 we recommended four exhibitions in Germanophone countries and one in Holland.

And for December 2014 we’re doing the same.

It’s not deliberate; it is just the case that only museums and galleries in Germany appear to open design and architecture exhibitions in December.

If anyone knows otherwise please let us know. But for now, our tips for December 2014.

“VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity” at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany

Established in 1920 the Russian State Art and Technical College, or VKhUTEMAS as it is popularly known after the acronym of its impossibly long Russian name, was conceived as an institution in which art and architecture would be used as the basis for building a new society responsive to and sensitive of the changing social, cultural and technological conditions of the age, and the corresponding new generations of mankind that would produce.

And if that sounds a bit familiar, then yes VKhUTEMAS is often referred to as the Russian Bauhaus. And the connections between the two go further than their avant garde philosophies, central focus on architecture and preaching of new approaches to education, but also include physical links: most notably Wassily Kandinsky who taught at both.

Organised in conjunction with the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow, VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity will present some 250 sketches, drawings, models and paintings by students and teaching staff and aims to provide an introduction to one of the more interesting and important cultural institutions of the inter-war years.

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity opens at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin on Friday December 5th and runs until Monday April 6th.

VKhUTEMAS – A Russian Laboratory of Modernity" at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin,

Vladimir Krinsky: News stall for the sale of propaganda materials. Elevation, 1919 (Photo: © The Shchusev State Museum of Architecture Moscow)

“Wege der Moderne. Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos und die Folgen” at the MAK Vienna, Austria

For reasons we’ve never quite understood, it is all too often forgotten that Austria, and for all Vienna, has been the centre of numerous cultural, architecture and design movements of the past century or two. Including Modernism. Although the fame and glory was to be reserved for others, without the likes of Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos and the work they carried out in the late 18th/early 19th century, many of the later developments would almost certainly not have been possible in the form they ultimately were. As a final Hurrah! to their 150th birthday celebrations the MAK Wien close 2014 with an exhibition that will will aim to highlight both the contribution Loos and Hoffmann made to the development of European modernism and also explore the fundamental differences in and of the philosophies and approaches which underscored their work.

Wege der Moderne. Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos und die Folgen opens at the MAK, Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna on Wednesday December 17th and runs until Sunday April 19th

Wege der Moderne Josef Hoffmann Adolf Loos und die Folgen at the MAK Vienna

Adolf Loos (l. Portrait, 1903 © ÖNB/Otto Mayer) and Josef Hoffmann (r. Portrait, 1903 © MAK)

“Designobjekte aus Kunststoff – Die Koelsch Collection” at kunsthaus kaufbeuren, Kaufbeuren, Germany

There, we would argue, is no more controversial and emotive material in design than plastic.

For some the saviour, for others the bitterest of foes

Positions which leave no room for compromise. But lots of room for arguments.

Where there can be no arguments however is in acknowledging that plastics have been employed to create some of the most genuinely wonderful, innovative, charming and culturally important objects of recent decades.

Presenting some 300 objects from what the organisers claim is the worldwide largest private collection of plastic design objects – a claim we see no reason to challenge – Designobjekte aus Kunststoff at the kunsthaus kaufbeuren promises to present plastic in all its multifarious and multifaceted forms.

A particular highlight promises to be the presentation of some 90 plastic radios covering a period of some 80 years. A highlight less on account of the number of objects but on account of the insights they will hopefully allow into evolving tastes, design philosophies and production possibilities.

Designobjekte aus Kunststoff – Die Koelsch Collection opens at kunsthaus kaufbeuren, Spitaltor 2, 87600 Kaufbeuren on Saturday December 13th and runs until Sunday March 8th

Designobjekte aus Kunststoff Die Koelsch Collection at kunsthaus kaufbeuren Kaufbeuren Germany

The wrist radio “Toot-a-Loop” R 72-S by J. F. Wilmin, 1969

“The Urburb: Patterns of contemporary living” at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ, Berlin, Germany

Fresh from its presentation as the Israeli contribution to the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, DAZ, in Berlin is presenting The Urburb – a word invented by the exhibition’s curators Ori Scialom, Roy Brand, Keren Yaela Golan to define their interpretation of a particular mix of the urban and suburban which dominates Israeli architecture and urban planning; and an installation which explores the role the Urburb has played in the history of the development of Israel. And so by extrapolation allows an alternative impression of the story of Israel and the reality that is contemporary Israel.

Featuring four “sand printers” which draw the outlines of regions, towns, estates and houses into Negev Desert sand, and then wipe the sand clean and start again, the Urburb not only mirrors the repetition of established patterns in Israeli architecture and planning, but also questions the sense of this repetition.

The Urburb: patterns of contemporary living opens at the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ, Köpenicker Straße 48/49, 10179 Berlin on Friday December 5th and runs until Sunday February 2nd

The Urburb installation view Venice Biennale

The Urburb installation as presented during the 2014 Venice Biennale (Photo: ©Francesco Allegretto)

“Klaarhamer volgens Rietveld” at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Holland

That no artist, architect, musician, author or designer can develop in complete isolation is a widely understood, if equally readily ignored, truth.

Deep down we all like the idea of the crazed-eyed romantic working doggedly towards their single minded goal. But normally there are others who serve as inspiration, as teachers, be that formal or informal, or just fellow travellers on a journey with whom one can share a beer and discuss the next step.

Yet all too often these men and women are forgotten by history, and so it is to be welcomed that the Centraal Museum in Utrecht is presenting an exhibition devoted to the Dutch architect and furniture designer Piet Klaarhamer – one of the most important figures in the development of the young Gerrit T. Rietveld.

Following a distinguished career as a teacher and architect, in 1919 Piet Klaarhamer received his largest, most important, architectural commission from the Dutch industrialist Cornelis Bruynzeel. And while that was unquestionably cause for celebration, 1919 also saw the magazine De Stijl publish the first images of simple wooden furniture by Klaarhamer’s former student Gerrit Rietveld. An event which established Rietveld’s position, and, if inadvertently and unintentionally, forced Piet Klaarhamer into a, near, eternal shade.

Utrecht’s Centraal Museum hope to rectify that through the presentation of paintings, furniture, sketches and recreations of interior design projects in an exhibition which it is hoped will throw some fresh, enduring, light on Piet Klaarhamer and his contribution to the history of European design and architecture.

Klaarhamer volgens Rietveld opens at the Centraal Museum, Nicolaaskerkhof 10, 3512 XC Utrecht on Saturday December 20th and runs until Sunday March 22nd

Blauwe stoel Piet Klaarhamer

The Blauwe stoel by Piet Klaarhamer, 1906 (Photo: Ivar Pel)

Haus-Rucker-Co – Architectural Utopia Reloaded at Haus am Waldsee, Berlin

November 26th, 2014

Until February 22nd the Berlin Gallery Haus am Waldsee is presenting the exhibition “Architectural Utopia Reloaded”, a retrospective dedicated to the experimental architecture collective Haus-Rucker-Co.

Haus Rucker Co Architectural Utopia Reloaded at Haus am Waldsee Berlin

Haus-Rucker-Co - Architectural Utopia Reloaded at Haus am Waldsee, Berlin

Established in Vienna in 1967 by the architects Laurids Ortner and Günter Zamp Kelp together with the artist Klaus Pinter, Haus-Rucker-Co principally concerned themselves with the creation of a new understanding of architecture fit for the coming centuries and about making us aware of the rapidly changing nature of the world around us and the responsibilities contained therein. Aims they largely pursued through artistic installations and architectural interventions – always working in the public sphere, because that was where change had to occur.

After creating an initial stir in Vienna with projects such as their Electric Skin transparent plastic clothes collection, the Roomscraper lamp or the 1967 parasitic architectural intervention “Balloon for 2″, the trio moved to Düsseldorf in 1969, principally on account of the preparations required for an exhibition of their work in Galerie Zwirner Cologne. In 1971 the trio became a quartet through the addition of Manfred Ortner and the following year Haus-Rucker-Co fissioned into two independently operating studios: Haus-Rucker-Co in Düsseldorf and Haus-Rucker-Inc in New York. In 1977 Haus-Rucker-Inc was dissolved, Haus-Rucker-Co followed, formally, in 1992, although in effect it had been inactive since the mid 1980s.

Presenting sketches, photographs, models, films and inflatable objects – both as reproductions and originals – Architectural Utopia Reloaded explores the philosophy, influence and importance of Haus-Rucker-Co though works created between 1967 and 1977, and focussing on three central areas of the Haus-Rucker-Co canon: the so-called “mind-expanding” program, pneumatic architecture and temporary urban architecture.

In addition to works by Haus-Rucker-Co, and in a move pleasingly reminiscent to the exhibition concept employed at Marta Herford for Der entfesselte Blick – Die Brüder Rasch und ihre Impulse für die moderne Architektur, Architectural Utopia Reloaded also includes works by contemporary artists working in similar fields and which reflect and reference the influence of Haus-Rucker-Co. Berlin based Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno is represented by his In Orbit project from 2012, Turkish-Cypriot artist and designer Hussein Chalayan through his pleasingly hypnotic 2003 short film Place to Passage while Küchenmonument from and by Berlin’s own raumlabor is present both in photographs and also as a location for selected events in the exhibition’s accompanying fringe programme.

Haus Rucker Co Architectural Utopia Reloaded at Haus am Waldsee Berlin Tomás Saraceno In Orbit Giant Billiard

In Orbit by Tomás Saraceno and Giant Billiard by Haus-Rucker-Co, as seen at Haus-Rucker-Co - Architectural Utopia Reloaded, Haus am Waldsee, Berlin

A very accessible and nicely conceived exhibition Architectural Utopia Reloaded provides a very succinct overview of and introduction to not only the work of Haus-Rucker-Co but also the general mood of the time; that sense of pride in the freedom made possible by contemporary technological advances combined with a slight paranoia that things could still go very, very wrong. And of course that in a matter of months we’d have moon colonies and diplomatic relationships with neighbouring galaxies. What it also does very well is avoid the temptation to claim that Haus-Rucker-Co were central to the development of the sort of futuristic urban utopian architecture that so defines the period; the exhibition is no vainglorious hagiography of the collective rather simply shows what Haus-Rucker-Co did, how they did it and why.

What Architectural Utopia Reloaded doesn’t do, largely because it can’t and so doesn’t aim to, is explain why many of the ideas developed and explored by Haus-Rucker-Co remain today as largely experimental, marginal, themes in architecture and design.

And lest we forget, Haus-Rucker-Co weren’t the only collective in the late 60s and early 1970s exploring questions of how future society would, could, should look and how the future urban space should respond to the coming changes. They weren’t even the only collective in Vienna, a city they had to share with the protagonists behind coop Himmelblau. In addition influential collectives such as, for example, Archigram in London, Archizoom in Florence or San Francisco’s Ant Farm were exploring similar themes, as were individuals including, perhaps most famously, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Frei Otto or Heinz and Bodo Rasch. While in 1966 Andy Warhol presented his Silver Clouds installation, a work which involved inflatable metallic clouds floating through the Leo Castelli Gallery in Manhattan, and which demonstrates that it wasn’t just architects who were exploring such concepts.

And so given the number of practitioners, the culture relevance of the ideas and the status of those doing the research, why don’t we all have, for example, inflatable bubbles into which we slip when the noise at home or in the office gets too much?

Viewing Architectural Utopia Reloaded we found it hard not to find ourselves drifting back to Heinz Rasch and Axel Bruchhäuser’s theory as to why the cantilever chair designs of Heinz and Bodo Rasch have never attracted a wider public, namely that “on account of the geometric divisibility of a standard room only cubic chairs such as those from Mart Stam could establish themselves; because they repeat this cubic form. That is chairs with quiescent vertical and horizontal lines have a chance whereas those which contradict this spatial harmony do not.”

Similarly, whereas groups like Haus-Rucker-Co started discussions about concepts such as rooms in rooms and temporary internal structures, when architects finally got round to realising such on a commercial, serial scale, it was in the neat, quadratic form of the office cubicle. A solution almost primordial in its predictability.

Today there are commercially available inflatable products for creating temporary interior architecture, most notably perhaps Cloud by Monica Förster for Stockholm based furniture manufacturer Offecct. But let’s not fool ourselves that a product such as Cloud is the highest selling item in the Offecct portfolio. It will sell. But guaranteed nowhere near as regularly as it should.

We suspect one reason is that such objects radically alter the interior space, destroy the harmony and create forms outwith our normal registers and to which we culturally cannot relate.

Similarly every so often media attention is given to a project where someone, invariably a student, attaches a temporary structure to the side of a house for use as an extra room. Haus-Rucker-Co did that in 1967. And it’s still not accepted. But what is so wrong with temporary spaces?

As we noted in our post on the recent presentation of Küchenmonument by raumlabor at the Berlinische Galerie “Much like cars, power drills or suits, the majority of event spaces are only needed on an ad-hoc, occasional basis. Yet are permanently there. Taking up space rather than providing it.”

And the same logic can be applied to domestic architecture. We don’t need bigger houses, we need the ability to create more, temporary, space when it is, temporarily, needed. Why not employ inflatable or otherwise pop-up-able add-ons?

Beyond of course the fact that such a structure contradicts the accepted understanding of what a house looks like, fails to comply with geometrical convention. Convention lets us add a permanent extension through the roof, but not inflate a balloon out the bedroom window for 24 hours.

Haus Rucker Co Architectural Utopia Reloaded at Haus am Waldsee Berlin Mind Expander 2

Mind Expander 2 by Haus-Rucker-Co, as seen at Haus-Rucker-Co - Architectural Utopia Reloaded, Haus am Waldsee, Berlin

Haus-Rucker-Co of course weren’t just about experimental, inflatable architecture they also looked at ways of manipulating the environment around us, developing new ways for us to perceive, understand and so relate to our environment. And when on looks at the various Mind Expander projects Haus-Rucker-Co developed in the late 1960s, it’s hard not to think about the speed with which we are moving towards a widespread use of augmented technology headsets.

Or with their 1971 project Cover which involved building an air supported dome over and around Mies van der Rohe’ Lange House in Krefeld, Haus-Rucker-Co tackled the subject of how best to protect ourselves against the ever increasing threat of air pollution. Similar of course in many ways to the glass dome the US government placed over Springfield in the 2007 film The Simpsons Movie; not least because it isn’t a solution but much more highlights the problem and so challenges us all to work towards a more agreeable, responsible, future.

And similarly while the rooftop gardens and biotopes created in New York in context of the collective’s Rooftop Oasis projects of the early 1970s were in their day revolutionary; such now form a standard consideration in most all new architectural developments.

And so maybe the real answer as to why we don’t all have inflatable bubbles tucked away in a cupboard is simply because we’re not that far yet. We’re on our way. But have still to arrive.

Anyone looking for an informative, entertaining and thought provoking short cut is advised to visit Haus am Waldsee.

Haus-Rucker-Co – Architectural Utopia Reloaded runs at Haus am Waldsee, Argentinische Allee 30, 14163 Berlin until Sunday February 22nd.

Full details, including information on the accompanying fringe programme can be found at

smow blog compact: Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin Reopens

November 21st, 2014

Following three years closure and an investment of some four million Euros the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin – Berlin Museum of Decorative Arts – is once again open to the public.

In addition to architectural and interior design adaptations and conversions by Berlin based architects KUEHN MALVEZZI and refreshed displays chronicling the development of popular culture since the middle ages, the past three years have also brought the museum a permanent fashion section and new dedicated special exhibition spaces.

Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin Building

The Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin

As with all similar institutions the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin suffers under the sheer volume of objects in its collection and the question of how best to display them.

As with all similar institutions the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin’s solution is room after room filled with display case after display case.

In the wide open spaces of Rolf Gutbrod’s 1967 construction the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin and KUEHN MALVEZZI just about get away with it; but there is no escaping the fact that in the 21st century there must be better ways of presenting valuable, old objects. And that such museal presentations should long since have become museal exhibits.

The shortcomings of the presentation strategy are particularly apparent in the dedicated design section, and for all in the current special exhibition dedicated to chair design which, although presenting some truly wondrous and important objects, just screams “storage room”. And who wants to hang around storage room for longer than absolutely necessary? The permanent design exhibition space meanwhile commits, to quote our thoughts on the exhibition Alvar Aalto – Second Nature at the Vitra Design Museum, the “curatorial sin” of objects on white blocks.

Although, and as with Second Nature, the quality of the objects on display does more than make up for the lack of inspiration in the planning.

Everything one would expect to see is there, from Thonet via mid century US design, Germanic gute Form, and on over the golden age of Scandinavian design and Memphis to contemporary designers. All neatly abridged. Neatly stereotyped. Neatly close enough to the truth to be accessible and informative without boring or overtaxing.

And perversely therein may lie the secret for the rest of the museum. Don’t try to present everything. Leave gaps, skip a little, move things along a little quicker than history recalls.

That, or install a few cafes at strategic points on the way round the museum to allow some respite from the endless, unabating, flow of objects, dates and information.

Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin Eames Noguchi

American mid century design - just Eames and Noguchi, apparently....

Despite our reservations about the presentation style, it is good and welcome that the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin is once again open, especially from a design perspective. Berlin has numerous museums that specialise in aspects of design, for example, the Bauhaus Archiv, the Bröhan Museum or the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge, but an international metropolis like Berlin needs a location where design in all its nuances can be presented, connections explained and developments followed.

And in that sense what is particularly pleasing in the new Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin is that many of the design highlights aren’t in the dedicated design section, but scattered throughout the museum, presented in the context of the situation from which they arose rather than abstractly as “design.” And so, for example, we have a furniture ensemble from Henry van de Velde presented in context of Art Nouveau or a wicker furniture collection by Richard Riemerschmid presented in context of the Werkstätten movement from the same period. And while Berlin is represented throughout the various rooms, including delightful works by, for example, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Peter Behrens and Herbert Hirche, we did miss a dedicated look at the history of design in the city. Not that museum’s should be parochial about such things, far from it and we’d certainly be the first to complain if they were; however, given the role Berlin and Berliners have played in the development of product and furniture design, and given the current levels of creativity being practiced in the city, a focus would be nice.

As would works by a few more contemporary Berlin designers.

But let’s wait and see what the special exhibition programme brings.

And until then the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin, and its display cabinets, can and indeed should be enjoyed in their new glory.

A few impressions:

Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre at the Bröhan Museum Berlin

October 17th, 2014

“Marcel Breuer seeing a pair of bicycle handle-bars decided to make chairs using the same industrial process. The new world constructor seeing a pair of bicycle handle-bars decides to use them as they are and save himself the trouble and expense of bending the tube.”1

So articulated Jasper Morrison in his 1984 text “The Poet will not Polish” not only the theoretical background to his Handlebar Table, but much more the frustration and alienation being felt at that time by a young generation of European artists, architects and designers to and with the existing systems and the accepted cultural norms. A lack of faith if you will in industrial society’s ability to provide that what the population actually needed and wanted. And that the functionalists were largely to blame for the current unhappy state of affairs.

Morrison’s text appeared in the catalogue to the exhibition Kaufhaus des Ostens – Department Store of the East – an exhibition organised by Joachim Stanitzek and Andreas Brandolini, ably assisted by Jasper Morrison, and which presented works by students from the Hochschule der Künste Berlin. Kaufhaus des Ostens arose from a project in which students were asked to create furniture and/or household objects from items available at the local building centre; the idea being to stick two fingers up to the industrial producers by designing without designing, to take industry’s carefully created products and give them a new, alien, function. The rules for the students were simple: they could spend a maximum of 100DM and had one week to complete the project. Although essentially nothing more spectacular than the presentation of a student project, Kaufhaus des Ostens had a second, ulterior, motive, one which touched a creative nerve: the subtitle of the project takes the “KdO” abbreviation of Kaufhaus des Ostens to create “Kampf der Ohnmacht” – fight the impotence – and thus can be understood as a call to reject the status quo, to explore new ways producing, of living, of understanding the world around you. Consequently Kaufhaus des Ostens was one of the defining moments in the so called Neue Deutsche Design – New German Design – movement of the 1980s. Italy had the Memphis group of Ettore Sottsass, Michele de Lucchi, Alessandro Mendini et al fighting postmodernism’s corner. Germany had Kaufhaus des Ostens, Möbel perdu, Bellefast, Kunstflug et al. And the Bröhan Museum in Berlin is currently celebrating these radical young things and their contribution to the history of German design with the exhibition “Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre” [Fancy Bizarre Brutal. New German Design of the 1980s]

Schrill Bizarr Brachial Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre Bröhan Museum Berlin

Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre at the Bröhan Museum Berlin

The first exhibit one sees on entering Schrill Bizarr Brachial is Morrison’s Handlebar Table, presented as part of a display devoted to Kaufhaus des Ostens. Jasper Morrison himself was not technically a student at the Hochschule der Künste in 1984, was however in Berlin, was very friendly with Andreas Brandolini and so was invited not only to participate, but to co-curate the exhibition. Similarly, Morrison had already created his Handlebar Table in 1983 and had, in effect, brought it with him as part of his luggage to Berlin; however, as it fitted with the philosophy of the exhibition he was allowed to present it. In addition to the Handlebar Table Morrison also contributed other projects to Kaufhaus des Ostens, projects which did meet the rules including “Directional Lamp with small table”, essentially a light bulb in a plastic filter funnel on a metal stand, and an object which can enjoyed in all its perverse yet persuasive glory in the Bröhan Museum. Further Kaufhaus des Ostens projects featured in Schrill Bizarr Brachial include John H. Hirschberg’s sideboard made from brick layer’s trowels, Axel Stumpf’s axe and glass coffee table Kumpel II and Bettina Wiegandt and Manuel Pfahl’s sheet zinc stool and side table.

The decision to, in effect, open the exhibition with Kaufhaus des Ostens is deliberate: Kaufhaus des Ostens is in many ways the inspiration for Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Not only did the show première in Berlin thirty years ago, but was last presented in 1985 in the building that now houses the Bröhan Museum, albeit in the then resident Werkbundarchiv.

That the Bröhan Museum is the Berlin State Museum for Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Functionalism one could see a slight contradiction in the institution presenting an exhibition devoted to Neue Deutsche Design; museum director and exhibition curator Tobias Hoffmann doesn’t, “I want to use our special exhibitions to further expand our classic focus, that is present exhibitions that perhaps lie outwith our core period of 1890 and 1940, yet exhibitions which have a connection to our classic themes,” explains Dr Hoffmann, “and this exhibition has two connections. Firstly the local connection, and secondly from an artistic aspect the objects shown here repeat what Art Nouveau stood for, namely searching for creative freedom, to create objects which can remain as one-offs, to not always think about serial production, about industrial production. This longing for the industrial production plays a central role in history of German design, be that with Bauhaus, with the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm or with gute Form. And with both Art Nouveau and the Neue Deutsche Design we break completely from this thinking.”

To demonstrate this search for a brave, new future Schrill Bizarr Brachial presents, in addition to Kaufhaus des Ostens, collections of works by key protagonists of the era, including, for example, the Berlin based Bellefast collective of Andreas Brandolini, Joachim Stanitzek and Max Moormann, or Pentagon from Cologne featuring Wolfgang Laubersheimer, Reinhard Müller and Ralph Sommer, in addition to individual designers and artists such as Axel Kufus, Volker Albus or Siegfried Michail Syniuga. In addition the exhibition recreates Andreas Brandolini’s 1987 “Deutsche Wohnzimmer” – German Living Room – installation from the Documenta 8 art festival and presents an original ensemble from Hamburg Galerie Möbel perdu – including a video of the opening of the 1982 exhibition “Möbel perdu – Schöneres Wohnen”, an exhibition that is generally considered to mark the “awakening” of Neue Deutsche Design as a tangible, definable movement.

Schrill Bizarr Brachial Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre Bröhan Museum Berlin

Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre at the Bröhan Museum Berlin

What Schrill Bizarr Brachial makes very clear is not only was Neue Deutsche Design a geographically diverse movement, but in no way was it a movement defined by a unified style or approach. Everyone was doing their own thing, some with a more artistic approach, some more design, but all looking in the same direction and all with the same ideals and fervour. A state of affairs that had its origins in the way the movement came together and organic way it evolved. “The protagonists generally began independently from one another, often without even being aware of one another”, explains Tobias Hoffmann, “but after the first exhibitions they very quickly became aware of one another and then started to cooperate, staged joint exhibitions and attempted to help one another”

A situation that almost perfectly describes the path taken by the artist known as Stiletto Studios. Stiletto moved to Berlin in 1980 and after initial experimentation with photography and film moved on to furniture. With his 1983 Consumer’s Rest Lounge Chair Stiletto created one of the true pin up pieces of the era, a work which attracted a lot of media attention thus helping others find publicity and a work which has since gone on to be included in the permanent collection of numerous leading design museums including the Vitra Design Museum, the V&A London, and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York.

“Shortly after I moved to Berlin I realised that I couldn’t see myself as a regular worker in the industrial society, realised my studies were the wrong choice and so I made a radical cut, ditched everything and submerged myself in the Berlin post punk world. As often as I could afford it I would go to the club Jungle which was where all the Berlin subcultures met, also the designers an artists.”, explains Stiletto, “Initially I had nothing to do with design, didn’t know anything about any scene and certainly wasn’t aware that there were people exploring design with an artistic, critical or analytical approach. However that quickly changed, I made ever more contacts, and became more involved. My first works were produced in 1981, but it was 1982 before I started working conscientiously, and there then followed a period of one maybe one and half years where I worked very intensely in context of design, for example with readymade, bricolage and similar concepts”

And it is fortunate that he was there when he was, for just as quickly as it rose, so vanished Neue Deutsche Design. “The exhibition “Wohnen von Sinnen” in Düsseldorf in 1986 was the grandiose highpoint, the biggest and most important exhibition and then very quickly afterwards it cooled and became much weaker.” says Dr Hoffmann. The reasons why are probably as numerous as the protagonists, but ultimately the final death knell fell with the Berlin Wall in 1989 and subsequent German unification. The resultant social, political and cultural changes creating new conditions, new challenges, new realities, new associations and a need for new responses.

Schrill Bizarr Brachial Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre Bröhan Museum Berlin Stiletto Studios Consumer's Rest

Consumer's Rest by Stiletto Studios

Given the divergent nature of the protagonists, the fact that Neue Deutsche Design effectively lasted less than a decade and the social and cultural changes that have occurred since the 1980s, the one question that dominates your thoughts as you view Schrill Bizarr Brachial is, can one speak of a legacy? “Formally there are very few connections that can be made”, answers Tobias Hoffmann, “however, in terms of content definitely. When one, for example, looks at the current maker scene, especially here in Berlin, that is exactly what began in the 1980s, this idea of taking things in your own hands, establishing small galleries and generally taking control over the design, production and distribution processes.” But Neue Deutsche Design survives in other ways: in more open, experimental relationships with materials, the ill advised readymades which blight so many an otherwise good design exhibition, and also in a number of newer furniture producers who took up many of the ideals of the time and have absorbed them into the company philosophy. Whereas a company such as Cappellini in their current form can be understood as a direct consequence of Memphis and the cultural upheavals in 1980s Italy, so to can a manufacturer such as Nils Holger Moormann be seen and understood in context of the experiences of Neue Deutsche Design, and more recently Pulpo, a company who for us make decisions based on emotional gut feelings as much as any considered commercial interest.

But for us the most lasting, most durable, and perhaps also most important influence of Neue Deutsche Design is to be found in the German design education system: Axel Kufus and Inge Sommer at the Universität der Künste Berlin, Volker Albus at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe, Ralph Sommer at the HFBK Hamburg, Wolfgang Laubersheimer at the Köln International School of Design and Jörg Hundertpfund at the FH Potsdam, amongst others, all coming from Neue Deutsche Design. And all who not only attempt to install a principle of experimental free thinking in their students but who approach their teaching work now with the same panache and passion as their design work then.

An excellently designed and constructed exhibition Schrill Bizarr Brachial mixes design objects with film, photography and short texts to present a very open and accessible introduction to a period in German design history that was perhaps more fun to be part of than to look back on, which definitely missed its aim of destroying the established design traditions, but which did usher in a new approach to design thinking and opened new possibilities for design, made design something that was culturally relevant and not just commercially important, and for which we should all be thankful.

As such for all wanting to understand 20th century German design beyond Bauhaus, Dieter Rams and Egon Eiermann it is an exhibition well worth visiting.

Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre runs at the Bröhan Museum until Sunday February 1st.

The exhibition texts are – almost – all bilingual German/English and full details, including information on the accompanying fringe programme, can be found at

1.Kaufhaus des Ostens, Catalogue, c kdo + verlag zweitschrift, Hannover 1984

(smow) blog compact: Made in Germany – Politik mit Dingen. Der Deutsche Werkbund 1914 at the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin

October 15th, 2014

In 1907 a loose association of German architects, artists and industrialists joined forces as the Deutsche Werkbund – the German Industrial Association. Principally established with the aim of helping German industry adapt to the technological advances of the age and so help them both prepare for the forthcoming industrialisation and ensure that the coming challenges were met with high quality products and healthy, happy workers, the Deutsche Werkbund founders were additionally motivated by a recently passed UK law which required all products from Germany to be labelled as “Made in Germany”: in effect a mark of inferior quality. And a clear and deliberate insult from one colonial power against another.

On May 16th 1914 the Deutsche Werkbund gathered in Cologne for their inaugural exhibition, one of the first major presentations of contemporary industrial products in Germany and as such a demonstration of the prowess of German industry of the day. It was in addition to become the occasion for a very public demonstration of the conflicts which plagued the young association.

Made in Germany Politik mit Dingen Der Deutsche Werkbund 1914 Werkbundarchiv Museum der Dinge Berlin

Made in Germany – Politik mit Dingen. Der Deutsche Werkbund 1914 at Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin

Taking the opening of the 1914 Cologne exhibition as its inspiration “Made in Germany – Politik mit Dingen. Der Deutsche Werkbund 1914″ at the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin seeks to explore the economic and cultural ideals behind the Deutsche Werkbund’s philosophy and by extrapolation the role the Deutsche Werkbund played in the transformation of “Made in Germany” from a indicator of inferior quality to an internationally recognised guarantee of high quality.

To this end, in addition to a presentation in the museum’s special exhibition room, Politik mit Dingen weaves effortlessly through the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge’s permanent collection; the museum’s idiosyncratic display cases being partly given over to presentations explaining, for example, how and why “brands” arose, how they were marketed, how the rise of German industrial production was closely linked to the rise of German nationalism, or how the Deutsche Werkbund companies were the first to commission and employ designers in context of product development and corporate identity. And how through such co-operations the Deutsche Werkbund companies helped the likes of Wilhelm Wagenfeld or Peter Behrens establish their reputations.

And the importance of design to industry.

And that this focus on design led product development over profit led product development is one of the reasons “Made in Germany” is now such an internationally respected standard.

Going beyond such thematic and programmatic considerations one of the highlights of the exhibition is a scale model of the Glass Pavilion Berlin architect Bruno Taut created for the 1914 exhibition. Resembling a western European impression of an oriental temple the Glass Pavilion was created as a marketing vehicle for the German glass industry, and with its carefully designed illumination literally shimmered like a jewel on the exhibition site. Presented as a model, as the subject of a film and as a series of 3D images, the installation in the Werkbundarchiv not only brings Taut’s creation to life but helps the visitor understand just how the visitors in Cologne must have wondered and this glistening foretaste of what the equally glistening future would bring.

Made in Germany Politik mit Dingen Der Deutsche Werkbund 1914 Werkbundarchiv Museum der Dinge Berlin

Shoe polishing for the Kaiser.

In addition to looking at the role the Deutsche Werkbund played in establishing German economic might, and nationalist pride, Made in Germany – Politik mit Dingen also briefly explains the so-called “typification debate” that raised its head in Cologne and, effectively, led to the movement’s later split, and so indirectly to the rise of the Bauhaus school. One the one side Hermann Muthesius and his predilection for set standards, for a predefined set of global forms on which industrial production and architecture should be based. On the other side Henry van de Velde and his call for the artistic freedom of all designers and architects to create that which they felt was appropriate and correct. A debate which, to be fair, rages as strongly today as it did for 100 years.

Made in Germany – Politik mit Dingen. Der Deutsche Werkbund 1914 isn’t a large exhibition, but is large enough to allow it to succinctly and deftly explain one of the most important moments in not only German design history but also Germany’s development to the economic centre of Europe it is today. And to do so in a way that is informative, entertaining and instructive.

Made in Germany – Politik mit Dingen. Der Deutsche Werkbund 1914 runs at Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin, Oranienstraße 25, 10999 Berlin until Monday February 2nd. In addition to the exhibition itself the museum have also organised an accompanying fringe programme.

Full details can be found at

Sensing the Future: László Moholy-Nagy, die Medien und die Künste at the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

October 8th, 2014

In his 1936 film “Modern Times” Charlie Chaplin is famously swallowed by the wheels of progress in a short yet cutting critique on the problems and challenges technological and social change were bringing for the common man.

Over a decade earlier the Hungarian artist and author László Moholy-Nagy had also began to approach and study the problems and challenges of modernity, of increasing technological innovation and the associated flood of new sensory experiences, and in their winter 2014/15 exhibition “Sensing the Future: László Moholy-Nagy, die Medien und die Künste” the Bauhaus Archive Berlin present an in-depth exploration of not only László Moholy-Nagy’s work in this field, but also the continuing relevance of that work in our own “Modern Times”

Sensing the Future Lászlo Moholy-Nagy die Medien und die Künste at Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

Sensing the Future: László Moholy-Nagy, die Medien und die Künste at Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

Born in 1895 in Bácsborsód, Hungary László Moholy-Nagy initially intended to follow a legal career, before his plans changed upon discovering avant-garde art and literature, first through the Budapest “Activist” movement and subsequently Dadaism and Russian Constructivism. In 1920 László Moholy-Nagy moved to Berlin where in addition to being introduced to the ideas of the progressive education movement he published his first, programmatic, texts and participated in his first art exhibitions, before in 1923 Walter Gropius appointed him to replace Johannes Itten as tutor for the famous introductory Vorkurs at Bauhaus Weimar. Having moved with the institution from Weimar to Dessau László Moholy-Nagy left Bauhaus in 1928 to establish his own design studio in Berlin before, and as with so many of his contemporaries, the rise to power of the NSDAP saw him emigrate: firstly to Amsterdam, then London, Brno and ultimately Chicago. In 1937 László Moholy-Nagy attempted to revive the Bauhaus spirit with the so-called “New Bauhaus” college in Chicago, an ill-fated adventure which lack of funds forced to closed in 1938, whereupon László Moholy-Nagy established the Chicago School of Design which ultimately became the contemporary Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design. László Moholy-Nagy died in Chicago on November 24th 1946.

Initiated and curated by Professor Oliver Botar from the University of Manitoba’s School of Art “Sensing the Future” seeks to explore how in his work, artistic and educational, László Moholy-Nagy sought to both understand the exponential technological changes taking place in the 1920s and also help the population at large prepare for and deal with the coming future, for all the coming medial future. “László Moholy-Nagy felt that art was the best way to help people deal with this onslaught of sensory inputs”, explains Oliver Botar, “on the one hand by teaching us how to use our senses to their full capacity, but also through art itself. He felt that if you made art that was sensory challenging, then this challenge, in a controlled situation, could be an arena to help people adapt better to the changes of the period.”

And so just as Fritz Haller designed a space colony to help him think more clearly about terrestrial architectural and urban planning problems, so did László Moholy-Nagy consider that creating an artificially challenging environment would help us understand and adapt to evolving technological realities.

An example of how László Moholy-Nagy understood this role and function of art can be seen is his Poly-Cinema, a “film projection space” in which several films are played at once on a curved projection surface; a concept which initially overpowers the viewer but which also challenges you to find a way to control the information flood and so bring order to the chaos. Sensing the Future features a reconstruction of a Poly-Cinema thus allowing all visitors the chance to do just that.

And at the same time understand that the issues facing László Moholy-Nagy and his contemporaries are just as relevant now as they were then: increasing and more rapid reproducibility through new media, new production processes, advertising, globalisation. László Moholy-Nagy may not have had to worry about ever new apps, 3D printing or virtual viruses; but he did have photography, film and the motor car.

Sensing the Future Lászlo Moholy-Nagy die Medien und die Künste at Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

Enjoying the mobile sculpture Floe by Erika Lincoln

In addition to helping society understand the future László Moholy-Nagy also considered how new technology could be used to help us adapt. One such consideration was his so-called “Konstruktionsorgel” – Construction Organ – a replica of which is included in the exhibition. In a 1938 presentation of the Konstruktionsorgel László Moholy-Nagy argued that because visual images would become ever more important, that communication with and via visual images would become a daily occurrence, yet because the costs of photography were prohibitively high, those without access to the tools of photography, and such experience in composing and creating graphics, would become the illiterate of the future world. Consequently technical aids were required to make access to visual composition available to all. The Konstruktionsorgel is his solution. In effect it is Photoshop. In 1938. With the images saved on punch cards. It is also a wonderful analogy for the modern situation with smartphone and mobile computer technology: those who don’t have access risk being left behind. Or at least not able to open hotel doors, book concert tickets or find out when the next train departs.

These days we are probably more likely to turn to designers for solutions to social and cultural problems, one of the more durable legacies of Bauhaus being the development of design from art via applied art. But does art still have a role to play in helping us understand our environment. Or have we moved on?

“I think art is still very important in this regard”, answers Oliver Botar unequivocally, the impetus however is on the artist to take the initiative, to understand the world around them and the nature of the changes taking place, as László Moholy-Nagy once did. “László Moholy-Nagy said that artists have to engage with all new technology, regardless of what it is”, continues Oliver Botar, “artists shouldn’t be afraid of technology and should collaborate with technicians. If artists can do it, that gives us all the courage and confidence to engage with new technology.”

To this end Sensing the Future features, in addition to paintings, sculptures, plans, installations, photographs and films by László Moholy-Nagy, contemporary works produced by contemporary artists which continue the spirit of László Moholy-Nagy’s philosophy.

A very open and clearly designed exhibition Sensing the Future not only provides an excellent introduction to László Moholy-Nagy but also helps us understand that despite how quickly we may think our current society is progressing and changing, it isn’t progressing and changing any quicker than society was for a 100 years. And consequently we can learn a lot from previous generations about adapting to new technology and new futures.

“László Moholy-Nagy felt it was very important that we controlled technology lest we be controlled by technology”, adds Oliver Botar, “That was his basic message and I feel that message is relevant today because we all feel occasionally overwhelmed”

And all occasionally get sucked into the machinery à la Charlie Chaplin.

Sensing the Future: László Moholy-Nagy, die Medien und die Künste runs at the Bauhaus Archiv, Klingelhöferstrasse 14, 10785 Berlin until Monday January 12th 2015.

Full details, including information on the accompanying fringe programme can be found at

Top of page