November 2015 was a month of exhibitions, including Konstantin Grcic at the Grassi Museum Leipzig and Anton Corbijn at C/O Berlin, but we did also find time for a very long chat with Budapest designer András Kerékgyártó about life as a contemporary Hungarian designer.
Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’
Normally October is all about design festivals, October 2015 wasn’t. On the one hand we weren’t at that many this year, and on the other those we were at didn’t impress us that much.
What did impress us was the new collection by Ateliers J&J. Oh yes!
In addition October 2015 saw us consider questions of housing provision at Wohnungsfrage at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, the oeuvre of Charles and Ray Eames at the Barbican Art Gallery in London and Art Nouveau at the Kunst und Gewerbe Museum in Hamburg.
As we noted in our 5 New Design Exhibitions for August 2015 post “Everyone, but everyone, it would appear is on holiday.”
We weren’t, even if the relatively meagre number of posts tends to imply otherwise. A meagre number of posts which elegantly prove that reduction can lead to higher quality…
The older we get the more important July becomes as it allows us to return to college to view design schools end of term exhibitions – a genuine highlight of our year. In addition July 2015 saw us celebrate two of the most important representatives of concrete construction, two completely contrasting representatives of concrete construction: Ulrich Muther und Le Corbusier.
For the 13th century Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas beauty required a perfect combination of integritas, consonantia & claritas – integrity, harmony, clarity. In a similar vein the 15th century Italian playwright and philosopher Leon Battista Alberti defined beauty as the harmony of all parts in relation to one another, a character in one of his plays extending this idea to proclaim, in answer to a question concerning a woman’s’ beauty, “She is so beautiful that nothing could be added to her, and nothing more could be wished” – an early precursor of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Nietzsche considered that “nothing is beautiful”, although being Nietzsche this assertion is tied up with enough conditions and explanations to allow one to legitimately question if not the opposite is meant. More recently Karl Lagerfeld is reported to have stated “I don’t like standard beauty – there is no beauty without strangeness”, words which perfectly explain why Karl Lagerfeld famously furnished two of his homes exclusively in Memphis objects. Much to Ernesto Gismondi’s consternation.
And perhaps it is because deliberations on the question of beauty have accompanied mankind for almost all of its concious, cultured existence that as a global society we strive, longingly, for beauty; albeit without ever having a definite idea as to what beauty is. Or indeed why we are striving, longingly, for it.
Such, or at least similar, considerations, form the background to the project Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom by Korean born, Berlin based designer Bora Hong.
“As a Korean living in Europe I follow very closely what is happening in Korea”, explains Bora Hong, “and it occured to me that there is currently too much cosmetic surgery taking place in Korea and that people are often undertaking cosmetic surgey without really thinking about it and that there is no real discussion about why so many people are having so much cosmetic surgery, and that got me thinking and I realised ultimately it was about beauty and as a designer I am also creating beauty, if beauty with a function, and so I decided to compare designing bodies with designing objects and so explore what beauty means in terms of design”
The result is and was the project Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom which can currently be viewed at Volume Gallery Berlin.
Originally undertaken as her graduation project at Design Academy Eindhoven Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom features a theoretical dissertation, a series of photos visualising the cosmetic surgery strangers recommended Bora Hong undertake and a curious, yet undeniably charming, investigation involving people trying different noses. Transferring her research into contemporary attitudes on cosmetic surgery from the animate to the inanimate world Bora Hong created a series of “Eames LCW” chairs from reassembled fragments of abandoned and forgotten “normal” chairs. The decision to use the Eames plywood chair as her standard, her definition of a beautiful chair, being based on the position the chair holds in popular culture, “the Eames chair is considered an iconic design and lots of people are only interested in iconic objects, but does that also mean that iconic objects are beautiful?” asks Bora Hong.
Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom is Bora Hong’s search for an answer.
The exhibition at Volume Gallery Berlin presents, in addition to videos and photos from the Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom project, the evolution of Bora Hong’s considerations on beauty in design from her reassembled LCWs over original Eames LCWs “customised” by Bora Hong with a chisel – “I considered the LCW itself might be getting bored with its appearance” – and onto the latest phase of the project in which the LCWs are recreated from epoxy resin in which are trapped fragments of old, normal, chairs: these recent works reflecting current trends in cosmetic surgery where beyond the simple alterations of yore, bones are increasingly being cut, removed and reconfigured, fundamental structural changes being undertaken and appearances being made to order, designed to order if you will. Or as Nietzsche would no doubt have put it, having transformed ourselves to mirror our ideas of perfection, we have achieved perfection.
But have we?
Bora Hong’s chairs are unmistakably Eames LCWs. Yet are equally unmistakably not Eames LCWs.
As we’ve often noted in these pages, design classics are generally considered such because of their physical form, an idealised understanding of beauty based on commonly held registers and ideals. Yet all too often it is forgotten why they have that form, the process which led to that form and the decisions the designer, or in the case of the LCW, the designers made. Similarly it’s not how you look, or indeed how you dress, that make you what you are but rather the experiences you have had and how you have reacted and responded to those which ultimately form you.
Beauty is the result of an honesty of character, be that an honesty of character in an individual or a honesty of character in a product design process.
Which is of course why Bora Hong’s Eames LCWs are such commanding and fascinating works, beautiful objects even, they arise from a conviction, a belief in what is being done, a personal identification with the project, an honesty.
That they resemble the Eames LCW is more incidental than important in one’s appreciations of the works.
We’re not saying that Bora Hong has (re)solved the centuries long conflict and discourse on the essential nature of beauty. She hasn’t. However viewing Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom could cause you to view your immediate environment, animate and inanimate, in a whole new light.
Bora Hong – Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom runs at VOLUME Gallery, Brunnenstraße 22, 10119 Berlin until Sunday December 13th. On Friday December 11th all are invited to an artist talk and Korean Food Party.
Full details can be found at www.keumprojects.com
Obviously defining a “Best of” Dutch Design Week, or indeed any design week, is impossible, one can only hope to attempt to collate your personal highlights and thus provide an impression of how you experienced the event: which is exactly what DAD Galerie Berlin are currently doing with a presentation of some their highlights.
Our highlight of their highlights is without question the new hanging lamp by Floris Wubben. When we spoke to Floris at his solo Low Tech Crafts exhibition at DAD Galerie earlier this year he told us that having recently been referred to as a “ceramic designer” it was probably time to find a new material. It is therefore only logical that his new lamps are ceramic. There is a delicious inevitability about the fact. Utilising the analogue process he developed for his Pressed Vase collection Floris creates his lamps by squeezing clay à la Play-Doh through a template, the result is a series of unique lampshades which hang like a Brugmansia or similar trumpet flower frozen in perpetuity, and which are the most delicate yet commanding, self-confident objects; and currently a work in progress. The final project is due to be released in early 2016. Or Milan as its more commonly referred to in design circles.
In addition to Floris Wubben’s lamps we were very take with Doreen Westphal’s FungiFuturi project. Essentially a box of mushrooms. Although appearances can be deceptive.
The number of projects in which designers concern themselves with food is currently growing exponentially, and with a parallel exponential absurdity. We really don’t understand why you’d want to 3D print chocolate, unless you’re in marketing and want to create merchandise. Designers should be thinking of ways to improve the fairness of food distribution and reducing the environmental impact of food production. Not how to 3D print chocolate.
Doreen Westphal hasn’t really designed anything. That mushrooms grow on used coffee grounds isn’t a new discovery, as any student can confirm from experience. However much like Marlene Klausner’s Depot_0411 project from Vienna Design Week 2013 what Doreen Westphal has done is demonstrated how easily and simply one can produce mushrooms in a contemporary urban environment and therefore how easily and simply we can revolutionise global food production, global food consumption and our relationship to both. If only we’d try. Collecting used coffee grounds from Eindhoven cafes and restaurants Doreen grows the mushrooms in the cellar of a disused building in Eindhoven. Analogue, reproducible, sustainable and tasty. For us the box of mushroom substrate the FungiFuturi project markets and which allows us all to grow and harvest mushrooms at home is a very neat demonstration of how simple the system is. A basis for discussion and debate. And a very neatly packaged product. The real value of the project however comes through organised, large scale, civic, municipal projects. Who needs 3D printed food? Honestly? Who?
In addition DAD Galerie are presenting a new collection of plaids created by Hella Jongerius in cooperation with various young designers for the Tilburg Textile Museum, a series of very small vases by Quinda Verheul, one very large vase by Maarten Baas and the RVR chair by Dirk Vander Kooij, not a new object but very much like Joy Division’s “Love will tear us a part” not something you can conceivably ever tire of. What DAD Galerie aren’t showing is Daphna Laurens’ new glassware collection for the Nationaal Glasmuseum Leerdam, or at least not yet, it is however on its way.
Obviously defining a “Best of” Dutch Design Week is impossible, we do however very much like what DAD Galerie have collated. All are invited to judge for themselves at DAD Galerie Berlin, Oranienburger Str. 32 (Heckmann Höfen), 10117 Berlin
A few impressions:
As older and more loyal readers will be aware if there is one thing we really, really dislike, more so than even “street food” or swans, it is black and white portrait photography.
Which of course explains why we are so fascinated by the black and white portraits by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn……..
Born in Strijen, Holland as the son of a clergyman and nurse Anton Corbijn taught himself photography in his teenage years and cut his professional teeth photographing local musicians in and around Groningen before moving on to work with an impressive roster of international music publications for whom he photographed…. well pretty much anybody who has ever achieved any sort of musical fame. Most notable are perhaps his long associations with Depeche Mode and U2 for whom he has, largely, devised the bands’ visual identities, and in the case of U2 even coming up with the name for their 1987 “Joshua Tree” album. In addition to photography Anton Corbijn has also produced videos for the likes of Echo & the Bunnymen, Golden Earring or Nirvana and more recently Anton Corbijn has moved on to directing feature films including Control, The American and the James Dean bio-pic Life
In summer 2015 the Gemeentemuseum The Hague staged “Hollands Deep” and the Fotomuseum The Hague staged “1-2-3-4” by way of a two part retrospective to celebrate Anton Corbijn’s 60th birthday, and until the end of January both shows are unified in one exhibition at C/O Berlin.
Presenting some 600 works Hollands Deep & 1-2-3-4 provide in every respect a fulsome overview of Anton Corbijn, his life and his work.
In the upstairs gallery 1-2-3-4 is devoted entirely to Anton Corbijn’s music photography and for the exhibition Anton Corbijn returned to his personal archive, searched through lost experiences and selected his personal highlights. The result is a largely thematically organised presentation – Nirvana there, R.E.M there, Metallica over there and Nick Cave next door – interspersed by individual portraits of the great, the good and the downright awful from the past forty years of rock n’ roll. And thus serves as much as a neat documentation of the past forty years of rock n’ roll as it is a retrospective of Anton Corbijn’s career thus far.
Downstairs, Hollands Deep provides a more general overview of the Corbijn oeuvre, largely through presentations of several of the book and exhibition projects he has been involved with over the decades. And its not just musicians, its also actors, sports folk, artists….. and Stephen Hawking looking perhaps the most rock star of any one in the exhibition. Nor is it all black and white. In 2001 Corbijn returned to his home town in an attempt to try to find answers as to why his life developed as it did. The result, via a process of self-reflection and analysis is the collection “a. somebody”, a series of colour “self portraits” of Anton Corbijn disguised as various deceased rock stars. There is, for example a very nearly Kurt Cobain on a park bench, a very nearly Ian Curtis in a field and a very, very, very nearly Elvis in a scrapyard. But perhaps just as interesting is the juxtaposition of colour in a pretend world and black and white in the real world. It’s the sort of thing that could keep psychologists, amateur and professional, busy for years.
For all wanting more substantiated information, the succinct exhibition signage provides an excellent introduction to the works, their origins and how Anton Corbijn thinks and works.
But ultimately it is all about the photos. And they are plentiful.
At the risk of over generalising to the point of talking senseless rubbish, what attracts us to Corbijn’s images is their inherent honesty. Or perhaps better put, their inherent honest and the associated deceit.
With the musician photos, it is clear that they are staged scenes, staged scenes intended as promotional and editorial material and thus completely devoid of or intending to achieve any form of critical distance or independence, and further, are staged scenes intended as promotional material in one of the most ego centric and self-promotional industries on our glorious green and blue planet. Anton Corbijn is aware of the power of his photos, yet doesn’t appear that interested in the fact. Much more his motivation appears to be developing as a photographer, of exploring what is and is not possible. And as such his photographs remain true to his own ideas on composition, aesthetics and the function of photography rather than simply being created as part of a corporate package deal, a commission undertaken for the cash. The cash is unquestionably welcome, but is not the raison d’être. The result is photographs which are alluring, convincing, alive and ultimately, honest. When Bono looks you in the eye you know he wants you to buy his new album, yet the photo isn’t trying to sell you a dream. It is just photo of Bono.
With the musician portraits this inherent honesty, this ability to present the subject as themselves rather than the product they, also, are is often credited with being down to the close personal relationships Anton Corbijn enjoys with his subjects. And while to an extent that must be true, we, for example, imagine that it is quite difficult to arrange to photograph a naked Michael Stipe if your not on good personal terms with him, it isn’t true in every case. And it certainly can’t be true of all the individuals portrayed. That would be ridiculous.
Much more we think it is related to Anton Corbijn’s preferred way of working: with minimal technology, minimal fuss and minimal props. Which in practice often means little more than Anton Corbijn, a camera, a subject and a car park. In effect he has to make do with what he has and over the years has learned to do just that with a delicacy, a keen eye for the real subject and an understanding of what is genuinely interesting that very few others have managed. For us it is a classic case of restrictions supporting creativity, of limiting the possibilities to the extent that one increases the focus and thus ultimately arrives at the best possible solution.
And we think that is why we are able to look beyond the monochrome and appreciate the works, because in their unassuming honesty they remind us how simple life can be if only we’d stop making it all so complicated for ourselves.
Anton Corbijn – Hollands Deep & 1-2-3-4 run at C/O Berlin, Amerika Haus, Hardenbergstraße 22-24, 10623 Berlin until Sunday January 31st
Full details can be found at www.co-berlin.org
We were first introduced to the work of Berlin based designer Uli Budde when we saw his “Reading Table” project at Designers Fair 2010 in Cologne. A delightfully simple object Reading Table combines table top and magazine/newspaper storage space in a manner that is as painfully obvious as it genial. An easily accessible, contemporary object the fact that no producer has seen fit to take it into production is one of those design mysteries which often keep us awake at night.
Having begun his design studies at the FH Potsdam Uli Budde moved to Eindhoven in 2003 to undertake an exchange semester at the Design Academy, a semester that extended into a six year stay in Holland, including two years in Rotterdam with Hella Jongerius, initially as an intern and later as a full staff member. While in Holland Uli Budde also established the studio Officeoriginair with Dutch designer Ivan Kasner, a vehicle through which the pair have realised numerous product design projects, mainly, though not exclusively, small household accessories.
In 2009 Uli Budde returned to Germany and established his own studio in Berlin from where he has realised lighting design projects for, amongst others, Vertigo Bird, Marset and most recently the lamp KUULA created in cooperation Thonet & the German lighting manufacturer Oligo. A particular highlight for us from Uli Budde’s portfolio is and was the necklace Unfold which he created for A.E. Köchert in context of the 2011 Passionswege programme at Vienna Design Week. Seeking a new representation of the classic jeweller’s diamond, Uli Budde created a moulded 18 carat gold impression of an unfolded out diamond; and thus transformed that most permanent and mystic of luxury objects into something transient, fragile and denuded.
We met up with Uli Budde to discuss Eindhoven, the current design market and Berlin as a creative city, began however, as always, by asking what led him to design….
Uli Budde: I think it was the desire to work creatively, to produce things and for all to translate something from an idea into something solid. From a relatively early age I was interested in product design and architecture, applied to study both, was accepted for both, but ultimately decided for product design because I considered the proportions, the dimensions, more pleasant, practical and interesting.
smow blog: You initially studied at Potsdam, however spent your final semester at, and ultimately graduated from, Design Academy Eindhoven, can we deduce that Potsdam was not to your liking, or…..?
Uli Budde: No, Potsdam was very good, however I was keen to spend a semester overseas. I investigated which schools were attracting positive attention, and the concept at Eindhoven interested me, largely because it was so different to the approach on Potsdam. And then once I got to Eindhoven it became clear to me that there was more than one way to study design, more than one perspective on the subject and that was a very positive experience for me. And in retrospect I’m glad I had both experiences and think I have assimilated and combined aspects from both.
smow blog: And did you experience Eindhoven as a creative city or…..
Uli Budde: Yes, I found it a very creative city and believe it is now more so than it was then because the city has successfully managed to retain the students once they graduate. That process began round about the time I was there, when the city began to actively question why they were letting all this creative potential leave, asking how can we keep them here, stop them moving to Rotterdam or Amsterdam, and subsequently decided to make ateliers and flats available at affordable, realistic, prices and that had the effect that many more graduates remained in the city and I believe that the city has profited from that fact.
smow blog: You are of course one of those Eindhoven graduates who moved to Rotterdam. Was that decision principally linked with the internship with Hella Jongerius Lab, or what convinced you to stay in Holland after your graduation…..
Uli Budde: The principle reason was that in Eindhoven I found in Ivan Kasner a colleague with whom the cooperation functioned excellently, on both a personal and professional level we understood one another very well, and so we decided to open a joint studio, Officeoriginair. In addition I found it a very interesting challenge to remain longer in Holland, not simply to return to Germany as soon as I had finished, and then there was of course the Jongerius Lab, and so because everything fitted it was a fairly easy decision to remain.
smow blog: You returned to Germany in 2009, Officeoriginair is still based in Holland, are you still involved, or is that something you have moved on from?
Uli Budde: Officeoriginair still exists, we still work together, still develop new projects, but my focus has moved to my own work and under my name. It does sometimes arise that I have an idea which I subsequently consider is more suitable for Officeoriginair than Uli Budde, but my focus is my own work.
smow blog: In that context, you’ve been active as a professional designer for, more or less, ten years, in your opinion have things got easier or harder over that decade?
Uli Budde: In my view it has become more difficult largely because today many companies are simply not prepared to invest in projects and co-operations, are not prepared to pay for the work of a product designer. In addition there are currently too many designers for too little work which all leads to a situation of undercutting: there is always someone who will do it for less, or nothing. And as a consequence the development process of designers slows because rather than concentrating on developing their own projects, and developing as designers, ever more designers have to look elsewhere for a source of income.
smow blog: And is that do you think a market problem, and industry problem or……?
Uli Budde: In my opinion the problems experienced by many firms became more serious after 2008, 2009, where everything was falling apart. It was very apparent that many companies became insecure, were unsure how best to proceed and consequently it not only became much harder for designers in terms of securing sensible licensing fees, but many producers decided to save completely on new developments and thus the associated risks.
smow blog: Interesting that you say that because our impression is that there are ever more manufacturers. However more manufacturers doesn’t mean more market, or…….?
Uli Budde: Not necessarily. A lot of the new manufacturers were founded after 2008 and my impression is that in many cases designers have established their own labels as a response to the general market situation, and for all the lower fees, and decided that rather than rely on the couple of percent the existing manufacturers were offering is it not more sensible to establish your own label and so retain a larger proportion of the pie.
smow blog: In your case with Officeoriginair you only cooperated with partners, also as “Uli Budde” all your works are released in cooperation with manufacturers, were there ever considerations on your part to go into self-production? Are there still?
Uli Budde: There were considerations in context of Officeoriginair, and also with with my own work there were recurring phases when I considered if it might not be a sensible route, but ultimately I have decided to concentrate on co-operations with producers because my strength is in creative processes and not marketing, distribution, purchasing etc
smow blog: And returning briefly to the current market, how do you see the future development?
Uli Budde: I think that, and as always with such situations, there will inevitably be changes in the market, some producers will survive and others will either vanish or will be taken over. In addition one must add that the willingness to take risks is slowly increasing, I think many firms have realised that stagnation brings nothing and that they need to find new approaches and develop new ideas in order to set themselves apart and so survive. I don’t think the situation is a positive as before the crisis, but there are I believe positive signs.
smow blog: And so does that mean that it is perhaps more important as a designer to have fewer products with one producer who you know sells, sells consistently, and thus pays, rather than have numerous products with a large number of partners?
Uli Budde: I think so, but is was potentially always the case that working with only one or two manufacturers over a long period was the more secure option, but that is clearly a luxury situation and in the reality one is sometimes forced to take on something with a smaller, newer producer and risk that something comes of it and that the product actually stays in production for a prolonged period and isn’t discontinued after a couple of years. But I would definitely say it is better to work with only a few, good, producers where there is a professional basis based on mutual respect.
smow blog: Changing tact a little, from your time in Potsdam and the past five years in Berlin, have you noticed changes in the Berlin creative community over the past decade or so?
Uli Budde: It has definitely become more professional. Not only are there more designers in Berlin but ever more who are working with large international partners. Ten years ago that wasn’t the case, then there were maybe two or three studios who worked with good, renowned companies, and that is now significantly higher, and that is a situation which without question benefits the Berlin creative community as a whole because if more people are looking to Berlin more often that can only be good for us all.
smow blog: In terms of your own work you said that the focus is now your own work, until now that has, at least in terms of commercial products, been lighting, can we expect more furniture work in the future?
Uli Budde: Yes, definitely, albeit without wanting to lose touch with lighting, because it is something I enjoy and which on account of the speed at which technology is evolving is a very interesting subject where one is always challenged to find new solutions, however I don’t want to be considered just as a lighting designer and there are furniture projects currently in development, with good, reliable producers and which should be released in the not to distant future.
More information on Uli Budde and his work can be found at http://ulibudde.com
“What is understood today as the housing problem is a specific intensification of the bad housing conditions endured by the working class through the sudden large scale movement of the population to the major cities; huge increases in rents, an even greater overcrowding of individuals in houses, and for some the impossibility of even finding suitable accommodation.” 1
Although written in 1872 Friedrich Engels analysis of the urban housing situation remains in many ways as contemporary as it ever was. In Europe we have may have lost the perpetually flooding windowless cellar flats which, literally, formed the very lowest level of 19th century urban accommodation, but our modern, hi-tech cities still suffer from chronic shortages of affordable, hygienic housing where the residents have a degree of security in terms of tenancy rights and privacy. Outwith Europe the perpetually flooding windowless cellar flats, or at least their local equivalents, remain a reality.
But what to do? Knocking down our cities and starting again isn’t an option. So what are we to do?
As part of their programme “100 Years of Now ” the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin is staging the exhibition “Wohnungsfrage”, an exploration of the contemporary housing situation and a presentation of some possible solutions.
The exhibition title refers to Friedrich Engels’ 1873 publication “Zur Wohnungsfrage” – On the Question of Housing. Originally published as a series of essays in the Leipziger Volksstaat the texts largely concern themselves with the situation of urban workers accommodation in the later half of the 19th century and in particular Engels’ criticism of the solutions being proposed at that time. According to Engels the problems of that period principally arose on account of the large influx of the rural population to badly prepared urban centres.
And today? From where does the contemporary housing problem arise? Is it, as in the 19th century, largely a question of demographic change?
“The situation today doesn’t stem from demographic change”, says exhibition co-curator Jesko Fezer, “here in Germany we have no population explosion, also the pressures caused by migration are a long way from dramatically affecting the population numbers. Much more it can be traced to systematic failures on the part of politicians and the reliance on a false ideology, namely the belief that the privatisation of social housing construction would stimulate the market and lead to the supply of sufficient housing for lower earners. Such has not been realised, rather the amount of social, affordable housing has sunk, while the need has grown.”
Two sources, one consequence.
Friedrich Engels’ identified three groups as being, theoretically, in a position to alleviate the housing problems of the late 19th century: the capitalists, but it wasn’t in their interest to solve the situation; the politicians, but it wasn’t in their interests to solve the problems; and the workers themselves, who were unable to solve the problems.
Similarly Jesko Fezer places little faith in the politicians and the building industry, “I think it would be an error to wait until a well meaning construction company suggests a good project, I think it would be an error to hope that an investment company who work on the principle of a good return on their investment contribute to social housing projects, and it is also an error to wait until local politicians or local authorities, undertake serious programmes”, as a third alternative Jesko Fezer sees, rather than the affected individuals themselves, much more the greater integration of and involvement from urban initiatives and civic stakeholders in housing questions, something which for Jesko Fezer also involves “the development of new models for the building, planning and financing of housing”
The central focus of Wohnungsfrage is just such new models.
For the exhibition four grass roots German initiatives were each paired with an international architecture bureau and asked to develop a solution which approached and tackled questions such as who decides how and what should be built and how can we best achieve affordable, socially responsible and autonomous housing that focuses on the users? Kolabs, an amalgamation of various, largely, student initiatives and Tokyo based Atelier Bow-Bow developed Urban Forest, a prototype of a communal living space specially focussed on students; Frankfurt based Realism Working Group cooperated with Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara a.k.a Dogma architects to design a communal villa intended for artists and other creatives which re-imagines the classic example of housing as a symbol of economic and social power into a collective environment; the Berlin tenants rights initiative Kotti & Co together with San Diego based Estudio Teddy Cruz + Forman have evolved the former’s “Gecekondu” concept, a wooden temporary pavilion system developed in context of rent protest camps, into a steel temporary pavilion system which can be locally adapted; and last, but by no means least, Stille Straße 10, a self-managed community centre in Berlin were paired with London agency Assemble and together developed a housing concept for senior citizens which allows the residents to live autonomous lives as integrated members of a community.
The results of the four projects are presented in 1:1 models, the visitors being invited to critically investigate the proposed solutions and form their own opinion on the approach and thus consider in more depth the issues and problems involved. The combination of international bureaus with German initiatives highlighting the intended universality of the proposed solutions.
In addition to the architectural projects Wohnungsfrage presents research projects, historic case studies and artistic interventions concerned with the broader themes of the exhibition and which not only provide fresh insights and perspectives but also expand the scope of the exhibition and underscore what Engels noted namely “This housing problem is not particularly contemporary…..rather it has affected all oppressed classes of all ages equally.”2
That the exhibition is being staged in the Berlin Kongresshalle that the Haus der Kulturen der Welt calls home is not irrelevant. The Kongresshalle originated as part of the 1957 Interbau building exhibition, an exhibition which explored new construction methods which would allow the authorities to quickly and efficiently house the rapidly expanding post war European population, and that in hygienic and functional future orientated objects. As an event Interbau 57 not only gave Berlin the Kongresshalle and the ever magnificent Hansaviertel with its buildings by, amongst others, Alvar Aalto, Egon Eiermann, Oscar Niemeyer and Arne Jacobsen, but also allowed Le Corbusier to realise a Unité d’habitation in the German capital – the only such example outside France.
With his Unité d’habitation concept Le Corbusier sought contemporary solutions to questions of contemporary housing based on the needs of the contemporary user. That we’re not all living the Le Corbusien utopia, and still have unsolved housing problems, perfectly illustrating that just because architects have ideas doesn’t mean that they are realised, political action is also required. Or put another way, it doesn’t matter how big your vocabulary is and how confidently you can use clever words if no one is actually listening to you.
And therein lies the eternal problem of exhibitions such as Interbau or Wohnungsfrage, change is reliant on political support, or at least large scale popular support that subsequently leaves politicians with no alternative. And no exhibition is going to achieve that. Ever. Which obviously doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but does mean you should be realistic about what you can achieve: and ideally conceive your exhibition so that you can reach as broad a cross section of population as possible and so hopefully plant a few seeds that later germinate into popular action. No one, but no one, needs an architecture exhibition which is only viewed by architects, stroking their chins and nodding knowingly as they amble through the space.
Fortuitously Wohnungsfrage is a very accessible and well presented exhibition which can be understood and appreciated on a number of different levels and which presents an honest and informative overview of the subject and which, and perhaps most importantly, stimulates you to consider the contemporary housing situation.
And yes, the exhibition does take a left leaning anti gentrification, pro community position, you’ll find for example no arguments in favour of expanding private home ownership or of building on greenfield sites as solutions to the problems; however, it is not a political exhibition, there is no sloganeering or ideology to battle through. The focus is the projects being presented not their political affiliation.
In addition, for a subject as wide ranging as housing and/or urban planning there can never be one perfect solution, only ideas that work with more or less degrees of success. Something Friedrich Engels didn’t understand and who thus used the pages of the Leipziger Volksstaat to rubbish and decry every proposed solution, while, and in true Engelian fashion, insisting every five paragraphs that only his solution would and could work.
The organisers of Wohnungsfrage are, thankfully, less dogmatic, more realistic and thus parallel to the exhibition Wohnungsfrage also features a series of talks, debates and a week long academy in which the current situation will be discussed and possible ways forward proposed. Additionally a series of texts on housing and the housing situation are being published in an attempt to stimulate a wider, more open debate, the series includes contemporary texts as well as historic texts such as The Growing House by Martin Wagner, Co-op Interieur Hannes Meyer, and naturally Zur Wohnungsfrage.
All of which leaves just one question unanswered.
In his original texts Friedrich Engels repeatedly states that the housing problem is but a secondary symptom of capitalist production, and that as such can only be solved by a social revolution and the abolition of the capitalist mode of production.
Can the exhibition thus be see as a call to revolution?
“Engels was 100% correct when he described the housing situation as a symptom, and the problem we have today is a symptom of a neo-liberal economic system, and changes in the housing situation require changes on the social and political levels.”, answers Jesko Fezer, “we however would argue that the housing question is more than a symptom, it can also be a starting point and there are many examples in housing of imagining new societies, of developing new ways of coexisting, of alternative economic systems that can serve as examples for other areas.”
Solve the housing problem and thereby cure society’s other ills. We can’t imagine Friedrich Engels would have been particularly impressed by such an argument. But then Engels never really understood the importance of dialogue. Wohnungsfrage does and invites all to participate. Even Proudhonists.
Wohnungsfrage runs at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10, 10557 Berlin until Monday December 14th. The exhibition is bilingual German/English.
The accompanying texts are published, bilingual German/English, by Spector Books, Leipzig
Full details on the exhibition, accompanying fringe programme and the publications can be found at www.hkw.de
1.Friedrich Engels, Zur Wohnungsfrage: die grundlegende Schrift zur Wohnungsfrage im kapitalistischen Staat und in der Übergangszeit, Oberbadischer Verlag, Singen