Shifting Context – Best of German Interior Design
Both Birgitta and Florian were on the advisory board for this impressive hardback book, published with Distanz in September, helping to decide which designers best represent Germany today. Birgitta was also asked to contribute a text to the book: “Shifting Context: about the young generation of German designers”, where she discussed new directions in Germany’s design history.
Excerpt from the book: Best of German Interior Design
“Already within the framework of our seemingly most intimate feelings and self-descriptions, we orient ourselves along historically and socially prescribed patterns of interpretation, which as such are not the result of our own nature or our own considerations, but which we inevitably derive from the existence of the heritage and tradition of the society or commu-nity whose members we are respectively. It is our own tradition, our own cultural community, that defines and limits our possibilities of thought, action and life.”
It should be noted that in times of almost inflationary crises and a fundamental questioning of the European Union, in times of a U.S. president whose political consciousness seems to consist exclusively of protectionist deals—in which the individual lives in a digitized, data-processing everyday existence—national-istic forces that were thought to have been overcome suddenly find an echo again. Particularly in Germany, which is well-known for Bauhaus, the Ulm School and German Engineering, but which must also always remain aware of its history of National Socialism, this view of national affiliation is considered a sensitive question that must be scrutinized closely. Neverthe-less, it cannot be denied that there are sociocultural differences associated with the concept of national identity, that—in spite of globalization and a permanent interconnection of mobile devices, the effect of which has already been compared to
the introduction of book printing—there are culturally specific phenomenological occurrences that can be perceived as German, Italian, French, Scandinavian etc. In this sense, it is possible to speak of a design which is culturally based in Germany—whereas the networked generation of those under the age of thirty is playing with an eclectic concept of culture beyond national boundaries, the integral part of which is the disclosure of almost all structures through the Internet, which in turn influences the role of the designer.
It is probably impossible to talk about German design without taking into account its history, which has shaped generations of designers and continues to do so to this day. How can we think design without considering the Bauhaus and its stylistic idiom of Gute Form—which has become the basis for every academic design theory? How, without raising the typical German post-war functionalism of a design academy in Ulm with its formal, almost didactic rigor and its emphasis on rationally justifiable design? And how, without mentioning Loos’s “Ornament and Crime,” associated as it is with the gutting of the stuffy era of the Gelsenkirchener Barock, although remnants of the latter are still found even now in avant-garde Berlin-Mitte?
Since the end of the 1950s, German design has traditionally been associated with technical knowledge and industrial logic or obligation. A Dieter Rams razor for Braun is inconceivable without a cooperation between designer and manufacturer—although the name still remained for the most part in the back-ground during the middle of the last century. The industry creates freedoms that lead to the development of a design and its implementation, and provides the designer with its know-how and skills. To date, the Made in Germany brand is inextrica-bly linked to virtues such as work ethic, perfection, technology, research, consistent reliability, quality and innovation. German companies like FSB, Dornbracht, Bulthaup, Grohe, COR, Kaldewei and many others have dedicated themselves to this tradition of functional commitment, new technologies and high standards of design. These medium-sized companies have been contributing to the international relevance of German design for decades.
“I really believe in history, and that’s something people don’t believe in anymore. I know that what we do and think is a historical creation. (…) We were given a vocabulary that came into exis- tence at a particular historical moment. So when I go to a Patti Smith concert at CBGB, I enjoy, participate, appreciate, and am tuned in better because I’ve read Nietzsche.” Susan Sontag
Is this design tradition also influencing current forms of design? The contemporary position seems to be the combination of high standards with an attempt to reflect contemporary issues, such as an over-pronounced self-determination and creativity as a lifestyle in the dilemma of sustainability—is this a transition from duty to pleasure?
Design, if you like, claims to have evolved from a lifestyle to a supposed position in life. The designer’s attitude toward the design itself is a priority. The method of work is multi-layered, interdisciplinary and backed up by the canon of Gute Form. Design is increasingly accompanied by questions: can the materials employed be recycled, is the object really needed and for what? The design process becomes part of a question that is based on a holistic approach. Design emerges from the construction, not vice versa, and even a DIY influence seems to be noticeable. The designer ideally is a participant from the design stage through to production and distribution, or, as New Tendency, a young interdisciplinary design company and present-day equivalent of Bauhaus modernism, put it: “The main theme of the collection is the conceptual claim. This is expressed less by the form than by the ideas behind it. Often, the design process is rather an attempt to answer a question (...). Already while studying at the Bauhaus University, we have worked with the connection of different disciplines and have adapted ourselves to complex working methods.”
An openness to include complex connections in the contempla-tions of a world that is generally experienced as difficult to grasp has an impact on the stylistic iterations of the design. Perhaps, at this point, it is even possible to speak of characteristics of contemporary German design: permanent, serious engagement with the abilities of a product, no mantling apparatus around the object, an unburdened, positive perspective on the principle of Form Follows Function and at the same time a thorough examination of it—a design attitude characterized by knowl-edge of the object and an understanding for its user that makes it possible to integrate emotions.
“Design is invisible, but the effects are percepti- ble down to the last detail of everyday life.” Bazon Brock
The question as to what relationship to the user the designer can create on the basis of his design is an old philosophical question. Whether the designer is perceived as an engineer, visionary, artist, craftsman, author or thinker depends on
the surrounding society. However, a fact remains undisputed by all this: we only understand the world in which we move by relating to it. The objects that surround us therefore become mediators of the world. Everyday life and its objects acquire a meaning that enables the individual to exist within the world. In this relationship to the world, the designer can play a decisive role, even influence life and society, or, as Konstantin Grcic puts it: “The responsibility of designers is huge.”
The answer to this task can lie in a design approach that holds an air of scrutiny and from it derives its own functionality. The aesthetics of an object is not self-explanatory and has nothing to do with culturally coded ciphers such as beauty. In a time when the culture of the objects has shifted towards the cult around the objects, we have to gain new perspectives from the objects we use. How does an object explain itself to us? How do we access its practical value via the form? What does the object and its use tell us about the time in which it exists?The Chair One design by Konstantin Grcic is probably the chair deserved by its time (see Louise Schouwenberg)—a further development, optimization and interpretation of the principle of sitting that cannot be associated with convenience or comfort. Made of aluminum, it becomes accessible to the active user as a chair for sitting on the edge and surprisingly proves itself in this. The design reverts to a typology, expands it, finds a new solution—and, in the process, points to the Zeitgeist.
Is there a consensus or an uneasiness surrounding design in Germany? Is the design discourse alive? Are there ideas or proposals that are questioned politically, reflected ecologically or examined academically?
Without a doubt, there are beacons of contemporary German design of international standing such as Werner Aisslinger, Stefan Diez, Konstantin Grcic and Sebastian Herkner. How-ever, their similarity does not lie in a formal canon, but in their approach, which is accompanied by an extended role of the designer. In a world where production has been greatly altered by digitization, the designer has increasingly become an author who has mastered almost everything necessary for the imple-mentation of his designs, from technological expertise, artistic knowledge, use of digital tools, research, and (digital) modelling down to implementation and distribution. He is the master of his own company and is looking for the partners he wants to work with. In the best case, he can draw from a differentiated net-work, in the worst case, he is faced with financial loss, because no one buys the prototype that he has produced at his own risk. The manufacturing process is more and more on the side of the designer. It has become part of a post-industrial process in which he can respond to exclusive requests for individual prod-ucts. Interestingly, reverting to the digital library of knowledge can lead designers to develop exclusive high-priced unique pieces that are offered as art objects in international galleries.
The knowledge of the producers, formerly of the companies, for example, shifts significantly because the translation process is now in the hands of the designer himself. He can, as connoisseur, serve the market independently of his location by responding with new answers to new technologies, or, as Stefan Diez describes it: “Something magical is created. This is the best thing modern products can do: you have to use the technical possibilities of today to inspire people.”
In the 21st century, design Made in Germany means: due to globalization, production takes place internationally, while the intellectual processing and design process happens in Germany. Could a positive counter-movement arise from this dominance of the market? Could the designer, who has such a high degree of competence, knowledge and answers to questions in the technological, cultural and sociological fields, exert an active influence on society? Can he participate in a kind of democratic design in which a social life-style and an artistic attitude form a unity?
“Architecture is an excuse. What matters is life, what matters are human beings, those strange creatures with soul and feeling who long for justice and beauty. [...] Everyone has to do their part, venture into new territory, put ideas into the world.”
1. Christoph Demmerling in: Martin Heidegger: Sein und Zeit, (Hermeneutik der Alltäglichkeit und In-der-Welt-sein (§§ 25-38),) De Gruyter, 2015,
2. Bazon Brock in: Lucius Burckhardt: Design heißt Entwurf, Studienhefte Problemorientiertes Design, Adoocs Verlag, Hamburg
3. Oscar Niemeyer: Wir müssen die Welt verändern, Verlag Antje Kunstmann, München 2013
4. Jonathan Cott, Susan Sontag, The Doors und Dostojewski, Das Rolling-Stone-Interview, Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg, 2015
5. Konstantin Grcic PANORAMA (Hg.: Mateo Kries, Janna Lipsky), Vitra Designmusem, 2014
7. Florian Siebeck in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Quarterly, Sommer 2017