The World as Design
The World as Design
by Wolfgang Jean Stock
In 1950, on a very early visit to the Federal Republic, Hannah Arendt noted: "If you watch the Germans bustling and stumbling through the ruins of their thousand-year-old history, you realize that this bustling has become their principal weapon for protecting themselves against reality."
Two years after currency reform and five years after the end of the war the shock of defeat and horror about the crimes committed in the name of Germany had been largely suppressed. In the face of everyday privations the majority of West Germans had accustomed themselves to the normality of survival. Responsibility for the causes and consequences of the Nazi regime was left aside amidst the compulsory reality of occupation and handling shortages. People began vigorous clearance of the fields of rubble, but the rubble inside them stayed where it was. Finally the Nuremberg trials worked as a kind of general absolution from the outside.
"Rebuilding" became the slogan and stimulus of the times. As early as 1948, in the Frankfurter Hefte , Walter Dirks pointed out how treacherous this word, increasingly interpreted as restoring the old order, could be. Anyone who spoke up for a new social and cultural structure rather than rebuilding the old state of things was unwittingly placed on the fringes of Wirtschaftswunder society, which was forming early. No wonder that a large number of cultural initiatives, particularly non-conformist newspapers and publishing houses, had to give up.
But one small group preparing around 1950 to find a new kind of higher educational establishment in Ulm on the Danube, managed to make a success of it. Inge Scholl and Otl Aicher had found out how great was the need for a new cultural direction in their work at the Volkshochschule in Ulm. With their friends they drew up a programme for a school of design on socio-political lines. Their educational concept combined an anti-fascist attitude with democratic hope. Graphics were to become social communication, and product design was to encourage humanization of everyday life. After a number of difficulties, especially in terms of finance, teaching started at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in summer 1953. Two years later it moved into its own building, designed by Max Bill, on the Kuhberg in Ulm. The HfG wanted to work as a successor of the Bauhaus from its heights above the Danube valley, admittedly with a fundamental difference. While the Bauhaus saw training in fine art as a requirement for the design of good industrial form, the HfG stood for a direct, functional approach to the matter in hand. For this reason Ulm had no studios for painters and sculptors and no craft workshops.
In his essay "bauhaus and ulm", which is the biographical key to the essays and lectures collected here, Otl Aicher emphasizes this distinction: "at that time in ulm we had to get back to matters, to things, to products, to the street, to the everyday, to people. we had to turn round. it was not about extending art into the everyday world, for example, into application. it was about counter-art, the work of civilization, the culture of civilization."
This also shows the strong feelings of the man coming back from the war, born in 1922, for whom "coming to terms with reality" was on the agenda, and not a concern with pure aesthetics. Thus HfG was dominated by the view that art was an expression of escape from life. But above all the intention was to keep the field of product design free of artistic demands, to avoid formalism.
Once more the German provinces became the home of modernity and progress. As was the case with the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, a middle-sized town did not merely offer the possibility of concentrated work. The restricted nature of the milieu, along with local reservations and animosity, were particular fa