Product Design from Munich On the Trail of a Phenomenon

RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element
RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element | Photo (detail): © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN

It’s said that Germany’s most exciting design scene is currently to be found on the banks of the Isar. Is this because great names such as Konstantin Grcic or Stefan Diez attract next-gen talent, or simply because Munich is a city where living and working are especially pleasant?

The “Brancheninfo Designstadt München” (i.e. industry-specific information on the design city, Munich) of the City of Munich was issued in February 2015. It states that according to one study, the Bavarian metropolis is Germany’s leading creative and design city. Among a total of 270 European regions, Munich ranked eighth – following metropolises such as Paris, London and Madrid – and was the only German city included in the Top Ten.
 
Munich has indeed produced an abundance of outstanding figures. Luminaires such as Ingo Maurer come to mind, Herbert Schultes, former Siemens design director and co-founder of Schlagheck Design, or enterprises such as designaffairs. Konstantin Grcic, his former assistant Stefan Diez and Clemens Weisshaar, who communicate design from Munich to the rest of the world with great success are all members of the more recent generation of designers. Now, a third generation of extremely talented next-gen designers is arising by the Isar as their successors. Designers like Steffen Kehrle, ex-student of Stefan Diez, who set up shop on his own a few years ago and has also made his mark on Munich’s cityscape through his light installations. Or the designer duo RelvãoKellermann, who at this moment are making a name for themselves. Ana Relvão, from Portugal, had interned under Stefan Diez, Gerhardt Kellermann worked for Nitzan Cohen, who in turn worked for Konstantin Grcic as project director. One might even go so far as to speak of a family tree of the new Munich design scene, which, beginning with Grcic, sprouts ever more branches while still remaining rooted in Munich.

Design city Munich

Contrary to what the “Brancheninfo” cited above suggests, the designers themselves view the “design city” status critically. Grcic sees the description as a buzzword, his former intern Klaus Hackl ascribes the claim to leadership as “design city” to a concerted city marketing strategy, and Clemens Weisshaar, also a former student of Grcic, questions whether such a thing as a capital city of design is even necessary. He does not see the fact that despite this, a great deal of good design is produced in Munich as a credit to public policy: “We have a slumberous design museum that after 25 years actually managed to put together a Grcic exhibition, and neither the Free State of Bavaria nor the City of Munich see design as an economic factor deserving of support. Local design colleges are hopelessly underfinanced and cannot keep up with what is going on in Lausanne, Eindhoven and London. So there’s a lot to do to fulfil the responsibilities that come with the title of ‘design capital.’” 
 
In any case, the designers are not here because they studied in Munich. Almost all of them studied at renowned European design schools. But why, then, are so many top people living by the Isar, in a city with the reputation of generating too much bling-bling and too little subculture? In Grcic’ case, the choice of location was pure “happenstance”, others, like Diez and Hackl, grew up here and – after stays abroad – ended up stranded once again in their hometown. Grcic’s reputation is what drew Nitzan Cohen. It is said that during his university years, he drew up a list of the Top Ten of all the designers under whom he wanted to do an internship. Konstantin Grcic was at the very top of the list, although he was not as popular then as he is now. Charlotte Talbot, Industiral Designer at Grcic’s office KGID, confirms a similar pattern: “I’ve been following Konstantin’s work since I was 15 and always wanted to work for him.” Ana Relvão in turn already had her own agency in Lisbon. She gave it up for an internship under Diez – and stayed.
 
As location, Munich is esteemed above all because it is functional. “It is a comparatively small city with a wonderful airport and an incredible density of small, highly specialised industries round about it,” explains Weisshaar. “These are optimal conditions for not only thinking about things, but doing them.” Grcic refers in this connection to the changed demands on a city: “It’s not the megacity that is in the spotlight any more, where everything is collapsing and is in effect becoming dysfunctional; it is rather the case that urbanism has a great deal to do with quality of life. With the possibility that one can achieve things, that there is a good infrastructure. I believe that in terms of such contemporary standards, Munich in fact ranks very high internationally.”

Family tree?

As might be expected, Konstantin Grcic, a star without affectation, reflects modestly on the question of a common family tree. He says he is often asked about this family tree, but what his former interns represent today is something they have achieved on their own. “If they have gotten anything from me, then perhaps the encouragement to do their own thing.” They are all doing their own thing. Stefan Diez, Klaus Hackl and Nitzan Cohen. It is above all the younger ones among them, such as Ana Relvão and Gerhardt Kellermann, who speak of a common “school” or like Friederike Daumiller confirm that the “apprenticeship years” of course have had an influence on their approach and work. Perhaps Clemens Weisshaar most accurately characterises the genealogy: “I don’t think there is a common line, the siblings are all very different, even if they did come from the same family tree. If there were a common line, I believe it would contradict Konstantin’s basic conviction that each project requires a fundamentally different approach. But it does happen that now and then someone copies a Grcic handhold despite this.”

Nitzan Cohen

  • Nitzan Cohen, He said_she said © Mattiazzi
    Nitzan Cohen, He said_she said
  • Nitzan Cohen, He said_she said © Mattiazzi
    Nitzan Cohen, He said_she said
  • Nitzan Cohen, He said_she said © Mattiazzi
    Nitzan Cohen, He said_she said
  • Nitzan Cohen, Solo © Mattiazzi
    Nitzan Cohen, Solo
  • Nitzan Cohen, Solo © Mattiazzi
    Nitzan Cohen, Solo
  • Nitzan Cohen, Solo © Mattiazzi
    Nitzan Cohen, Solo
  • Nitzan Cohen, Restaurant at Roecklplatz Munich © Roeckl
    Nitzan Cohen, Restaurant at Roecklplatz Munich
  • Portrait Nitzan Cohen © Gerhard Kellermann
    Portrait Nitzan Cohen
Cohen is the researcher among designers, says former team member Gerhardt Kellermann about him. “I don’t see myself as a stylist, I’m a designer,” says Nitzan Cohen, who was born in 1973 in Israel and grew up in a kibbutz. “I get to the bottom of things, and first of all think about a project for an extremely long time.” The result is clear-cut design with an unpretentious approach, as with his chairs He said / She said or Solo for the Italian manufacturer Mattiazzi. After completing his training at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Cohen served for six years as project director at Konstantin Grcic’s agency. He described this period as his second course of study. Grcic taught him to give form to his flights of thought, explains Cohen, now a professor of product design teaching at the Free University of Bolzano, Italy. Nitzan Cohen is familiar to Munich residents among other things for his design of the restaurant Roecklplatz, which offers socially disadvantaged young people trainee positions and also communicates its unique concept through its well-conceived and sophisticated design.

Friederike Daumiller

  • Friederike Daumiller, Metal Fitting © Photo Haw-Lin Services
    Friederike Daumiller, Metal Fitting
  • Friederike Daumiller, Metal Fitting © Photo Fabian Frinzel
    Friederike Daumiller, Metal Fitting
  • Friederike Daumiller, Metal Fittings © Photo Haw-Lin Services
    Friederike Daumiller, Metal Fittings
  • Friederike Daumiller PET © Photo Fabian Frinzel
    Friederike Daumiller PET
  • Friederike Daumiller PET © Photo Fabian Frinzel
    Friederike Daumiller PET
  • Friederike Daumiller PET © Photo Fabian Frinzel
    Friederike Daumiller PET
  • Friederike Daumiller PET © Photo Fabian Frinzel
    Friederike Daumiller PET
  • Friederike Daumiller PET © Photo Fabian Frinzel
    Friederike Daumiller PET
  • Friederike Daumiller, The Tea Garden © Photo Edition Taube
    Friederike Daumiller, The Tea Garden
  • Portrait Friederike Daumiller © Photo Fabian Frinzel
    Portrait Friederike Daumiller
They are convenient, as cute as our animal companions and yet break radically with habitual approaches to proportion, size and comfort: Friederike Daumiller’s minimalistic Pets are hybrids between furniture and objects. “Pets is my personal research project where I deal with small items of furniture and their proportions in the form of wooden models,” says the winner of the City of Munich’s 2014 award for design. After graduating from the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design and the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and completing an internship under Konstantin Grcic, Daumiller, who was born in 1984, established herself as an exhibition designer. Today she works for Philipp Bree, Ayzit Bostan, the Goetz Collection and the Munich label Filed Under, as well as realising independent projects. “It’s been the work on exhibition projects that has made me really aware of how one can have a direct influence on reactions and actions through subtle design,” explains the Munich native. “I continually aim to apply this knowledge in my own designs.”

Stefan Diez

  • Stefan Diez, EMU YARD © Robert Fischer
    Stefan Diez, EMU YARD
  • Stefan Diez, EMU YARD © Robert Fischer
    Stefan Diez, EMU YARD
  • Stefan Diez, EMU YARD © Robert Fischer
    Stefan Diez, EMU YARD
  • Stefan Diez, Houdini Chair © Martin Url
    Stefan Diez, Houdini Chair
  • Stefan Diez, Houdini Chair © Ingma Kurth
    Stefan Diez, Houdini Chair
  • Stefan Diez, Houdini Chair © Martin Url
    Stefan Diez, Houdini Chair
  • Hay NEW ORDER Orgatec © 2014 Gerhardt Kellermann & Jonathan Mauloubier
    Hay NEW ORDER Orgatec
  • Hay NEW ORDER Orgatec © 2014 Gerhardt Kellermann & Jonathan Mauloubier
    Hay NEW ORDER Orgatec
  • Hay NEW ORDER © 2014 HAY/Rasmus Norlander
    Hay NEW ORDER
  • Hay NEW ORDER © 2014 HAY/Rasmus Norlander
    Hay NEW ORDER
  • Portrait Stefan Diez © Andreas Müller
    Portrait Stefan Diez
He is one of Germany’s most influential contemporary industrial designers. Born in 1971 in Freising, he first trained as a cabinet-maker before studying industrial design in Stuttgart, where design legend Richard Sapper discovered this young talent. In 2003, after three years of working for Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design (KGID), Stefan Diez launched his own design studio in Munich – next door to his wife, jewellery designer Saskia Diez.
 
Diez seeks to give the things of everyday life a new DNA and to probe the depths of materials and technologies to their limits. His results are innovative and yet simple products aligned to people’s needs – an attitude that has brought him numerous awards, including, together with his wife Saskia, the Design Award of the Federal Republic of Germany. Since he prefers a practical approach, his chairs, shelving systems and lamps arise less on his computer monitor or sketch pad, but far more through direct work on and with his materials. Former interns such as Ana Relvão and Steffen Kehrle esteem Stefan Diez as “an incredibly serious and precise designer.”

Konstantin Grcic

  • Diana, side table © KGID
    Diana, side table
  • Diana, side table © KGID
    Diana, side table
  • Mayday, utility lamp © KGID
    Mayday, utility lamp
  • Chair_One 2004 © KGID
    Chair_One 2004
  • Sam Son, armchair, 2015 © KGID
    Sam Son, armchair, 2015
  • Portrait Konstantin Grcic © Foto Julian Baumann
    Portrait Konstantin Grcic
This charismatic designer has been creating things for a quarter of a century that are radically thought through and realised with precision. His ever-new gaze at commonplace things has also long since changed our own view of products.

In 1991, after studying in London, he launched his agency “Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design” (KGID) and since then, together with his team, has developed furnishings, products and lighting for leading manufacturers such as ClassiCon, Driade, Flos, Magis, Nespresso, Plank and Vitra. Surely the leading industrial designer of his generation, he has won many awards, including being distinguished twice with the Italian prize for industrial design Compasso dʼOro. In 2012, Grcic was tasked with designing the exhibition of the German Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice; he is currently in the process of conceiving the exhibition series Design Display for the Auto City of Wolfsburg. Some of Munich’s most celebrated designers “apprenticed” with Konstantin Grcic.

Klaus Hackl

  • Magis Gibus Wäschekorb © Photo: Magis srl
    Magis Gibus Wäschekorb
  • Lifbridge HerzLungen Maschine © Photo: Lifebridge AG
    Lifbridge HerzLungen Maschine
  • Werkraum Bregenzerwald, Sessel James © Photo: Adolf Bereuter
    Werkraum Bregenzerwald, Sessel James
  • Werkraum Bregenzerwald, Containermöbel Janus © Photo: Adolf Bereuter
    Werkraum Bregenzerwald, Containermöbel Janus
  • Hausgenossen, Karat Gefäß-Kollektion, Porzellan © Photo: Eva Jünger
    Hausgenossen, Karat Gefäß-Kollektion, Porzellan
  • Portrait Klaus Hackl © Photo: Klaus Hackl Product Design
    Portrait Klaus Hackl
“As a designer I feel rooted in the philosophy of Utilism International, a working group made up of Andreas Brandolini, Axel Kufus and Jasper Morrison, whose standpoint in the 90’s was to return the beauty of the commonplace and the poetics of the quotidian to the centre of our attention,” explains Klaus Hackl. “The Utilism design process began quite simply with the feasible and freed one from the pathos of ‘name design.’” This designer, who was born in Munich in 1967, first worked for three years under Jasper Morrison in London, and then under Konstantin Grcic, and has intentionally struck out on his own path with his agency Klaus Hackl product design. A chair, a lamp, a laundry basket, a heart-lung machine. What this designer conceives for firms such as Magis, Nils Holger Moormann, ENO or Side by Side testifies to quality and dispenses with effects. “Grand design gestures don’t mean all that much to me. Discovering creative paths in design to reveal a special side in commonplace things without diminishing their utility (...), are topics that interest me far, far more,” he says.

Steffen Kehrle

  • House of Dekton Cosentino © SteffenKehrle
    House of Dekton Cosentino
  • Steffen Kehrle, Klapp AreaDeclic © SteffenKehrle
    Steffen Kehrle, Klapp AreaDeclic
  • Steffen Kehrle, Klapp AreaDeclic © SteffenKehrle
    Steffen Kehrle, Klapp AreaDeclic
  • Steffen Kehrle, Klapp AreaDeclic © SteffenKehrle
    Steffen Kehrle, Klapp AreaDeclic
  • Steffen Kehrle, Mono © Photo Adriano Mauri
    Steffen Kehrle, Mono
  • Steffen Kehrle, Mono © Photo Adriano Mauri
    Steffen Kehrle, Mono
  • Steffen Kehrle, Stattmann Neue Möbel, Tray © Photo Pixelgarten
    Steffen Kehrle, Stattmann Neue Möbel, Tray
  • Steffen Kehrle, Stattmann Neue Möbel, Tray © Photo Pixelgarten
    Steffen Kehrle, Stattmann Neue Möbel, Tray
  • Portrait Steffen Kehrle © Photo Julian Baumann
    Portrait Steffen Kehrle
His motto runs: “Making things beautifully isn’t hard. Making them intelligently is.” In 2009, following his university studies in Vienna and positions with Ross Lovegrove, BMW and Stefan Diez , he launched his “Atelier Steffen Kehrle” in Munich. He is now a shooting star of Munich’s designer scene. Among his clients are the Bavarian State Opera, Muji, the Pinakothek of Modern Art, Puma and Richard Lampert. Today, this talent – born in 1976 in a village near Neu-Ulm and who at first left school without getting his leaving certificate – seeks to convey to his design students at the Kassel University of Arts what he learned from his mentor Stefan Diez: for instance that a commonplace household aid such as his step stool Mono demands the highest standards of precision and attention in its creation. In 2013, in the exhibition Rejected, which he curated, Kehrle took the reality of the design profession as his theme. Rejected prototypes or those that never made it into production, including examples by designers such as Ayzit Bostan, Nitzan Cohen, Stefan Diez and himself were presented. The intention behind the exhibition was to point out that every idea, no matter how brilliant, is followed by years of hard work. He also seeks to pass on this insight to the next generation of designers.

RelvãoKellermann

  • RelvãoKellermann, Auerberg book box © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    RelvãoKellermann, Auerberg book box
  • RelvãoKellermann, Auerberg cork box © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    RelvãoKellermann, Auerberg cork box
  • RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires cooking table © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires cooking table
  • RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element
  • RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element
  • RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    RelvãoKellermann, Bulthaup solitaires preparation element
  • Ana Relvão, Ervilha Criativa, CIRCULO © 2007-2016 RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    Ana Relvão, Ervilha Criativa, CIRCULO
  • Portrait © RELVÃOKELLERMANN
    Portrait
Following her studies in industrial design, Ana Relvão, a native of Portugal who was born in 1986, commuted between Lisbon and Munich, and among other things worked for Stefan Diez. Industrial designer and photographer Gerhardt Kellermann, born in 1983, initially worked for designers such as Sam Hecht and Herbert H. Schultes; after his studies he served for three years as assistant to Nitzan Cohen. In 2012 Kellermann set himself up independently as a photographer and designer, and now
designs for brands such as Hay and Flötotto.

In 2014 Relvão and Kellermann launched their joint studio, RelvãoKellermann. Together they seek design solutions for everyday life, such as kitchens for Bulthaup. Their Boxes for the manufacturer Auerberg were recently included as exemplars of outstanding design in the permanent collection of Munich’s Neue Sammlung Design Museum.

Charlotte Talbot

  • Charlotte Talbot for ZEIT Magazine, 2015 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot for ZEIT Magazine, 2015
  • Charlotte Talbot for ZEIT Magazine, 2015 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot for ZEIT Magazine, 2015
  • Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014
  • Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014
  • Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014
  • Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014
  • Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014
  • Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot and Jonathan Mauloubier 2014
  • Charlotte Talbot, PRAKTIFANT 2015 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot, PRAKTIFANT 2015
  • Charlotte Talbot, PRAKTIFANT 2015 © Photo Jonathan Mauloubier
    Charlotte Talbot, PRAKTIFANT 2015
  • Portrait, Charlotte Talbot © Photo Matthias Ziegler
    Portrait, Charlotte Talbot
She came because of love and stayed on. Also because she had the talent to hold her own as a team member in Konstantin Grcic ‘s agency, where she has worked since 2011. Trained at the celebrated Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Charlotte Talbot is part of a new generation of designers, who unlike Grcic and Co., no longer collaborate with high-profile firms, but instead produce their designs themselves and – thanks to the Internet, homepages and Twitter – market them professionally. 
For instance Talbot, born in France in 1987, launched with designer friends the label La Vague, which designs small but fine products such as a foldable backpack, a kitchen clock or a table lamp. Charlotte Talbot is currently focused on Praktifant, a collection of vintage wooden toy animals that she finds at flea markets and reedits. “Non-functional objects also have a meaning in our lives,” she says. “I wanted to design something that triggers memories or a story in the viewer.”
Potential prevails: in 2016 Charlotte Talbot was nominated for the Design Award of the City of Munich.

Clemens Weisshaar

  • Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, AUDI R18 ULTRA CHAIR © Photo Tom Vack
    Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, AUDI R18 ULTRA CHAIR
  • Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, AUDI R18 ULTRA CHAIR © Photo Tom Vack
    Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, AUDI R18 ULTRA CHAIR
  • Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Multithread Escritoire 2012 © Photo Tom Vack
    Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Multithread Escritoire 2012
  • Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Multithread Escritoire 2012 © Photo Tom Vack
    Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Multithread Escritoire 2012
  • Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Picó Blitz © Plusdesign
    Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Picó Blitz
  • Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Picó Blitz © Plusdesign
    Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Picó Blitz
  • Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Robochop © Photo Matthias Ziegler
    Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram, Robochop
  • Portrait Clemens Weisshaar © Photo Matthias Ziegler, 2014
    Portrait Clemens Weisshaar
The magazine Forum has called him “the leading edge of a new generation of digital designers,” and the International Herald Tribune “Avatar of a new type of designer” – it’s hard to believe that Clemens Weisshaar first trained as a down-to-earth locksmith before studying design in London. Or maybe just for that very reason? “We’re interested in people and society in the Anthropocene. And we focus on their architecture, products and media, which are often neither material nor digital in nature, but instead are a hybrid of both,” says the Munich native, who was born in 1977. The interdisciplinary projects that he implements together with his partner, information scientist Reed Kram, shift between virtual reality and physical space, and in doing so expand the limits of design.
 
The dup attained prominence through their path-breaking Breeding Tables (2003), for which they defined the “genes” of a table and “incubated” novel forms virtually. Weishaar describes his three years as Konstantin Grcic’s assistant as his “apprenticeship.” Weisshaar says that he learned from Grcic that what lies outside of the design scene is what most exciting for a designer: In other words, “the rest of the world, the people we are designing for, and their culture. And that one must never stop before one is really finished, and if necessary toss everything in the bin and start again from scratch. That is something I enjoy doing often, to the horror of my team members.”