Product Design Hamburg In search of new forms of society

Ulrike Brandi Licht | Elbphilharmonie Plaza West, Hamburg
Ulrike Brandi Licht | Elbphilharmonie Plaza West, Hamburg | Photo: Oliver Heissner

Any and all topics can become subjects for design. While the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg is at work inventing a new type of designer, established Hamburg designers are continuing on their very own, unique path. 
 

If one pays a visit to the Hochschule für bildende Künste (HFBK) in Lerchenfeld, Hamburg, one will quickly note an unmistakable tension: the representative, landmarked building by Fritz Schumacher is from 1911. But here, what is conceived and taught as design corresponds to rules that have been recently altered. Like other educational venues in Germany, in the early Seventies the HFBK changed over from a school of applied arts to an art- and research-based university. The faculties of art, architecture and design operated from a holistic perspective.
 
Influential designers such as Dieter Rams and Peter Raacke taught industrial design as professors at the HFBK. They prepared generations of students as professional industrial and product designers and for collaboration with manufacturers from industry. Successful graduates from the period up to the millennium still rank today among the key personalities of Hamburg’s design scene. 

Shaping society

Founded 250 years ago in Hamburg as a vocational school, today the HFBK Hamburg defines itself as an art academy. In 2008, the former faculty of design became a major area of concentration within the interdisciplinary course of study “Bildende Kunst /Visual Arts” with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The changeover was preceded by the spinoff of the architectural programme of study to Hafencity University in 2006. The university’s design approach is now oriented towards artistic strategies, it aims at political interventions and changes in society with design means. Accordingly, developments, products and services arising at the HFBK no longer have anything to do with the practice-oriented industrial design from the era of the certificate, a fact that has definitely met with criticism as well. Experience with the new generation of graduates and their future role is still lacking.

HFBK | Charlotte Diekmann, Daniel Pietschmann | Garden house at Holstenkamp Study project 2013 - 14 HFBK | Charlotte Diekmann, Daniel Pietschmann | Garden house at Holstenkamp Study project 2013 - 14 | Charlotte Diekmann, Daniel Pietschmann The range of subjects offered aims to lead to a comprehensive artistic and academic qualification. The students work in studios together with the faculty. The goal of the study programme is no longer primarily the ability to design objects, but instead to raise more advanced questions and to work out innovative solutions. Here, independent artistic approaches, and project-related and experimental MO’s are the main focus. The university identifies as an active part of the cultural public sphere, with a wide range of collaborations, for instance with the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Museum of Art and Trade/MKG). It intervenes in current developments nationally and internationally and sets impulses for discussion and debate. The major in design currently has six professors: Friedrich von Borries (design theory), Jesko Fezer (experimental design), Glen Oliver Löw (product design), Julia Lohmann (basic principles of design), Marjetica Potrč (social design) and Ralph Sommer (concept design).

Projecting the world

“Years ago, designers drafted things,” says Friedrich von Borries, “today, almost everything is being designed: the climate, processes, refugee camps. Design, therefore cannot be judged just according to aesthetic, functional and economic criteria.” Instead he advocates a projective design that eludes the logic of capitalism and enables new forms of living together.
HFBK | Magazine of the HFBK library after the redesign, 2016 HFBK | Magazine of the HFBK library after the redesign, 2016 | Photo: Michael Pfisterer Von Borries recently published his “politische Designtheorie” (political theory of design) under the title “Weltentwerfen” (i.e. to project the world). With his “Öffentlichen Gestaltungsberatung” (Public Design Support) Jesko Fezer, professor of experimental design at the HFBK, is also implementing this approach in theoretical and practical terms. His free consultations, which aim at providing solutions to housing problems in urban districts affected by gentrification and improving individual life situations, is run by students as well as professional designers. After studying the specific problem, the project participants develop and realise budget-friendly solutions together with clients who cannot afford professional design. In this way, one team worked up concepts with different dividing elements for a single mother of three children who wanted more privacy in her small flat, another supported an alternative planning project by residents of the now-demolished Esso Houses in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district. “All themes and problems can become objects of design processes,” Fezer emphasises. And this is also the title of a book that documents the results of his design consultations between 2011 and 2016. 

design for human nature

  • design for human nature | JET, Zweiter Prototyp des neuen Tankstellenkonzepts design for human nature | JET, Zweiter Prototyp des neuen Tankstellenkonzepts
    design for human nature | JET, Zweiter Prototyp des neuen Tankstellenkonzepts
  • design for human nature | Astra, Entwicklung des Herzankers als Wahrzeichen design for human nature
    design for human nature | Astra, Entwicklung des Herzankers als Wahrzeichen
  • design for human nature | „Soziale Achse“ zwischen Studios und Projekträumen design for human nature
    design for human nature | „Soziale Achse“ zwischen Studios und Projekträumen
  • design for human nature | Großer Saal mit Basketballkorb design for human nature
    design for human nature | Großer Saal mit Basketballkorb
  • design for human nature | Großer Saal Kontorhaus design for human nature
    design for human nature | Großer Saal Kontorhaus
  • design for human nature | Nivea Men | Cremedose als Umsetzung des Markenzeichnens design for human nature
    design for human nature | Nivea Men | Cremedose als Umsetzung des Markenzeichnens
  • design for human nature | Tourismus-Initiative Schleswig Holstein, Schlafstrandkorb design for human nature
    design for human nature | Tourismus-Initiative Schleswig Holstein, Schlafstrandkorb
In the former Kontorhaus (management and accounting building) of Hamburg’s wholesale market for vegetables and fruit, built in the 1960’s, André Feldmann and Arne Schultchen have created a place for themselves with project and studio spaces tailored to their needs. The erstwhile auction wing provides the 25-member team around the founders of “design for human nature” with an abundance of space. The designers, who develop structural solutions from Nivea tins to petrol station architecture, designed and built the furniture: desks, sofas and lighting reference forms from the period of the building’s origin. In the former auction hall they can construct architectural models several meters in height on a 1:1 scale. “No one but us would use the spaces this way,” says Arne Schultchen, who studied together with André Feldmann. “Compared with our time at the HFBK, not all that much has changed. There, too, we had a large studio almost exclusively to ourselves,” thus Schultchen. “Just like here in the large hall, we could throw a tennis ball at the high walls while we discussed and considered ideas. We always enjoyed literally filling the open space with new possibilities and ideas. That’s exactly how the HFBK was!”

BFGF Design Studios

  • Christian Schüten | Egoring, 2004 Foto: Olaf Tamm
    Christian Schüten | Egoring, 2004
  • BFGF Design Studios | OFF Club Tim Mälzer | Interior Design, 2015 BFGF Design Studios
    BFGF Design Studios | OFF Club Tim Mälzer | Interior Design, 2015
  • BFGF Design Studios | Agentur Mutter | Interior Design, 2009 BFGF Design Studios
    BFGF Design Studios | Agentur Mutter | Interior Design, 2009
  • BFGF Design Studios | cidade para todos | Deutscher Beitrag zur 8. Architekturbiennale São Paulo, 2009 BFGF Design Studios
    BFGF Design Studios | cidade para todos | Deutscher Beitrag zur 8. Architekturbiennale São Paulo, 2009
  • BFGF Design Studios | designxport | Ausstellung Marseille, 2012 BFGF Design Studios
    BFGF Design Studios | designxport | Ausstellung Marseille, 2012
  • Christian Schüten | Egoring, 2004 Foto: Olaf Tamm
    Christian Schüten | Egoring, 2004
  • BFGF Design Studios | OFF Club Tim Mälzer | Interior Design, 2015 BFGF Design Studios
    BFGF Design Studios | OFF Club Tim Mälzer | Interior Design, 2015
  • Büro für Gestaltungsfragen | Bar, Lounge und Tresenfront, 1994 Büro für Gestaltungsfragen
    Büro für Gestaltungsfragen | Bar, Lounge und Tresenfront, 1994
Christian Schüten, Gerrit Kuhn, Sebastian Mends-Cole and Eric Pfromm got to know each other at the HFBK Hamburg. “Our way of thinking is strongly influenced by this period,” says Schüten. At that time, the current business directors of the BFGF Design Studios worked in a user-managed studio of the university with its own workshop. Already during their studies, still with Peter Unzeitig as office for design issues, initial designs arose for agencies and bars in Hamburg. “At the HFBK we were encouraged to explore and research on our own. I find precisely this type of research crucial today as well.”
The founders of BFGF Design Studios have resolved to maintain the greatest degree of artistic freedom possible. For instance, in the rooms of the Agentur Mutter, they painted the moulding on the ceiling anthracite-grey, to highlight the old structures. “If you want slick, technical design, go ask another agency,” thus Schüten. Products and interiors developed by BFGF are distinguished by a responsible approach to health, materials and natural resources. Designing spaces begins with an exact inspection of the architectural givens.

grauwert

  • grauwert | Duscharmatur Hansgrohe grauwert | Hansgrohe
    grauwert | Duscharmatur Hansgrohe
  • grauwert | L. Michow & Sohn | Bewegungsparcours für Ältere grauwert | L. Michow & Sohn
    grauwert | L. Michow & Sohn | Bewegungsparcours für Ältere
  • grauwert | Ausstellung Handwerkskammer Koblenz | Design für Alle grauwert
    grauwert | Ausstellung Handwerkskammer Koblenz | Design für Alle
  • grauwert | Scandic Hotels | Workshop für Mitarbeiter mit (Alters-)Simulation grauwert
    grauwert | Scandic Hotels | Workshop für Mitarbeiter mit (Alters-)Simulation
  • grauwert | Sennheiser „CinemaConnect“ | Hör- und Audiounterstützung für Kino oder Theater grauwert
    grauwert | Sennheiser „CinemaConnect“ | Hör- und Audiounterstützung für Kino oder Theater
  • grauwert | Scandic Hotels | Workshop für Mitarbeiter mit (Alters-)Simulation grauwert
    grauwert | Scandic Hotels | Workshop für Mitarbeiter mit (Alters-)Simulation
  • grauwert | Kunsthalle Emden | Barrierefrei zugänglicher Erweiterungsbau grauwert
    grauwert | Kunsthalle Emden | Barrierefrei zugänglicher Erweiterungsbau
The Hamburger agency grauwert – Büro für Inklusion & demografiefeste Lösungen (i.e. agency for inclusion and demography-sound solutions) develops multi-generational solutions that can be used equally well by people with or without handicaps, or by seniors. Business director Mathias Knigge has been thinking about and working with the design principle “Design für Alle” (i.e. design for everyone) since his student days at the HFBK and elsewhere. “Stereotypical images of age and handicapping annoy him, since in this way deficit-oriented solutions addressed at only a few result. “To me it’s important to show that good design can be combined with accessibility – by creating added values that are attractive and comfortable for as many users as possible.” The spectrum of his work ranges from analyses and user tests, product concepts and design, and workshops and advanced training programmes. For instance, grauwert organised a workshop for the Scandic hotel chain in which staff members were able to simulate the limitations of elderly and visually-impaired people. Matthias Knigge also propagates new findings from studies and research in his publications, lectures, exhibitions and within an internationally active network.
 

Ulrike Brandi Licht

  • Ulrike Brandi Licht | Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart Ulrike Brandi Licht
    Ulrike Brandi Licht | Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart
  • Ulrike Brandi Licht | Elbphilharmonie Plaza West, Hamburg Foto: Oliver Heissner
    Ulrike Brandi Licht | Elbphilharmonie Plaza West, Hamburg
  • Ulrike Brandi Licht | Umbau Museum für Naturgeschichte, Paris Ulrike Brandi Licht
    Ulrike Brandi Licht | Umbau Museum für Naturgeschichte, Paris
  • Ulrike Brandi Licht | Bahnhof Rotterdam Centraal Ulrike Brandi Licht
    Ulrike Brandi Licht | Bahnhof Rotterdam Centraal
  • Ulrike Brandi, Porträt Ulrike Brandi
    Ulrike Brandi, Porträt
Even during her student days in the HFBK’s Industrial Design programme, Ulrike Brandi was already developing initial lighting design projects. Her agency focuses on artificial lighting and daylight designs, master plans for lighting as well as lamp designs. “What has always attracted me about design as a profession is that I can interleave technical and design ability in each and every model,” explains Brandi. “From Dieter Rams I learned to reduce designs to the essentials, to design with love – including attention to detail, find appropriate solutions and provide people with utility.” She recognises a responsibility to society in this that applies equally to design as well as to lighting plans. Natural light plays a significant part in all her agency’s projects, and is the starting point for artificial-lighting designs as well. The goal, according to Brandi, is to create a pleasant atmosphere suited to the building and its function. To integrate light as if naturally, she makes use of contemporary, energy-efficient technology tailored to the building’s spaces. “Light has so many facets and manifestations that ever since my student days I’ve been learning more and more.”

Christian Werner

  • Christian Werner | Ligne Roset | Prado Christian Werner | Ligne Roset
    Christian Werner | Ligne Roset | Prado
  • Christian Werner | De Sede | Series chair 279 Christian Werner | De Sede
    Christian Werner | De Sede | Series chair 279
  • Christian Werner | Duravit | Bathroom furniture program L-Cube Christian Werner | Duravit
    Christian Werner | Duravit | Bathroom furniture program L-Cube
  • Christian Werner | Leolux | Furniture Program, Sofa Guadalupe Christian Werner | Leolux
    Christian Werner | Leolux | Furniture Program, Sofa Guadalupe

  • Christian Werner | Thonet | Sofa 2002 Foto: Stephan Abry
    Christian Werner | Thonet | Sofa 2002
Christian Werner, who was born in the western sector of Berlin, studied industrial design in the 1980’s, initially in his native city and then at the HFBK Hamburg. He worked for five years as a salaried employee before founding his own agency in Hamburg in 1992. His work focuses on the development of furniture for international manufacturers as well as designing and implementing interior for retail shops, trade fair booths and office furnishings concepts.” The thing I really appreciated at the HFBK was that painting, sculpture, architecture, film and design were united under one roof, and that in addition to concentrating on one’s own field, one could expand one’s horizon – preferably at the student cafeteria.” In Werner, dry Berlin humour combines with Hamburg pragmatism. Every artistic discipline has its own parameters, something which he has always regarded as a welcome and necessary orientation. “For this reason I tend to regard it as critically important to apply the MO of the fine arts to the study of design,” thus Werner. “The programme of study in industrial design is as highly specified and interdisciplinary as the job description - or at least it ought to be.”