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Ulm, Hochschule für Gestaltung


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Max Bill (1908—1994)

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(HfG, 1951–68)

This innovative West German academy was closely associated with a more scientific, rational, and efficient approach to design after the Second World War. It moved decisively away from the customary reliance on established notions of the supremacy of the creative individual designer towards an approach to design that was concerned with problem solving and the utilization of multidisciplinary expertise. The HfG at Ulm exerted a considerable international impact on design education and practice.

In the new era of democracy and reconstruction in post‐war West Germany, Inge Scholl, whose brother and sister had been executed by the Nazis in 1943, sought to resurrect the idea of an international school of design. This vision had been inspired by the Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar Germany in 1919, an institution that had been closed on ideological grounds by the repressive Nazi regime in 1933. Somewhat ironically, almost 40 years later, the HfG at Ulm was also brought to a premature end on account of political pressures and problems of funding.

Funding for the new academy of design at Ulm derived from a foundation established by Scholl in 1950, together with financial support from the US government, German federal and regional government, and the business sector. It formally commenced in 1953 under the leadership of the architect and designer Max Bill and lived up to its initial conception as a new Bauhaus through the employment of former Bauhaus teachers as visiting tutors. These included Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, and Mies Van Der Rohe. Bill was commissioned to design new buildings for the school that were officially opened in 1955. However, within a short period, younger members of staff at Ulm increasingly questioned the relevance of a curriculum closely linked to what they saw as outmoded ideas of creativity represented by the established Bauhaus approach. They felt that the real needs of contemporary designers were to be answered by a more systematic, scientific, and theoretically grounded approach to design, rather than being dependent on a continued emphasis on studio and workshop centred work. The study of sociology, anthropology, and cultural history, together with a grounding in mathematical, statistical, and analytical methods, were increasingly seen as significant elements of the curriculum. Bill resigned as rector in 1956 and from the school in 1957, prompted by the increasing influence of the Argentinian Tomás Maldonado, who had been appointed by him in 1954. Following Bill's resignation the school was then managed by a rectoral board until 1962, when Otl Aicher was given sole charge. During these years Maldonado was a mainspring in theoretical debates and later became rector himself from 1964 to  . Another key figure in promoting an intrinsically methodological approach to design was Giu Bonsiepe, an Ulm graduate in 1959 and then teacher from 1960 to  . An important vehicle for transmitting the ideology of the HfG to a wider international audience was its periodical, Ulm, published between 1958 and 1959 and from 1962 to  . The institution also influenced design approaches elsewhere through visiting academics such as L. Bruce Archer, an important figure in the Design Methods movement and Research Fellow at the Royal College of Art, who wrote Systematic Method for Designers in 1965. There were also links with the industrial sector, notably Braun, the West German electrical appliances firm, for which the HfG's head of industrial design, Hans Gugelot, designed a number of products. Other notable design projects executed by members of the school included the corporate identity scheme for Lufthansa, the West German national airline, overseen by Otl Aicher and Hans Roericht in 1962–3. However, the institution underwent a series of crises in the 1960s that emanated from its radical design agenda, the politics of the German educational system, and a funding crisis. Faced with a difficult and unwelcome ultimatum by regional government, staff and students decided to close the HfG in 1968.

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Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.


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