The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design

By Paul Betts | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Conscience of the Nation
The New German Werkbund

Among those interested in the history of German modernism, the German Werkbund continues to attract wide attention. Even the wartime destruction of most of the original Werkbund archive has not deterred scholarly interest in the lasting importance of this colorful organization. 1 As discussed in the last chapter, the Werkbund occupies a prominent place in the larger story of modern German architecture and design. But surprisingly, its post-1945 career has passed largely unremarked in Werkbund commentaries. Though included in the more comprehensive documentary histories of the association, the postwar period has inspired little attention in its own right. 2 The reigning assumption is still that the postwar Werkbund was at best a pale imitation of past glories, at worst a club of aged cultural elitists out of step with the times. While it is true that the post-1945 Werkbund never attained the same cultural status or political reputation as its historical predecessor, it hardly warrants such derision and neglect. Setting aright this misleading historical image is just the first step, however. Of greater interest is to ground the Werkbund's post-1945 project within a larger cultural context. Much of the Werkbund's postwar significance lay in the fact that it was the only (West) German design institution possessing a pre-1945 history. Its postwar story uniquely dramatized the particular problems associated with renegotiating the legacy of German modernism in the wake of Nazism and the war. Its novel cultural crusade was based on refashioning the everyday commodity as a spiritual object rooted in a pre-Nazi humanist tradition. How the Werkbund reinvented its own heritage as postwar cultural guidance, identified design as the last uncorrupted refuge of German Idealism, and strove to protect the moral dimension of functionalism from

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The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - Design, the Cold War, and West German Culture 1
  • Chapter One - Nazi Modernism Reconsidered 23
  • Chapter Two - The New German Werkbund 73
  • Chapter Three - The Promise and Peril of Organic Design 109
  • Chapter Four - The Ulm Institute of Design 139
  • Chapter Five - The German Design Council 178
  • Chapter Six - Design and Domesticity 212
  • Conclusion - The Return of History as Design 249
  • Notes 265
  • Bibliography 319
  • Index 339
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