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

By Paul Betts | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Design and Its Discontents
The Ulm Institute of Design

In the larger narrative of twentieth-century German design, the Ulm Institute of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung) continues to enjoy a powerful status. Given both its ambitious design program and its star-studded roster of instructors, which included not only the principal cast of Inge Scholl, Otl Aicher, Max Bill, and Tomás Maldonado, but also highprofile cultural figures such as the poet and critic Hans Magnus Enzensberger, the writer Martin Walser, and the filmmaker Alexander Kluge, it was obvious that this was no ordinary design school. Its well-publicized christening as the “New Bauhaus” in 1955 illustrated the extent to which the Ulm Institute was born of noble pedigree. Indeed, both the American High Command and the West German government jointly underwrote the Ulm project in an effort to revive the once-demonized heritage of Bauhaus Modernism as a guiding polestar of West German culture. For this reason the Ulm school has been celebrated in the annals of cultural history as a blessed aerie of heroic modernism perched high above the otherwise crass commercialism and cultural reaction that supposedly dominated postwar life and society below. 1

But there has been surprisingly little interest in grounding the design school's colorful history within a wider context. Most of the attention has instead been directed toward recounting the doctrinal schisms and palace revolutions of the school's tumultuous if illustrious career. While some of these chroniclers have produced impressive documentary histories and monographs, they have often done so at the expense of comparative analysis. Unwittingly, then, the Ulm literature has tended to reflect the school's own geographical isolation atop Ulm's Kuhberg Mountain. 2 This chapter is mainly devoted to addressing some of these

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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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