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

By Paul Betts | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
Memory and Materialism
The Return of History as Design

In a 1984 interview Tomás Maldonado offered the following reflections about the Ulm Institute's evangelical attitude:

One must admit, however, that the propensity to assume the role and above all the rhetoric of the preacher was present in many of us. In short, the propensity to pontificate more than was necessary. Perhaps it was a result of the fact that we believed vehemently in the ideas we supported. An attitude which, one must underline, is currently on the road to extinction. And this led us to believe, in good faith, that we were the bearers of messages of salvation…. We lived and worked on a hill, in relative isolation, and it was difficult to avoid the Zarathustrian temptation to send warnings, exhortations, and pronouncements from upon high to the people below. This is the reason we sometimes seemed solemn in Ulm. We were never spiteful, however. Sometimes our ideas were fearless, never bizarre. 1

Here Ulm's most prominent missionary sought to justify what postmodern critics have described as the school's exaggerated moral idealism and cultural elitism. Maldonado wished to remind his readers that the school's “Zarathustrian pronouncements” did not spring from elitism as such, but from the deeper conviction that industrial design was inextricably linked to radical social change and political engagement. Whatever one might say about the validity of Ulm's “messages of salvation, ” the interview indirectly underscored just how much the one-time marriage of moralism and design had become a thing of the past.

Not that the Ulm project was forgotten by German design. A good part of what subsequently passed (and still passes) as West German modern design is greatly indebted to the institute's conceptual approach and

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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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