“Design for City Environment” – The Interdesign Seminar 1980 in Tbilisi

The idea of a city as an environment for living came on the agenda of the designers during the 1970s. This was connected for the designer with an interdisciplinary approach, especially with architects and city planners. One prominent example for this is an international seminar in Georgia in the fall 1980.

The seminar “Design for City Environment” was held from the 6th to the 18th October 1980 in Tbilisi. It was organised within the seminar series by the Soviet VNIITE in cooperation with the ICSID, the IAA (International Association of Art), the ISOCARP (International Society of City and Regional Planners), the ICOGRADA (International Council of Graphic Design Associations), the ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites), the IFI (International Federation of Interior Designers), the IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects), the UIA (International Union of Architects) and the WCC (World Crafts Council).1

The 34 participants came from the USSR and from Western countries.2 The professions were widely mixed, thus designers, architects, and met in the capital of the Georgian Soviet Republic at the regional office of the VNIITE. Tbilisi itself was chosen because of a number of its features: there was a combination of a national tradition as well as modern architecture. The city was with over a million inhabitants hugh and had a situation with special climatic conditions.3

View via Tbilisi, Lotkini is in the center behind the trinity cathedral

The interdesign seminar had the aim to find methods to build the environment of a big city within an urban growth and a massive increase of population.4 To study such questions the participants looked at the Lotkini district in Tbilisi (ლოტკინი), were 17 000 new accommodations were planned. During the interdesign the (international) experts tried to find answers on functional, aesthetic, and socio-cultural problems. Questions like the functional organization of a district, the public services, greenery, design and visual communication, and applied arts. The designer especially looked for aspects on graphic design, secondary architecture, and usability. At the end of the seminar the participants submitted a general concept for the district development for housing, industrial complexes, transport infrastructure, and public spaces.5

View via Tbilisi

The “Interdesign 1980” was the first seminar with international and interdisciplinary cooperation, which tried to solve problems of building a human environment. Furthermore it was a kind of opening for the Soviet Design authorities – like the VNIITE with Yuri Soloviev – to Western experts.6 But this seminar also showed also how limited the possibilities of ideas and plans were. At least only few points from the interdesign seminar found their way into the Lotkini district.

1 Unbekannt (1980): „Stadt-Design“ als Interdesign-Seminar in Tbilissi vom 6. bis 18. Oktober 1980, in: form (90), p. 80.

2 Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Great Britain, GDR, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Venezuela and the Soviet Union.

3 Unknown (1980): Interdesign ’80 Tbilisi/USSR, in: ICSID-News (November/December), pp. 2-3.

5 Like footnote 3.

6 For further reading Tom Cubbin’s article (https://academic.oup.com/jdh/article-abstract/30/1/16/2623682/Postmodern-Propaganda-Semiotics-environment-and?redirectedFrom=fulltext) and Yulia Karpova’s PhD thesis from 2015 (www.etd.ceu.hu/2015/karpova_yulia.pdf), pp. 328, are an excellent starting point.

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Das BASF-Projekt „Wohnen 1980“

Seit Mitte der 1960er Jahre versuchte die BASF AG mit Design ihre eigenen Kunststoff-Rohprodukte erfolgreich zu vermarkten. Die AnwendungstechnischeAbteilung (kurz Aweta) mit ihren Verfahrensingenieuren und Gestaltern war hierbei die zentrale Konzerneinheit, durch welche Design erstmals in Ludwigshafen am Rhein in unternehmerische Prozesse der Petrochemie eingebunden wurden.

Das mit Abstand unter den Zeitgenossen bekannteste Design-Projekt der BASF AG in den 1970er Jahren waren die beiden Modellstudien „Wohnen 1980“ von Arno Votteler sowie von Herbert Hirche. In diesen Projekten wurden Design und Innenarchitektur miteinander verbunden. Eine Grundbedingung des Projekts war es, dass die Entwürfe in einer industrielle Großserienproduktion – und möglichst in Kunststoff – angefertigt werden musste. Als Bezugsjahr wurde 1980 gewählt da man sich bei Projektbeginn 1969 erhofft hatte, alle möglichen Gestaltungsentwicklungen bis zum ungefähr zehn Jahr im voraus abschätzen zu können.

Eine der beiden Gruppen leitete der Braunschweiger Designprofessor Arno Votteler. Bei der Konzeption einer Wohnung versuchte Votteler und seine Mitarbeiter bis auf einen Schlaf- und Badezimmer keine Funktionsräume zu entwerfen. Vielmehr prägten Mobilität und Variabilität das Wohnen im Jahr 1980, sodass Bereiche wie eine Küche oder die Aufenthaltszone nur nach Bedürfnis aus den Wänden gezogen werden konnten. Die andere Gruppe wurde von Herbert Hirche geführt. Hirche war Vottelers Hochschullehrer für Design in Stuttgart gewesen und ebenso wie er Mitbegründung der VDID 1959. Zwar verfolgte Hirche andere Lösungen im Detail, die Wichtigkeit von Mobilitität und Variablität sah auch sein sogenanntes hircheteam für das Jahr 1980 voraus. Dies führte dazu, dass Der Spiegel Anfang 1972 fasst dies wiefolgt zusammen: „Die Designer kamen zu dem gleichen Schluß: Gemauerte Zwischenwände müßten durch variable Trenn-Elemente ersetzt werden“.

Modell „Wohnen 80“, BASF, Freistehende Küche, Design: Arno Votteler, CC-BY-SA 3.0 DE

Besonders bei diesem Projekt zeigte sich erstmals zeitgenössische Entwicklung in einem Forschungsprojekt mit dem Bezug zum Industriedesign. Denn das Argumentieren mit „Wissen“ als auch die Bedeutung von Planung im Design bekamen in dieser Zeit erstmals eine hervorgehobene Rolle bei kommunikativen Strategien der Gestalter. Im Gegensatz zu den Visiona-Reihe der Bayer AG und ihren futuristischen Ideen versuchte man mit den Modellstudien „Wohnen 1980“ nämlich in der Tat Impulse für umsetzbare Wohnentwürfe zu schaffen.

Modell „Wohnen 80“, BASF, Arbeitsplatz „Denkerglocke“, Design: Arno Votteler, CC-BY-SA 3.0 DE

Die BASF AG beabsichtigte – ähnlich wie bei dem Panton-Chair mit dem BASF-Kunststoff Luran S – die eigenen Designentwicklungen 1972 auf der Kölner Möbelbranchen zu präsentieren. Die Werbefachleute in Ludwigshafen erhofften sich dadurch eine größere Rezeption von Zeitschriften und Zeitungen, zumal die BASF AG zusätzlich noch Werbeanzeigen zum Projekt „Wohnen 80“ schaltete. In Ludwigshafen erhoffte man sich dadurch einen erhöhten Absatz von eigenen Kunststoffprodukten bei der Möbelindustrie. Im Zusammenhang mit der ersten Ölpreiskrise von 1973/74 zerschlugen sich diese Hoffnungen jedoch rasch wieder.

«Som en gjesteforsker i Norge» or Being a Visiting PhD Fellow in Norway

This fall I had the great honour to be a Visiting PhD Fellow at the University of Oslo for two month. Thanks to Professor Kjetil Fallan – one of the leading design historians – the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art, and Ideas offered me the opportunity to come to the capital city of Norway.

Kjetil Fallan is a Norwegian professor of design history, e.g. editorial board member of the Journal of Design History and the Design and Culture as well as an author of many publications about design history. His books, papers, and presentations are very inspiring for me and I used a lot of his publications in my PhD thesis. For example his last publications from this year are Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization and Designing Modern Norway: A History of Design Discourse, which I used in chapter on globalised design. I met Fallan at the workshop “Environmental Histories of Design” in the summer 2015 at the Rachel-Carson-Center in Munich. This intensive workshop about sustainability in design history was really inspiring for me (see my blogpost about the workshop). I think the same will be for the annual conference of the Design History Society, which will be held 2017 in Oslo. The title is “Making and Unmaking the Environment” and is organised by Kjetil and his team.

Against the background that I had studied twice abroad with a lot of good experiences, it was obvious for me to visit another university outside of Germany during the PhD project. And it was also consistent to combine this with writing my chapter about the West German Industrial Designers in a globalised world. Because of Fallan’s high quality research, as well as Norwegians‘ high fluency in English, I decided to apply for a research fellowship in Oslo. And happily, the department at the UiO were willing to invite me and offered me working space for two month.

Getting financial support for my Norway stay was also possible. Thanks to the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, which supports my PhD project since 2014, it was not too complicated to get extra money for my visit. If this way would not be successful, there were also a possibility for Germans to apply at the Willy-Brandt-Foundation in Oslo, because they are also supporting academic exchanges for researchers. It would also be possible to apply for a short visit scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service.

Beside the whole organisation of my visit in Oslo, there was one detail I was really astonished about in a positive manner. All correspondence, contracts, and inquiries were in a digital form. Furthermore my impression was that everything went on quite fast. For example “digital” and “fast” are not adjectives I would use for the German bureaucracy, especially at universities. That is a good thing to show, that in Germany e.g. a lot of time and energy is invested in discussions on a digital life – and in Norway many things are made more pragmatic in this point. Or to reflect one self and use the word from an interview with foreigners in Germany: “Paper in Germany is valued like God”.

The art history section, where Professor Kjetil Fallan and his colleagues are working, is part of the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas – or the short form in Norwegian “IFIKK”. The department itself is situated at the Campus Blindern, in the Georg Morgenstiernes hus. This 1960s red brick building was renovated a few years ago, so the interior space is quite new and very delightful. At the first day I was kindly welcomed by everybody and I got a working space with two other nice PhD students from art history in the room. Also I received an access card and a room key, to be able to work outside the main working hours or at the weekend. Get a room, card and keys as an external founded PhD student at the LMU in Munich, I have not heard that this has happened. Thus, these small details can demonstrate what kind of appreciation and attention in Norway is given towards scientists, PhD students and guests.

Georg Morgenstiernes hus

All the art historians in the department where very kind and open towards me, especially Kjetil and his PhD students Ingrid, Ida, and Gabriele integrated me so thoughtfully. Also new and remarkable for me was in which way the university is caring for the employees. Every Monday a huge basket with a variant of fruits were delivered. A fully-automatic coffee machine was also free for use. Also home office, part time or parental leave are not extraordinary, in Norway they are already ordinary. Getting a kindergarden place in Norway is not a lottery game, like it is in Munich. So everything gave the impression, that one looks with care after its employees. In comparison to a German higher education institution and the German sciences system, the difference catches the eyes.

In this great atmosphere, it was possible for me to write my chapter about West German industrial designers and their discourses about globalisation. Besides that, I was also able to write a short paper about the special German-German design relations in the Cold War. In comparison to German PhD seminars, the Norwegian procedure is more a text discussion. Thus, this means more writing an article and only giving a brief presentation, followed by a comprehensive discussion. I had the feeling, this procedure has some advantages. Because first, the author has a text, on which s/he can work and e.g. re-write parts to make it better. And second the audience can prepare itself and do not have to listen to over-length presentations. I was very pleased with the seminar and all the questions, comments, and tips I got on my text. Thus, perhaps I can keep working on the text, when I am back in Germany. With some luck, I will find a place to publish these results.

For living, there is a possibility to apply for researcher housing at the student welfare organisation for students in Oslo (SiO). In my case it was a furnished, small room in the Sogn student village, next to the Blindern Campus. It was ok to stay there for two months, but in the end, I cannot recommend it. Because the SiO has housing “quality”, “services” and invoices, which are not in a balanced proportion. Unfortunately the housing market in Oslo is as bad as in Munich. So you need quite a large portion of luck to find something that is fitting, affordable, and not behind the bushes. Beside the fact that the costs of living in Norway are as high as their reputation. In comparison to Munich – which is the most expensive city in Germany – I would guess that you have to spend about 30% more for food and the daily life. So with the German salary for PhD students – which is also low in Germany itself – you really have to live economically and fugally.

The regional office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation is more focused on Sweden. Norway or Oslo are unfortunately not their main focus. But beside this, the Goethe-Institute in Oslo is organising a couple of interesting events in Norway’s capital city. Especially the podium discussions e.g. about the phenomena of populism, held in the Litteraturhuset, was really worth attending. I also can recommend the Opera House, the National Museum and the Vigeland Museum together with the Vigeland Park in Oslo. Trips to Bergen, Kristiansand, and Lillehammer are also good to make by train and a tip in every travel book. Also Stockholm is not so far away, a high-speed train brings you there in less than five hours.

Thus, thanks to Kjetil, Ida, Ingrid, Gabriele, Gustav, Anne Lise, Aron, Ellif, Espen, Heidi, Lars, Lena, Nikita, Panagiotis, Pia, and all other IFIKK-members for great two month in Oslo!

And I wish all of you a great Christmas time and a happy new year!