A sporty look with the future under the hood: Porsche’s Mission E, the all-electric sports car concept, is a real eye-catcher, even in the company of dozens of design icons. The rocket regularly entices visitors to the “Driven by German Design” exhibition in Doha to head to the last room first. This was observed by a young Qatari who works as a visitor contact at the Al Riwaq Gallery. Electric mobility therefore even fascinates people in a country whose wealth is based on oil – not least because the future of mobility is designed so attractively.
The exhibition curated by Prof. Dr. Martin Roth opened in the capital of the Emirates at the beginning of October 2017. On the occasion of the German-Qatar Year of Culture, the world-renowned museum manager collected over 400 design objects: cars, pieces of furniture, electrical appliances, architectural studies and everyday objects, all of which were designed in Germany and some of which were also manufactured there. The exhibition focuses on the period after 1950. This is not a coincidence; after all, it was when the German economic miracle was getting started. The growing prosperity awakened the need among Germans for functional and elegant objects for all areas of life.
One of these areas of life was road traffic. “In the 1950s, individual mobility in Germany became a mass phenomenon,” said Dr. Mateo Kries, Director of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, who was involved in the project as the main lender. “At the same time, vehicle design grew enormously in importance as a discipline in its own right.” To support this thesis, a VW Beetle and a Porsche Gmünd 356 r from the 1950s decorate the exhibition. The vehicles are on loan from the Volkswagen Group, which is sponsoring the show with numerous other exhibits, logistics and personnel resources.
A vehicle in the next room – the Volkswagen Transporter T1 from 1964 – symbolizes the start of a new era. “The ‘Bulli’, as it was known, permitted a completely new, mobile lifestyle and with its panoramic windows also represented a new radius of communication,” Mateo Kries explained. On the next table, a fitting electronic exhibit can be found: Kodak’s “Carousel S” slide projector, with which Bulli owners from the late 1960s could show friends and family the photos from their latest road trip on the wall in true-to-life dimensions.
“In the 1950s, individual mobility in Germany became a mass phenomenon. At the same time, vehicle design grew enormously in importance as a discipline in its own right.”
Yet, an exhibition on German design cannot just be about cars. Icons of industrial and furniture design such as Richard Sapper’s perfectly balanced Tizio lamp, Dorothee Becker’s “Uten.Silo” or – underlining the importance of the Bauhaus era for modern design – Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s famous table lamp from 1924 are, of course, there as well. Apropos Bauhaus: the 1920s period of design creativity that was brutally ended by National Socialism is reflected in the exhibition through the extremely rational objects developed by the Ulm School of Design in the 1950s and 1960s. Modular desk services, Lufthansa’s corporate design and the iconic Ulm stool were among the achievements of the designers working under the guidance of Inge Aicher-Scholl, Otl Aicher and Max Bill.
But what are the definitive characteristics of German design?
For curator Martin Roth, who died in August 2017 before the exhibition opened, “functional aesthetics” were the brand essence; he also called German design serious, pinpointed and precise – i.e. dominated by characteristics that also commonly define the Germans themselves. “Actually, the German understanding of design was always related to engineering skill,” added Mateo Kries, whose museum boasts one of the world’s most extensive collections of furniture design. Today, aspects such as the use of algorithms or the focus on the user experience are at the forefront in the design of new products (remember digitalization?).
One of the major strengths of the exhibition in Qatar is that it makes connections: between past and present, the Old and the New World. Had it occurred to you, for example, that the designer of the first iPhone might have been inspired by the Puritan form of a German calculator manufactured by Braun? Or that the “Snow White” design of the first Apple computer came from the German Hartmut Esslinger?
Moreover, the Al Riwaq Gallery also does not hide the achievements of designers from the former East Germany, as demonstrated by a Simson motorbike or the Hi-Fi receiver developed by the Limbach-based radio manufacturer HELIRADIO. An entire corner is dedicated to the Summer Olympic Games of 1972, which set standards with, among other things, the design of the programs and the organic-looking roof of the Munich Olympic Stadium built by Frei Otto.
The exhibition places particular emphasis on presenting the designers’ work as a creative process. “It was important to us to show that successful design – as simple and inspired as this may appear – is often preceded by a development process lasting many years,” said Esra Aydin, who as spokesperson for culture and society in Volkswagen Corporate Communications was involved in organizing the exhibition. “We complemented this aspect with a workshop and lecture program featuring designers and experts who have added practical and theoretical views to their work. A German design glossary that we created also offers a fun and informative overview of key design terms and (German) design practices.”
This is exemplified by Konstantin Grcic’s drafts for his chair_ONE: from the cardboard model cobbled together with tape to a chunky steel construction to the finished object, the development of the classic is illustrated – and with it the designer’s passion.
Curator Martin Roth would undoubtedly have been delighted about the interest shown by locals and tourists alike: the organizers of the Qatar Museum have already counted over 14,000 visitors. Another couple of thousand are expected to visit by January 14, 2018, when the exhibition finishes. So there’s no doubt that German design not only has a colorful past; it also has an exciting future.
So there’s no doubt that German design not only has a colorful past; it also has an exciting future.