Marianne Brandt’s name stands for modern, flawless product design still being unequaled. Based on her legacy, the intention of the 5th International Marianne Brandt Contest is to evolve the Bauhaus artist’s ideas in a contemporary context. Find an interview with the organizers Linda Pense (LP), Franziska Ptak (FP), and Alexander Tanz (AT) below.
— Two years ago, you have taken over the organization of the Marianne Brandt Contest. What do you think makes it unique?
Linda always says artists love the contest because it’s affectionate and warm-hearted.
This is exactly what I’ve experienced: Sensitivity. The call for entries is printed on beautiful paper and very intimately and warmly written. Somehow you’ve simply got to like it. According to the principle “The Poetry of Functional”, it’s not strictly focused on massmarkets but also on social and emotional values and creativity, still, on a functional level. The mixture of reason and sensuality, and I think people see it that way.
— In which way do the entries reflect Marianne Brandt’s creative requirements?
When I’m leafing through last years’ catalogues I notice a lot of household items. In this way, it suits Marianne Brandt quite well (laughs). It’s not about copying her work but transferring her ideas into today’s world. How products can be manufactured in series. That was an innovation in those days.
A creative usage of materials was also important for her. Even with limited possibilities she designed timeless, elegant and classic items. A creative approach was crucial for her.
It’s interesting that we’re actually interpreting how and why Marianne Brandt did something. In some way, we all create our own image showing a certain side to her personality which everyone sees in a different way. In the end, the entries that we and the jury receive are impressions of what people think about her.
— These impressions occasionally seem to differ a lot from Marianne Brandt’s tradition. At least, that was what critics said three years ago when a hummingbird made of paper won the first prize in product design and incited a fierce debate. How do you justify this dissociation of the classical Bauhaus product?
For us the hummingbird was the reason to support the Marianne Brandt Contest. First of all, we felt it was a very brave decision. In the years before, many elaborate designs were entered following the principles of Bauhaus. But after twelve coffee pots and 16 cups one of the jurors asked: What actually is contemporary design? What does design have to achieve? Maybe we don’t need another cup? Indeed, there was a poetic side to the hummingbird: When it was lit from different angles its shadow seemed like it beat its wings.
Unfortunately, we did not explain the reasons in detail. This was probably why the decision was strongly criticized.
At least it made us think. It just couldn’t tap its full potential to kick off a discussion.
— These discussions were mostly about the question: What is the designer’s assignment today?
Yes, this question is connected to the decision to award the hummingbird. We should think about what functionality means nowadays: On one hand we’re sort of operating on nans scales. Basically, we are able to design anything. On the other hand, a new product is thrown on the market almost every three minutes. No one needs that’s anymore. In the past, we needed designers to shape a product but what is their task nowadays? The ideals and intentions of the Bauhaus might help finding an answer to this question. Bauhaus designers aspired to the sincerity. The production methods should adapt to the production conditions. There were a lot of new items and new methods to manufacture them. So maybe we could adopt these ideas of what is possible and what is reasonable.
— This question brought up the third contest category: An award for sustainable products. Pursuant to the Bauhaus principle to produce in series and economically, how realistic is it to go easy on resources and to produce sustainably at the same time?
This is difficult. I think there are many concepts that haven’t been realized yet.
Yet there are companies doing so but the costs are still too high. The field of sustainable resources hasn’t been developed enough. Oil platforms are everywhere so it’s much easier to extract petroleum than using materials that haven’t been thoroughly explored yet. Thus it’s all the more important to develop economical concepts. Anyway, I think we’re on the right path.
— You are referring to the principle ‘cradle to cradle’ by Michael Braungart. He talks about “intelligent waste”. Sustainable production and waste. Isn’t that a contradiction?
I think it is a realistic interpretation of capitalism. Braungart uses the cherry tree as an example. It produces thousands of blossoms and fruits but none of it is wasted. Everything contributes to the life cycle. I believe this is a great and realistic idea. We can produce beautiful thing without having a bad conscience.
To put it bluntly: Living in abundance could actually be fun. Of course this is not the aim. Our resources are finite and we’re just beginning to recycle according to the cradle to cradle principle. Once the products have been manufactured they can be put back into the cycle instead of throwing them away. There has never been such a convincing concept.
— Is ‘conventional’ product design still significant if a progressive principle like cradle to cradle is featured in the contest?
Of course it’s a challenge. Let’s say there are two toasters. One looks nice and pursues Marianne Brandt’s ideas of design. The other one does, too, but instead of throwing it away it can be reused as something completely different. So, this idea is very inspiring and definitely makes a difference! Conventional industrial design has its reason to exist because cradle to cradle still needs time to evolve. The third category is an incentive to aspire an ambitious design.