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Jens M端ller (Hg./Ed.), Ren辿 Spitz A5/06:

HfG Ulm


Kurze Geschichte der Hochschule f端r Gestaltung Concise History of the Ulm School of Design

Lars M端ller Publishers



-Die gesellschaftliche Verantwortung der Gestalter/ The designers’ societal responsibilty

4 24

-Die kulturelle Bewältigung der technischen zivilisation/ Coping Culturally with Technical Civilization

10 30

-Kurze Geschichte der HfG Ulm/ A brief history of HfG Ulm

14 34

-Die SchlieSSung/ The closure

20 40

-HfG Ulm in Bildern/ Pictures of HfG Ulm


-Die Wichtigsten Dozenten/ important lecturers -Abteilungen/ Departments

78 82 86

-Resultate/ Outcome




-Nachwort, Impressum/ Epilogue, IMprint



1. The designers’ societal responsibilty Why HfG Ulm was founded




1 Sophie Scholl 2 Hans Scholl


The Ulm School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung—HfG— Ulm) is generally regarded as the most important 20th century design college worldwide. It probably exerted a broader, deeper and more permanent influence on modern design than any other teaching institution, including the Dessau Bauhaus. For international art, however, the Bauhaus was much more important than HfG. Nevertheless, these assertions cannot be proved, as in spite of all the rankings, importance in this context cannot be meaningfully quantified. HfG was not founded to rectify an aesthetic deficit. Its founders (Otl Aicher, Inge Scholl and Max Bill) were not primarily concerned with designing elegant posters and lamps. On the contrary, they wanted to design society. Put more precisely, they wanted to assist in creating conditions in which a peaceful, democratic and free society could arise in Germany after the end of the Second World War. That objective was a distant utopia when, in the spring of 1945, Otl Aicher and Inge Scholl started to put their initial ideas into practice. It was simply unimaginable that the Germans could ever shake off their blind obedience, militarism and fanatical racism. For six years, the Germans had immersed the world in war and committed an inconceivable amount of inhuman atrocities with mechanical implacability and cold-blooded precision. They had murdered millions of people in gas chambers and on the battlefields. And now those Germans, of all people, were supposed to become better human beings at a stroke? In 1945, Germany was in ruins. The buildings had been destroyed, the streets and squares of the cities were full of rubble. The country was divided and occupied by the four leading allied powers. The destruction was almost total, not stopping at the material environment. Families and friends mourned the dead and missing. Over and above that, the intellectual foundations of society were seriously damaged. The world had changed so radically in the wake of the Nazi regime that, in Aicher’s view, it was impossible for the Germans to follow on seamlessly from the period up to 1933. He wanted to use the catastrophe as an opportunity to question all the traditions and certainties that had borne up German society as a matter of course. All the social values appeared questionable, because they had failed to give people the strength to resist the Nazis. This opportunity for a completely new start was referred to as “zero hour”. How proud the Germans had been of their superior culture, of the works of Luther, Bach, Beethoven and Goethe.


How haughtily they had turned up their noses at the philistines from the USA and the proles from Russia. But under Hitler, the country of poets and philosophers had metamorphosed in only a few years into an abyss full of headsmen and hangmen. Their appreciation of music, poetry and philosophy had not equipped the people to act as responsible citizens and call a halt to the madness when the chips were down. Otl Aicher was of the opinion that the traditional bourgeois esteem of “Sunday culture” deserved to be thrown overboard. He had nothing against theatre, opera, concerts or paintings, and he had even studied sculpture in Munich for a few months. But their elevation into a fetish had led to contempt for the things of everyday life. As a result, the everyday objects which had been manufactured in large quantities since industrialization and were therefore affordable to broad sections of the population were also disdained. Aicher was not interested in using the tools of design to enhance the appearance of sets of fine porcelain for Sundays and holidays. His idea was rather that a free and democratic civil society needed crockery for every day of the year. It was not only to be practical and affordable; above all, it was to have a form of its own rather than imitating the appearance of up-market luxury goods. It should not pretend to have their style, nor their expensive materials or intricate workmanship. Some years later, in 1959, when HfG had been in existence for quite some time, the student Nick Roericht actually designed one of the most famous products of HfG as his diploma project: the TC 100 stackable crockery which was manufactured exclusively for canteens. Millions of people have used it for decades, for instance in youth hostels. Aicher also had the same aspiration for the design of information. Anyone, for example, who created a clearly arranged railway timetable or a factually informative poster on the necessity of a healthy diet was, in Aicher’s view, doing something more relevant to society than artistic painting. That is why he abandoned his studies at the Munich Academy so soon. He saw no sense in devoting his time and energy to the fine arts as if nothing had happened between 1933 and 1945. At the time, art even appeared phoney and dishonest to him, as he thought it allowed the artists to evade their responsibility to use their talents in the establishment of a new post-war society—a radical view, typical of Aicher’s uncompromising stance. HfG was a private institution, not a state-controlled university. That does not sound particularly remarkable today. At the


time when it was founded, however, it was absolutely unique. In Germany, education had traditionally been the preserve of the government. Even now, teachers and professors are civil servants with public sector salaries. They have a special relationship with the state, requiring loyalty and service. In the early 1950s, the conviction that this was the right thing was even more deeply rooted than today. Otl Aicher, however, thought differently. He had experienced the state as an organization which systematically doled out injustice. The Nazi regime had murdered his dear friend Sophie Scholl and her elder brother Hans. Since then, Aicher had deeply distrusted all governmental constructs. Hans and Sophie Scholl were among the few active resistance fighters against the Nazi regime. As did Otl Aicher, the two came from Ulm. While attending university in Munich, they belonged to the core of the group “The White Rose”. They distributed pamphlets at the university, and were arrested doing so in February 1943. A few days later, the Nazis murdered them. Otl Aicher luckily escaped arrest himself—and so surely also his own death—by a hair’s breadth. Together with Inge Scholl, Hans and Sophie’s elder sister, he was already organizing lectures by philosophers and theologians in Ulm shortly after the end of the Second World War, intended to give people hope and guidance in their devastated world. Out of that initiative, they developed the adult education centre Ulmer Volkshochschule in 1946. They and their friends, the so-called Ulm Circle, had not yet lost the impetus of “zero hour” to rethink things from scratch. That was what distinguished them from most other people in Germany. After the immediate post-war years, in which the population had struggled merely to survive, as hunger and privation were rife and ice-cold winters in houses without roofs, windows or heating carried off the emaciated bodies in droves, the situation improved step by step towards the end of the 1940s. In the early 1950s, affluence became perceptible. Looking back, the incipient phase of recovery up to the end of the 1960s would be termed the “economic miracle”. Germans made themselves comfortable in conditions which had become more pleasant. Everyone had their first Italian holiday in their first car within their grasp. Back then, in the early 1950s, hardly anyone wanted to concern themselves with socio-political utopias. Particularly as the end of the Second World War was already years away. The memory of the past, with brown SA uniforms, was collectively repressed. Inge Scholl and Otl Aicher however worked untiringly to put their idea of developing a new, second educational institution on the basis of Ulmer Volkshochschule into practice.


With the aid of US High Commissioner John J. McCloy and his colleague Shepard Stone, they received a commitment that a donation of one million German marks would be made by the American taxpayers if they could manage to raise a second million from other sources. As it was not permissible for those funds to flow to Inge Scholl in person, they founded an organization—the Geschwister-Scholl-Stiftung—on 5 December 1950 to manage the cash in accordance with its intended purpose. Originally, at the end of the 1940s, Inge Scholl and Otl Aicher had wanted to found a university named after the Scholl siblings together with the writer Hans-Werner Richter. Its purpose would be to expand the range of subjects offered by the Volkshochschule, in particular adding social and political topics. However, as Otl Aicher was interested in architecture, urban planning and design, his attention was drawn by the Zurich architect, artist and designer Max Bill. Bill rapidly became an important ally of the Ulm-based group, and within a few months brought HansWerner Richter to the point at which he withdrew his commitment. Bill ensured that the planned curriculum for the university to be founded was limited to design topics: urban planning and architecture, visual design, product design and information design. The social and political orientation was by no means ousted. On the contrary, it remained as the basis for approaching questions of how the world should be shaped. What does design have to do for people to resist the temptations of a tyrannical, inhuman regime, and so that anything like the Nazi era could never happen again? “Never again!” was the battle cry of the Ulm group.






1 Tomás Maldonado, 1956 2 Hans Gugelot, 1956 3 Inge Aicher-Scholl mit Studenten/ Inge Aicher-Scholl with students, 1956

The HfG buildings were inaugurated on 1 and 2 October 1955. The keynote speaker was Walter Gropius, Director of the Weimar and Dessau Bauhaus. Teaching, however, had already started in provisional premises at the Volkshochschule on 3 August 1953. The authors of German features pages shook their heads at Max Bill’s architecture. His configuration of unadorned cuboids ran counter to all expectations of a university building. The public struggled for words and belaboured similes, such as “it looks as if a giant had thrown a handful of building blocks onto the hill.” The visibility of construction materials (exposed white-painted brick, reinforced concrete painted grey) and fittings was found provocative. Part of the fixtures and fittings—wash basins, mountings for fluorescent lamps, the Ulm Stool and slatted frames for the beds – had been designed between 1953 and 1955 by students and lecturers (above all Walter Zeischegg). In that respect, these buildings were of course on the one hand a result of the extremely limited budget, but on the other hand also a programme in bricks and mortar. Technology was bluntly revealed as technology, without any decoration or traditional cladding. Basically, contemporaries viewed the complex as a shell, a skeleton without flesh or clothing. The renunciation of aesthetic richness, familiar from the Bauhaus, was now felt to be aggressive brutality. The journalists mocked this Ulm-based monastery with its ascetics, who wanted to convert the world to their belief in the right angle. In contrast, hardly any attention was paid to the fact that the students had bright and generously dimensioned work rooms, above all in the workshops, with just as much light as space. In 1955, then, HfG was on the horns of a communicative dilemma: Its architecture embodied the programme even before it had really started. Although the HfG buildings were—figuratively speaking—a prototype and a model built to test a hypothesis, they were criticized as if they were a fully developed series product.


1 2 3

Basic Course

4 5



1-3 Arbeiten zur Typographie in der Grundlehre bei Otl Aicher/Typography works from the Basic Course with Otl Aicher; Hans G. Conrad, 1954 4-5 Arbeiten aus der Grundlehre/ Works from the Basic Course; Karl-Heinz Krug, 1957 6-7 Visuelle Studie/Visual study; Hans G. Conrad, 1955

The contribution of the Bauhaus with the greatest impact on international design was its educational concept, which was adopted by educational institutions across the globe. This particularly concerned the first, preparatory year of study, the curriculum for which was developed by Johannes Itten at the Weimar Bauhaus between 1919 and 1923. During that year, the basic knowledge considered essential in the individual subjects was disseminated. All new students were required to complete this preparatory course. HfG adopted this structure: Studies began with a propaedeutic year known as the Basic Course. Irrespective of their origins, prior qualifications and intended duration of study, it was mandatory for all students. That resulted in an unforeseen dilemma: Even the foreign first year students, who only wanted to stay at HfG for one year or only had a scholarship for that period, had to complete the Basic Course, even if they already had a degree or a trade qualification. The Basic Course also functioned as a filter: Those who did not fit in with the HfG’s philosophy were sifted out. This selection procedure gave rise to a high level of self-referential concentration among those who were allowed to stay. The term “elite” was by no means frowned upon. On the contrary, it was the declared intention of the founders of HfG to create an elite who were, after their courses, to act as multipliers worldwide. Abandonment of the Basic Course started in the 1959/60 academic year. At the start of 1961, the term “Basic Course” was replaced by “first year”. The Basic Course was finally abolished with effect from 30 September 1961, and the 1961/62 academic year was the first in which the new students started immediately in one of the four departments (Product Design, Visual Communication, Industrialized Construction and Information).



1 2 3

4 5 6


1-7 Arbeiten aus der Grundlehre/Works from the Basic Course; Karl-Heinz Krug, 1956/57

The purpose of the Basic Course was by far not only to bring the knowledge of students with highly different educational backgrounds onto a uniform level. Over and above that, the first aim was to prepare the students for the work in the departments from the second year onwards, especially in terms of method. Secondly, they were to be given an idea of the fundamental challenges of the technical age. The horizon was definitely not confined to daily, practical business, but permitted and encouraged a focus on the big picture in society, politics, industry and culture. Thirdly, collaboration between subjects and in teams was practised. The following subjects, for example, were addressed in the Basic Course: – Visual methodology: Findings from research in relation to two and three-dimensional space – Theory of perception – Workshop work: Wood, metal, printing and photography – Modes of presentation: Technical drawing, typography, freehand drawing, languages – Mathematics, physics, chemistry, mathe- matical logic – Sociology – 20th century cultural history: Architecture, literature, art The students were to be familiarized in an intellectual and pragmatic regard with the laws of mathematics, physics, geometry and mechanics—from the elementary solids such as spheres, cones and cubes, through combinations of those shapes to complex three-dimensional structures. All these topics are still far removed from formal, aesthetic tasks.



Abteilung Visuelle Kommunikation/ Visual Communication Department 1





1-5 Plakate/Posters, 1964/65; 2. Studienjahr/2nd year of study; 1. Quartal/1st term; Dozent/Teacher: Kohei Sugiura. Veröffentlicht in/ Published in: «ulm» 12/13, März 1965/ March 1965 1-2 Student: Ursula Gaiser 3 Student: Jan Gaugin 4 Student: Anne Preiss 5 Student: Eckhard Jung



-Die Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) Ulm zählt zu den weltweit wichtigsten Einrichtungen des 20. Jahrhunderts für das Design der Moderne. Was Design heute bedeutet, kann ohne die Entwicklungen der HfG nicht verstanden werden. Das gilt nicht nur für die Gestaltung von Gerätschaften und Botschaften in vielfältigsten Ausprägungen, sondern auch für das Berufsbild des Designers, die Designausbildung an Hochschulen, die Methodenlehre und Designtheorie – angefangen beim Verhältnis zwischen Design und Wissenschaft bis zur Debatte über die Frage, in welcher Beziehung sich Design zur Kunst und zum Handwerk, zur Wirtschaft und zur Gesellschaft verhalten sollte. Diese ungeheure Wirkung der HfG ist um so erstaunlicher, wenn man in Betracht zieht, dass sie nur 15 Jahre bestanden hat, von 1953 bis 1968. In diesem Band wird die Geschichte der HfG Ulm verständlich erzählt und umfangreich bebildert. Er enthält eine kurze Überblicksdarstellung, der auch die Hintergründe jenseits der formalen Oberfläche verständlich macht. Denn die HfG wurde nicht gegründet, um ein ästhetisches Defizit zu beheben. Ihre Gründer Inge Aicher-Scholl, Otl Aicher und Max Bill wollten vielmehr nach den schrecklichen Erfahrungen des Zweiten Weltkriegs und des Regimes der deutschen Nationalsozialisten zur Gestaltung einer neuen, besseren Gesellschaft beitragen. -The Ulm School of Design (HfG Ulm) ranks among the world’s most important institutions of the 20th century in modernist design. What design means today cannot be understood without considering the developments at HfG. That applies not only to the design of appliances and messages in a great variety of forms, but also to the profession of designer, design education at universities, methodology and design theory – starting with the relationship between design and science and ranging up to the question of what relationship design should adopt with art and with crafts, with business and with society. This massive impact of HfG is all the more astounding when one considers that it existed for only 15 years, from 1953 to 1968. This book clearly relates and richly illustrates the history of HfG Ulm. It contains a brief overview which also conveys the background below the formal surface. For HfG was not founded to compensate for an aesthetic deficit. On the contrary, after the terrible experiences of the Nazi regime and the Second World War, its founders Inge Aicher-Scholl, Otl Aicher and Max Bill wanted to contribute to the shaping of a new and better world. -ISBN 978-3-03778-413-6

9 783037 784136

A5/06: HfG Ulm – Concise History of the Ulm School of Design  

The Ulm School of Design (HfG Ulm) ranks among the world’s most important institutions of the 20th century in modernist design. Its founders...

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