Design Park or Self-Service Shop?

Design Park or Self-Service Shop?
The Battle for the Legacy of the Ulm College of Design (HfG)

At the end of last year, more than 70 former college members, designers, scientists and artists turned to the Baden-Württemberg Minister-President Stefan Mappus (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) and the Stuttgart Landtag with an open letter under the aegis of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. In it, they asked that the State of Baden-Württemberg make a commitment to the legacy of the HfG Ulm in terms of both finances and content. According to the letter, the HfG – which was founded in 1953 by Otl Aicher and Inge Aicher-Scholl – was definitely comparable with the Bauhaus and of national interest. Consequently, the legacy must not be left to the “hunger for prestige and exploitation interests of local entrepreneurs and politicians.”

Max Bill beim Farbunterricht an der Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, 1956

Max Bill beim Farbunterricht an der Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, 1956

The issue at hand is the property on the Oberer Kuhberg (Upper Cow Mountain) with its college buildings by Max Bill – which are protected historic landmarks – and their future use. But this also involves the question of who represents the legacy of the most important German post-war design college and how this will be accomplished. The property is currently facing a fundamental transition. Since the departure of the university – which had been using the campus since the closing of the HfG – the buildings are currently undergoing renovation and reconstruction. Starting in 2012, the plan is to create a Centre for Design with a conference centre, documentation and an innovation centre, as well as space for the archive of the HfG. The first tenants – with an emphasis on designers from Ulm – have already been found.

The criticism is primarily directed against the private HfG Ulm Foundation, which is the owner of the buildings. The main accusation is that the foundation is mainly following economic real-estate objectives with the rental and is using the HfG brand in order to attract commercial tenants. The mixture between private interests and foundation interests within the foundation council has been criticised. For example, the foundation council members simultaneously maintain rental and business relationships with the foundation. The use of the foundation assets, especially the rental income is seen as lacking transparency. Philipp Oswalt, Director of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, goes as far as to speak of a “self-service store.” The renovation and reconstruction measures that are currently in progress on the buildings of the HfG Ulm have also caused concern about inadequate consideration of issues related to historic preservation.

The open letter is not the only alarm signal. In mid-November of 2010, the independent members of the Advisory Council of the International Forum for Design (IFG) declared their resignation due to “irreconcilable differences.” The IFG – which was established under the umbrella of the HfG Ulm Foundation – has provided content-related involvement with the legacy of the HfG since 1987 through scholarship programmes, publications and conferences. It also secures the non-profit status of the foundation. Regula Stämpfli, a Swiss communications scientist who has been the artistic director of the IFG since 2007, made serious accusations against the sponsoring foundation when she resigned. She noted a lack of “transparency, distribution of duties and independence” in the relationship between the IFG and the foundation. The scientist complained that she felt ignored in the end: Suggestions such as how the IFG could be reorganised were not discussed, sponsorship grants were slashed and design proposals for book projects were rejected. Stämpfli’s accusation: “This is just a matter of how money can be made from the legacy of the HfG.”

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