“From Slightly Above and Mostly Frontal”: The Child Perspective in Ulm
Presentation by Anna-Maria Meister at the EAHN Conference
The design objects made at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (1953-1968) shaped the German nation post-WWII for years to come: the Braun equipment, the Lufthansa logo, or the stern, reduced and deeply rational stackable dishware. This was the “Good Design” that the school's architects and designers thought would aid the re-democratization of West Germany. And while the model making was the mode of production of the object, it was photography that rendered the Ulm objects iconic. They were photographed “from slightly above and mostly frontal”—the point of view of a an architect looking at a model. Or rather, the perspective of a playing child?
Down in the city of Ulm, another organization tried to shape a new West German future through design: the “Committee for Good Toys” (“Verein Spielgut”). It consisted of a group of volunteers who tested and selected toys for children. Organizing a traveling exhibition in 1954, the committee—soon consisting of children psychologists and paediatricians, a toxicologist, “experienced parents and grandparents,” but also seven architects and two engineers—met regularly.
This paper contends that both these attempts—related through personal ties and aesthetic kinship—took the design of objects as opportunity to renegotiate the lost Maßstäblichkeit in the postwar (physical and ideological) rubble. Presenting the objects (toys as well as tea cups or building parts) as isolated entities in front of a neutral background with no context or scale, took the point of view of a playing child and turned it into the subject position of the maker and ruler—an attempt to suggest the possibility of reconfiguring the pieces toward a rational, democratic society.