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The Authority of Everyday Objects

A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design

Paul Betts

Publication Year: 2004

From the Werkbund to the Bauhaus to Braun, from furniture to automobiles to consumer appliances, twentieth-century industrial design is closely associated with Germany. In this pathbreaking study, Paul Betts brings to light the crucial role that design played in building a progressive West German industrial culture atop the charred remains of the past. The Authority of Everyday Objects details how the postwar period gave rise to a new design culture comprising a sprawling network of diverse interest groups—including the state and industry, architects and designers, consumer groups and museums, as well as publicists and women's organizations—who all identified industrial design as a vital means of economic recovery, social reform, and even moral regeneration. These cultural battles took on heightened importance precisely because the stakes were nothing less than the very shape and significance of West German domestic modernity. Betts tells the rich and far-reaching story of how and why commodity aesthetics became a focal point for fashioning a certain West German cultural identity. This book is situated at the very crossroads of German industry and aesthetics, Cold War politics and international modernism, institutional life and visual culture.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

...It is a great pleasure to express my appreciation to those who have contributed to the making of this book. First, I would like to thank those institutions and foundations that generously supported my study. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung furnished me with a pre-dissertation grant in 1991 to conduct preliminary research in Berlin. A dissertation research fellowship from the Social Science Research...

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Introduction. Design, the Cold War, and West German Culture

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pp. 1-22

...Philip Rosenthal, the longtime director of the world-renowned design firm Rosenthal AG and then-president of the German Design Council, offered the following comment in a 1978 interview about the cultural importance of West German industrial design: “If we consider what Bauhaus achievements and Braun design policies have done to offset the image abroad of the ‘despised German’ bent on war and economic...

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1. Re-Enchanting the Commodity: Nazi Modernism Reconsidered

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pp. 23-72

...One of the most curious things about contemporary academic culture is the amount of recent attention devoted to what is now known as “fascist modernism.” These days there seems no end to the intense international preoccupation with a subject that only a generation ago was routinely regarded as reckless and even repugnant, more recycled Third Internationalism than legitimate scholarship...

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2. The Conscience of the Nation: The New German Werkbund

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pp. 73-108

...Among those interested in the history of German modernism, the German Werkbund continues to attract wide attention. Even the wartime destruction of most of the original Werkbund archive has not deterred scholarly interest in the lasting importance of this colorful organization.1 As discussed in the last chapter, the Werkbund occupies a prominent place in the larger story of modern German architecture...

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3. The Nierentisch Nemesis: The Promise and Peril of Organic Design

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pp. 109-138

...However important the revival of “good form” design was for the postwar generation, it was hardly West Germany’s only design culture in the 1950s. The decade also witnessed the explosion of a new “organic design” in West German domestic furnishings. This design wave generally went by the term “Nierentisch culture,” after its main icon, a small threelegged side table shaped rather like a kidney...

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4. Design and Its Discontents: The Ulm Institute of Design

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pp. 139-177

...In the larger narrative of twentieth-century German design, the Ulm Institute of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung) continues to enjoy a powerful status. Given both its ambitious design program and its star-studded roster of instructors, which included not only the principal cast of Inge Scholl, Otl Aicher, Max Bill, and Tomás Maldonado, but also highprofile cultural figures such as the...

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5. Design, Liberalism, and the State: The German Design Council

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pp. 178-211

...On April 4, 1951, the Rat für Formgebung, or German Design Council, was established by West Germany’s Bundestag as a new government agency charged with promoting “the best possible form of German products.” The creation of this national design council capped a hard-fought campaign by the German Werkbund to enlist government assistance in popularizing “good form” design. Called upon to protect the “competitive interests of both German industry...

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6. Coming in from the Cold: Design and Domesticity

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pp. 212-248

...Despite the difficulties described in the preceding chapter, over the course of the 1950s the German Design Council’s moral design crusade managed to attract a wide range of adherents outside the more established “good form” design world. These people too worried about the dangerous effects of rampant consumerism, but their strategy to preserve the moral substance of the industrial commodity was very different, for they sought to do this by wedding modern design...

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Conclusion. Memory and Materialism: The Return of History as Design

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pp. 249-264

...Here Ulm’s most prominent missionary sought to justify what postmodern critics have described as the school’s exaggerated moral idealism and cultural elitism. Maldonado wished to remind his readers that the school’s “Zarathustrian pronouncements” did not spring from elitism as such, but from the deeper conviction that industrial design was inextricably linked to radical social change and political...


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pp. 265-318


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pp. 319-338


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pp. 339-348

Further Reading, Production Notes

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pp. 349-351

E-ISBN-13: 9780520941359
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520253841

Page Count: 361
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism