Icon 175 – The Soft Power of German Design
Icon 175 – In our latest issue, we explore the soft power of German design in the postwar era, along with Neave Brown’s humane city, the differing visions at Arcosanti and Zaradye Park, report back from Dutch Design Week and rethink the European Space Agency
The creative industries are not taken as seriously here as they should be. If you need proof of this assertion then take a look at how the government and media are treating the steady outflux of architects and designers from London. If banks reported (as RIBA did recently) that over half their work had been scaled back owing to Brexit-related lack of investment and staff shortages, the headlines would be hysterical. As it is, the exodus passes with barely a murmur. For government, it seems that creative London is a nice to have, but not crucial to the future of the city.
Dutch Design Week
If you want to experience what a city can be like when design is placed at the heart of its economic as well as cultural life, then visit Eindhoven. While in no way comparable in scale, the Dutch hub has a well-deserved reputation as a focus of creativity. The recent edition of Dutch Design Week, for example, attracted 335,000 visitors, well over the city’s entire population. And the abundance of cheap studio space in close proximity to the city centre means it is still possible to build a career in design. But there is also a value to design that is less immediately obvious. For our cover story this month, we look at the role design played in rehabilitating West Germany in the aftermath of World War Two.
Through institutions like the Ulm School and firms like Braun, the United States and West Germany fought a kind of proxy war to prove the superiority of capitalism over state-controlled economies. Despite being a pawn in global realpolitik, the legacy for modern Germany is a happy one. Its position as the fourth largest economy is built on the success of its automotive and electrical-product exports. Facts and figures aside, German is synonymous with well-made, functional products – a reputation that affords it a respect on the world stage that we surrendered in favour of an economy based on financial services. The sad fact is that we are still great at making things in this country, it is just that, as with the car industry, we make them for other nations. The soft power that good design affords has been all but forgotten.