The Deutscher Werkbund
In October 1907, twelve artists and architects, including Peter Behrens, Josef Hoffmannn and Richard Riemerschmid, along with twelve Munich firms, joined to form the Deutscher Werkbund. The founder members defined the purpose of the Werkbund as "refining craft work in the interaction of art, industry and craft, by education, by propaganda and by adopting a unified approach to all relevant questions". The aim to refine the entire industrialized world "from the sofa cushion to urban development" (Hermann Muthesius) from an artistic point of view and to "educate" the populace with "well"-formed objects defined the Deutscher Werkbund’s work until the last third of the 20th century. When today’s businesses strive for uniform appearance, a Corporate Identity, and when there is world-wide understanding about designing industrial products and "industrial design" is taught at universities, developed by international companies and exhibited in museums, then this is to a very great extent to the credit of the Deutscher Werkbund.
Some of the 20th century’s most famous artists and architects were members of the Deutscher Werkbund, and Werkbund exhibitions such as "Die Form" (1924), "Film und Foto" (1929) or the Werkbund housing estates were milestones in the development of new forms for a world transformed by industry and technology. The Weissenhof Housing estate in Stuttgart, organized by the Werkbund in 1927 with buildings by architects including Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, J.J.P. Oud and Hans Scharoun is still seen as one of the most significant and internationally known examples of modern architecture in the 20th century.
Further models of housing and urban development for modern man followed with Werkbund estates in Brno (1928), Breslau (1929), Prague (1932), Neubühl (1932) and Vienna (1932).
In the 1920s the Werkbund played a leading part in major design experiments for the new world characterized by technology, international quality and mobility. After "Gleichschaltung" under the National Socialists, a major Werkbund exhibition was organized as early as 1949 to provide measures and standards for rebuilding the country. It was here that the forward-looking exhibition called "Die gute Form", curated by Max Bill, was shown as a contribution by the Swiss Werkbund; it provided key guidelines for future decades. The concept for the German Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958 attracted international acclaim.
The German Werkbund turned to the subjects of "overdevelopment" and "environmental" destruction at its conference on "Die grosse Landzerstörung" (The Great Destruction of the Land) in 1959 in Marl, thus providing the first decisive impetus for developing public awareness of ecology and the consequences of unbridled economic growth. The Werkbund now increasingly switched its interest from questions of production to problems of consumption: not "good form" any longer, but the correct way to handle products and the consequences of consumption in an "attitude community" moving to become an "action community", which still seems prescient and stimulating today.
An exhibition by the Architekturmuseum at the TU in Munich and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e. V. (ifa).
1 | Peter Behrens: electric tea and water kettles, 1909; © Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich (Photo: A. Laurenzo); © (Peter Behrens) VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2009
2 | Peter Behrens: 'Werkbund-Paket', packaging for Bahlsen biscuits, 1914; © Bahlsen-Archiv, Hannover; © (Peter Behrens) VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2009
3 | Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer: Gesellschaftsraum (Social Space), Deutscher Werkbund exhibition in Paris, 1930; © Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin (Photo: Photo Illustration Paris); © (Marcel Walter Gropius) VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2009
4 | Hermann Gretsch: '1382' coffee and tea service, 1931; © Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich (Photo: A. Laurenzo)