Berlin Design Week 2021 explores ‘New Traditions’ with Alexandra Klatt

Director & curator of Berlin Design Week 2021, Alexandra Klatt, selects 10 talks and exhibitions that resonated best with the theme, stitching responsible design with ecological futures.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Jun 27, 2021

What can and should design do? What does it do for society? What does it prevent?

The fourth edition of Berlin Design Week, under its theme New Traditions investigated the power of design to initiate processes of social change, tying in a variety of industries and design disciplines such as digitisation, sustainability, urban spaces, mobility, sound engineering and artificial intelligence. Held between May 27 and June 6, 2021, the design festival turned the German capital into a multifaceted, explosive design forum via interactive exhibitions, guided tours, expert talks, screenings, research results, conferences, as well as workshops.

BNDNWK 2021 also explored how the design industry, its processes, participants, users, enthusiasts, and by-products can contribute to the new normal. Myriad participants included international as well as Berlin and Germany-based designers, studios, cultural institutions, universities and companies, encompassing varied design fields including industrial, communication, product, textile and sound design, along with UX and UI design, design research, social design, design thinking, and eco-design.

Curator and director of the festival, Alexandra Klatt, studied landscape architecture at Beuth University of Applied Sciences, Berlin, as well as communication design at the University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam, Germany. She became the co-director and co-founder of the association state of DESIGN in 2015, which organises the Berlin Design Week. Since 2016, Klatt has headed events for BNDNWK and since 2017, has been appointed the CEO of the festival.

As Media Partner with Berlin Design Week, STIR spoke to Klatt about heading the design week, followed by her selection of the best exhibitions and talks that resonated with the powerful theme.

Alexandra Klatt, curator and director, Berlin Design Week 2021 | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
Alexandra Klatt, curator and director, Berlin Design Week 2021 Image: Courtesy of berlindesignweek

Jincy Iype (JI): In times of the pandemic, what does ‘New Traditions’ mean in the context of the fourth edition of Berlin Design Week?

Alexandra Klatt (AK): In times of insecurity and the uncertain path into the future, design can help find safety in New Traditions. Traditions give us a sense of security and that is what the world needs right now. We are aware that we need to change our patterns and the BNDNWK is a platform for new directions. We present the latest design trends and approaches that allow us to shape and prepare for the future, via the best design discourse.

BNDWNK itself invents New Traditions - for the first time, the event became a hybrid and we had to test new ways of interaction with our partners and audience. There are plenty of tools available - but the challenge was to create a sustainable online event in terms of setting new dialogues and creating new co-operations between disciplines. We had our arena for the live streaming, the chats, and digital spaces. We learned about the potential and the limits of hosting an event like this, in the format that we did. Although online formats are in no way as concentrated and intensive as attending on-site events, it was a great creative learning curve for us and hopefully, our attendees.

JI: How does the event plan to pave the way for a responsible design landscape for the future, tied in with technology?

AK: Berlin is a metropolis with great potential; We are a smart city, a brain city, and a capital of the creatives. We bring the players together and show what the "state of design" is and what opportunities can unfold in the future. In doing so, we never lose our intention: What can and should design do? What does it do for society? What does it prevent?

A good designer is a mindful and creative observer. However, design itself cannot introduce a new normal for everyone. That can only be a social, cultural process. Design is the medium that can have a driving effect on these processes.

BNDNWK logo | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
BNDNWK logo Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

JI: What were some of your most memorable experiences while working on the curation? How was the response to the event online?

AK: It truly was an extraordinary experience. We had no idea if we could reach our audience online properly. So, we planned a hybrid format from the beginning and were prepared for all eventualities. While we worked on the curation, we figured out how much we had hit the mark with the theme.  
The response was great - all in all we had fewer international exhibitors and visitors in the city, but a huge online program with 55,000 live viewers. The effort was enormous, but it was worth it.

Here are Klatt’s picks from Berlin Design Week 2021:

EXHIBITIONS

(Non) Depleted

Buycloud by Noa Jansma is one of the works within (Non) Depleted | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
Buycloud by Noa Jansma is one of the works within (Non) Depleted Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

Curated by Nina Blume, Oliverio Segura and Sebastian Guzman Olmos along with guest curator, Johanna Honkomp, (Non) Depleted is a group exhibition that unites contemporary design and art projects that “unwrap the meaning of depletion.” Made possible thanks to the support from The Embassy of the Netherlands in Berlin, the group show features a constellation of 16 projects by 24 individual voices that observe and challenge policies that structure resource management and its ecological, emotional, and geopolitical implications. The practices of these contemporary designers and artists deal with alternative materials and aesthetics, hybrid methods of research, of making and of self-reflection, translated into objects, installations, and furniture.

(Non) Depleted – one of the projects by Vincent Snijders | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
Altered Landscape by Vincent Snijders Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

“Depleted” denotes the prevailing challenges of resource depletion on earth, the extractive, selfish nature of capitalism and the ongoing ill-effects of climate change; the “non” in the title highlights the creative minds and practitioners who seek to address these issues and imagine alternative directions and systems.

Luigi Colani and Art Nouveau

(L) Luigi Colani, the artist in the garden, sitting on ‘The Colani’ 1976 POPDOM photography collection, (R) Bruno Paul Vereinigte Werkstatten fur Kunst im Handwerk (Munich) Armchair, after 1902 Brohan Museum, Berlin © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Right: Kuigi Colani COR loop chair “Polycor”, 1968 POPDOM collection | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
(L) Luigi Colani, the artist in the garden, sitting on "The Colani" 1976 POPDOM photography collection, (R) Bruno Paul Vereinigte Werkstatten fur Kunst im Handwerk (Munich) Armchair, after 1902 Brohan Museum, Berlin © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Right: Kuigi Colani COR loop chair “Polycor”, 1968 POPDOM collection Image: Courtesy of Bröhan-Museum, Colya Zucker © Colani Design Germany GmbH

Back in 1977, the controversial German industrial designer Luigi Colani (1928–2019) declared “The Bauhaus is dead”, calling instead for a “renaissance of art nouveau”. A native Berliner and a master of self-promotion, Colani thus triggered a revolution in German design. He made himself a brand, fueled by his visionary ideas and biomorphic forms inspired often by nature. “He used the possibilities of the new material plastic to create unusual and futuristic forms. He often took the floral and organic forms of art nouveau as a point of departure, seeking to develop its foundational ideas and concepts further.”

24 mins watch Live tour of the exhibition Luigi Colani and Art Nouveau by Dr. Tobias Hoffmann | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
Live tour of the exhibition Luigi Colani and Art Nouveau by Dr. Tobias Hoffmann Video: Courtesy of Bröhan-Museum

Colani’s designs are contrasted with the floral objects from the period of art nouveau, from the museum’s own collections which are presented in this exhibition curated by Dr Tobias Hoffmann. It is open until August 29, 2021, at the Bröhan-Museum, Berlin.

The Future of Living

The Future of Living exhibit and presentation | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
The Future of Living exhibit and presentation Image: ©Thomas Hirschmann

The exhibition with a presentation and guided tour demonstrated the “innovative ways in which Slovenian design responds to future challenges through products that stand for functionality, and creative ways of processing local raw materials and new production methods based on regional craftsmanship and sustainable technologies.” The exhibition was a co-production between the Centre for Creativity/MAO, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia and SKICA (Slovenian Cultural Centre) in Berlin.

The displayed products forecast “the future of living”, where raw materials are no longer available in abundance | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
The displayed products forecast “the future of living”, where raw materials are no longer available in abundance Image: ©Thomas Hirschmann

The exhibition features 43 of the 90 selected products that have received the “Made in Slovenia” mark of design excellence in the last two years. The displayed products forecast “the future of living”, where raw materials are no longer available in abundance, production methods and human resources need to be rationalised, and products are adapted to a new generation of users who want customised solutions.

FHP Mobil with the exhibition Haus Brandenburg

From the exhibit FHP Mobil presents Haus Brandenburg | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
From the exhibit FHP Mobil presents Haus Brandenburg Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

FHP Mobil is the Fachhochschule Potsdam's mobile exhibition space and an agile platform for innovative ideas, actions, and dialogues. On display was an exhibition of the "Haus Brandenburg" project, an initiative launched in 2017 by the FHP in collaboration with Deutsche Manufakturenstraße to bring Brandenburg craft businesses and manufactories together with the expertise of designers.

FHPmobil, Gilbert Wigankow - Fachhochschule Potsdam | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
FHPmobil, Gilbert Wigankow - Fachhochschule Potsdam Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

The initiative promotes cooperative work at the intersection of design and craftsmanship. Through partnerships between student designers and local manufacturers, 13 unique handcrafted products from Brandenburg were created with the objective of contributing to an “economy of the nearby”, creating a professional prospect for designers and craftsmen based on neighbourly cooperation.


TALKS

Ready to thrive in a VUCCA world

This talk series about design education and architecture was organised by the state of design Berlin e.V. comprising three panels to discuss the impact of VUCCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Corona and Ambiguity) on design education. The talks explored materials, fabrication,  robotics, algorithms, and pioneering models of haptic and machine learning that challenge and enhance definitions of design processes and outcomes beyond the traditional boundaries of architecture, engineering, and manufacturing.

(Clockwise from top left) Speakers: Prof. Robert Lee Brackett, Prof. Abigail Coover Hume, Prof. Gisela Baurmann, Prof. Dr. Harriet Harriss, Olivia Vien and Prof. Lawrence Blough | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
(Clockwise from top left) Speakers: Prof. Robert Lee Brackett, Prof. Abigail Coover Hume, Prof. Gisela Baurmann, Prof. Dr. Harriet Harriss, Olivia Vien and Prof. Lawrence Blough Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

The Pratt School of Architecture presented a selection of professional and academic work for the talks. The speakers included: Prof. Gisela Baurmann (Environmental Mode), Prof. Robert Lee Brackett (Material Mode), Prof. Lawrence Blough (Technological Mode), Prof. Abigail Coover Hume (Social Mode), Jeffrey Anderson + Olivia Vien (Virtual Mode) and Prof. Dr Harriet Harriss (Dean of Pratt School of Architecture).

Braun 100 – the talk

“Braun stands for a new aesthetic beginning more than any other company of post-war Germany. Its history reflects both the economic developments of the 20th century as well as major trends in German design… Through its collaboration with prominent designers such as Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Hans Gugelot, Otl Aicher and Dieter Rams, Braun effectively becomes “Germany’s business card” in the world. Following the company’s early sale to Gillette in 1967, Dieter Rams succeeds in turning Braun into a brand and the epitome of functionalist design with his design understanding of “less but better”. 100 years after the company’s foundation, the exhibition at the Bröhan-Museum shows all of Braun´s finest designs,” Klatt relays.

Speakers: Dr. Tobias Hoffmann and Dr. Francois Burkhardt (R) | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
Speakers: Dr. Tobias Hoffmann and Dr. Francois Burkhardt (R) Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

Dr. Tobias Hoffmann, curator of Braun 100 and director of Bröhan museum spoke with design theorist Dr. Francois Burkhardt about the connection between acclaimed German industrial designer Dieter Rams and Otl Aicher, German graphic designer, typographer, and founder of the Ulm School of Design, and how the two created Braun's overall image, from the Braun logo to the visual language and product design.

Designing Voices

Speakers Alex Nowitz (composer and vocal performance artist), Marta Verde (programmer and artist), Elysha Zaide (sound designer), composer and producer), Edu Comelles (sound artist) and sound designer), Chakib Labidi (design consultant), and Renzo Vitale (composer, sound designer and acoustic engineer) were brought together in a panel that presented a new discourse on sound design. These musicians, performance artists, sound designers and acoustic engineers examined the soundscape of urban areas and how they could be designed in and for the future. Questions such as How does our city sound with the multitude of objects that surround us? How can we learn to listen again? What is multisensory design? were discussed.

  • Speaker Marta Verde | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
    Speaker Marta Verde Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week
  • Speaker Elysha Zaide | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
    Speaker Elysha Zaide Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

Virtual reality in teaching and design

Part of OPEN STUDIO NIGHTS, former students and professors of HTW Berlin (University of Applied Science) discussed a possible future of virtual reality in teaching and design. “VR glasses are still far from being as common as smartphones, digital cameras, or laptops. But it was not only due to Covid and the resulting trend to visit places and events virtually that VR became a highly relevant technology for examining its effectiveness for the creative industries and the design discipline and using it in teaching,” reads the talk’s brief on the BNDNWK website.

Clockwise from top left: Maria Bürger, Felix Sewing, Andreas Ingerl and Moritz Schell | Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
Clockwise from top left: Maria Bürger, Felix Sewing, Andreas Ingerl and Moritz Schell Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

Projects were developed that investigate the modalities of perception in VR or combine other high technologies such as artificial intelligence. The discussion was held between Maria Bürger (Graduate in communication design), Felix Sewing (Graduate in communication design), Moritz Schell (Research assistant, communication design) and Prof. Andreas Ingerl (Professor of audiovisual multimedia).

A Message of Protest

Ruby Betts and Ellis Tree, both students at Kingston School of Art discussed their publication, A Message of Protest that displays a collection of protest signs made by art students in lockdown across the UK - from Falmouth to Glasgow, studio-based learners responded to Betts' and Tree's Instagram call out for handmade protest messages against an online art school education.

Ruby Betts and Ellis Tree| Berlin Design Week 2021 | STIRworld
Ruby Betts and Ellis Tree Image: Courtesy of Berlin Design Week

In collaboration with Pause or Pay, a national student-led campaign, this protest in print was produced and sent to Michelle Donelan MP (Minister of State for Universities) whilst working in strict lockdown, with no access to studios, workshops, or materials. This publication acts as a visual reflection of the governments' response to COVID-19, on the students' collective online arts education.

More information about the Berlin Design Week 2021 and its programs can be found here.

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