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28 Jun 2006
Review
In January 2006, UNESCO appointed Berlin as a “City of Design”, a title it now shares with Shanghai and Buenos Aries. Not by chance, “Designcity” was also the theme for the 2006 Designmai Festival. Only in its fourth year, this is Berlin’s largest and only international showcase for designers. And as it partly curated (by the organization Transform Berlin), it does not have the trade fair gloss that is common with purely commercial events. It presented not just the slick wireless communication strategies needed for “modern” life but the sometimes ugly side of the current urban condition - the problems and chaos created by the exploding global move away from rural areas.(More people live in cities now than did on the whole planet in 1960.)

The look of the show epitomized the theme, with the large interior of a formal postal train station being transformed into a “mini-city” of more than 100 projects - a higgeldy-piggeldy mix of architectonic structures, landscape gardening, vehicles, urban furniture and sound installations, with a raised Eternit designed terrace and bar, with a green belt and bookshop. There were also a number of satellite venues across town, bus tours to Berlin’s outskirts and the almost as large “Designmai Youngsters” - showcasing international up and coming newbies.

Under the title “Build or Die - Constructing Survival”, and curated by Oliver Vogt and Georg Christof Bertsch, a symposium was held addressing issues such as emergency shelter and low cost housing. A partner exhibition displayed designs sent in from university students in Mexico, Switzerland and Sweden. Resembling a DIY camping-site, the results included a hut made from beer coasters, many takes on tarpaulin and the 100 Euro house. The Ideas of homelessness was partnered with the more positive image of the Urban Nomad. The “Instant Housing” projects by Winfried Baumann could be wheeled, folded, inflated and hung, and included mod -cons such as an Airport receiver and bookshelf. The Evian bottle “Iglu” by Alexander Clos came with the coupon for the 100 bottles necessary for building it (and placing it back into the economic cycle), and A96 Architects showed off their “Folding Box House”. The “Nohotel” by Tobias Lehmannn and Floris Schiferli offered temporary accommodation by transforming vacant buildings into comfortable hotel rooms.
But as every design aficionado knows, what’s an Urban Nomad without a good set of wheels? New methods of transport included the “The Smartboard” by Airprop, a mix of scooter and skateboard, and Gewerk’s redesign for Berlin’s popular pedal-powered Velotaxis. Another bike accessory was the aptly named “Holland Relief” by Luftheke Ypenburg, a bike stand that is vandalism proof and comes with a built-in pump. Urban furniture included “The Berlinbank” designed by Thomas Schneider, which is a public bench made from skeletal wooden arms that can be moved around for new viewpoints and the Imbissbude - Berlin’s romatic take on the take-away trolley - presented by plattformnachwuchsarchitekten.

Tours included an excursion to the “Garden City Atlantis”, a modernist housing and cultural complex built in the Twenties in keeping with the ideas of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities. Recently renovated by the Berlin architects BF-Studio (sadly without the former Grand Cinema and lighting), “Atlantis” is an ongoing attempt at reviving a whole area that has been neglected for decades.

The “Designmai Youngsters” took place on the other side of town in another large wharehouse on the river Spree. Many projects were tongue in cheek and showed obvious initiative by piggy-backing on the upcoming world cup. The quirky designs included a floormat shaped as an out field and a coat rack made from Table-Soccer pieces by UK designers Mixco. Another was the Nike “Play Award for Innovation in Football”, with the winner being Joerg Diessl and his “Ego Shooter”, a device that enables one to see the game from the perspective of the ball.

The amazing Ad!dictlab from Brussels are a growing collective of international designers, who create projects, workshops and magazines- their latest being based on Cultural Heritage. Their mini-exhibition entitled ‘Universal House’ showed ingenious domestic appliances such as the chopstick/fork combo and the chair–come-bag. Particularily local were the must-have accessories for Berlin’s favourite outdoor urban sport from the “World of Ping Pong Country”. Jumpers with round pockets for rackets and fold-up tables all created a unique combo for summer fun.
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Berlin currently has over 1300 designers and growing, a Metropole chock full of what writer Richard Florida refers to as the “Creative Class”. An integral part of this year’s event was the setting up of infrastructures to keep the citie’s creative output at its peak, and for designers to be represented in a business to business capacity. New initiatives such as “Create Berlin” and the “Made in Berlin” label now aim to give the city and it’s designers a collective professional identity.
In his opening speech, Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit called the city a “hot international capital of style”. Lets hope this heat can be sustainable and sustained.

Photo: Instant Housing By Winfried Baumann

(Article commissined by Artichoke Magazine)


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In January 2006, UNESCO appointed Berlin as a “City of Design”, a title it now shares with Shanghai and Buenos Aries. Not by chance, “Designcity” was ...
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