Where Great Design is Hiding in Germany
So, what’s the connection between the cultural heritage organization UNESCO and a sprawling complex that’s a defunct coalmine called Zollverein in Essen, Germany? Plenty, as we came to discover on a day-long exploration of 65 different buildings pertaining to Germany’s capital of steel and coal mining. Located in the area called the Ruhr, the city of Essen had been for more than 100 years the world’s center for producing materials used in heavy industry: steel and coal. This dismal landscape, part of what is today a 400-km trail covering the entire Ruhr region, was designated a heritage site by UNESCO in 2001.
But the elements of surprise in this sprawling cultural complex are the high profile architects who were chosen to design spaces and buildings there (SANAA’s art college building won the coveted Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 2010; Norman Foster; Rem Koolhaas), as well as the establishment of the world famous Red Dot Design Museum which holds its annual Red Dot Design Awards, setting global standards for design excellence and the benchmark for industrial and commercial design by companies. These are just a few of the must-be-seen-to-be-believed exhibits at this unusual cultural center, which also includes a dance and art studios and a gourmet restaurant.
The Red Dot Design Museum is housed in the boiler house with an interior designed by Norman Foster. The entire museum and its cutting edge design exhibits co-exist among hulking remants of the glory of the industrial age. Two thousand items, which are on display have been selected from more than 40 countries from a jury and represent the best in design from the annual contest which was started in 1955 by the Krupp family. In 2013, 15,500 applications from 70 countries were received in 29 categories ranging from public space to interior elements, lighting and furniture among others.
Everything from appliances to athletic shoes and everyday household items are entered into the contest for judging. It is inspiring to see the range of items and to get an understanding behind how each one is designed and for what purpose. From the USB flash drive to an automobile designed entirely with aluminum to reduce aerodynamic drag and consume less fuel and ergonomic chairs, design is about functionality, easy handling and ecological compatibility.
For anyone with an eye for design, the deadline for the 2014 Red Dot Design Awards is the end of May.