Design Topics Frankfurt


During the twenties applied art and design also played a decisive role in city planning in Frankfurt. A modern and social reform orientation was incorporated into planning functions from a very early stage. To alleviate the housing shortage following the First World War one summoned Ernst May to the City in 1925. As Head of the Building Department he sees his assignment as substantially more than just eliminating shortcomings. Housing construction for him is a contribution to public education, good housing conditions are conducive to satisfied people. May’s objective is to integrate human needs into architecture: affordable dwellings in large quantity and well equipped; living spaces that promote equality and community spirit. May appoints the architect and designer Ferdinand Kramer, one of the best-known representatives of the social reform oriented »New Construction«. Kramer’s furnishing of the residential estates of »New Frankfurt«in the twenties and the interior design of the university went down in the annals of architectural history, as did the famous and uniform original model of the built-in kitchen, the so-called »Frankfurter Küche« by the architect Grete Schütte-Lihotzky. Between 1925 and 1930, with a large team of employees, May designed and built seven residential estates whose innovative architecture and interior fittings aroused an international sensation. But May also intended to give the City of Frankfurt a new and future-oriented image in other design disciplines. He commissioned the graphic artist Hans Leistikow to revamp the heraldic Frankfurt eagle in the style of new objectivity. However, the radically simplified form of the new eagle inflamed passions so much that it was rapidly transfigured to a »bird of scandal« and, following a brief appearance in 1933, was soon »shot down«.

Also called to Frankfurt by Ernst May was Walter Drexel as advisor for style and publicity design. His advertising lamps and light columns for Jena had drawn May’s attention to this painter, typographer and commercial artist. In his essay of 1927 on »New Typography«, Drexel designates the avoidance of any personal touch as the maxim for objective and constructivism-based design. This is appropriate to the style of the clear and geometric principles of the typeface Futura, which Paul Renner designed parallel to his teaching activities at the Frankfurter Kunstschule. The typeface was produced by the Bauersche Giesserei as of 1928 and today it is still one of the most widely used and popular typefaces worldwide.

In the wake of the progressive period of design breakthrough followed the grim years of restoration and regressive movement in design at all levels. The attempt by the National Socialists to transform Frankfurt, with its traditions as a Jewish trading city, into the City of German Handicrafts, ultimately proved to be less successful, the buildings and fountains thereby foreseen as symbols were never realised.

Worthy of mention in this connection is the Frankfurter Modeamt (Fashion Department), founded in 1933. With the help of the »Work Study Group Fashion« of the Staedelschule this innovation was intended to supply the clothing industry with »German fashions«. The original aim of the Modeamt was to turn Frankfurt into the »City of German Fashions«. The designs, however, never went into series production.

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