Dieter Rams is without doubt the most significant industrial designer of the modernist period. His works as the head of Braun design set a remarkable standard for design that was forward looking during its conception and remains eminently contemporary today without degradation. How has this body of work above all others, industrial or architectural, defied changing cultures, economies, climates, politics et. al. to prevail still as a timeless hallmark?
Rams was born in 1932 and is of German descent. He began his studies in architecture and interior design in 1947. By 1953 he had completed his degree with honours and had also completed a carpentry apprenticeship. After graduation, he went to work for Frankfurt-based architect Otto Apel. He was then recruited to Braun as an architect and interior designer. By 1961 he was appointed chief design officer at Braun, a position he held until 1995.
The ‘timeless’ quality associated with Rams work might be disputed when considering that only a relatively small amount of time has actually elapsed since the creation of his works and this may be too short a period to be considered ‘timeless’. In a similar vein, it can be said that Rams design is simply a product of the period in which he practiced, that is to say his works are a reductionist and functionalist interpretation of what was contemporarily considered ‘design’. In the most cynical and reactionary view, it is easy to dismiss Rams design as arbitrary surface treatment.
Rams is vocal and unequivocal in asserting that Apple computer is the only company he sees as practicing good design as lead by prominent industrial designer Jonathan Ive. It appears that this affection is reciprocated by Apple in the stark similarities of many of their hardware and software products to Rams own designs. In one instance the original iPhone calculator application bears strong resemblance to a rams designed Calculator - functionally the same. In other instance, a rams pocket radio bares strong resemblance to an early Apple iPod - conceptually the same. In a third instance, the residual form of a rams speaker is evident in Apple's iMac. In these three examples there is clear progression design complexity as Apple design moves over time from mere imitation, though deviations and on to compounding innovation. This progression in design is consistent with media theory of Marshall McLuhan in relation to new media and their structural and content/contextual development. McLuhan, media theory, their relation to architecture and subsequently to this boat building school are explored in Architectural Manifesto: The System is the Message.
The design process of this boat building school has a distinct focus on the development of pedagogy that is forward thinking and adaptable. This is in direct response to changing expectations of tertiary and vocational students in a significantly digital environment that architecture must also adapt to. Complete analysis of this pedagogical approach is detailed in Pedagogical Approach. In essence, This is an architectural process that is not directly concerned with the built form. This is time and process based architecture, where the role of the architect is to create a structural process that will continue continually optimise and orientate towards the user. Architecture that designs itself.
The built form?
If the design process is in fact a process to design a process, how has this boat building school found its built form? A process in this instance refers to time based happenings, observations and subsequent adaptations. The built form is therefore designed as systematic parts, which provide real world, articulation of process optimisations. Architecture is not traditionally considered in this dynamic manner. We must look to other disciplines when trying to manifest this approach in physical form.
Industrial design, the new architecture.
Industrial design is able to translate processes and ideas to mass produced products. This is design that emerged out of the industrial revolution to bridge device function with the human condition. In computer and digital disciplines, human-computerinteraction and user-interface design is at the forefront of innovative thinking. As architecture moves towards a systems and process design perspective, industrial design provides a potential framework in to which the built environment disciplines can evolve.
Rams is unequivocally the most influential Industrial designer to have ever lived, this is the procedural benchmark that architecture must aspire to. Carefully considered design process and purpose driven development creates products with gravitas and figurative ‘weight’. This is the true key to ‘timelessness’ in Rams design.
In reflection and affirmation of his own design process, Dieter Rams identified 10 principles central to what he considers good design. These principles have heavily influenced the development of this boat building school and are explored further in Dieter Rams: Ten Principles for Good Design.