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- Graphic Design , Editorial Design

Big Beautiful Buildings

»Big Beautiful Buildings« is a campaign that this summer turns the spotlight on 1950s, and 60s, and 70s buildings in the Ruhr district. Familiar and not-so-familiar buildings can be rediscovered through a diverse programme of art, culture and entertainment. We talked about the project to Tim Rieniets, Manager of StadtBauKultur NRW and Christine Kämmerer, Project Manager, and to Michelle Flunger and Sascha Schilling of konter — Studio für Gestaltung, who are responsible for the visual identity.

Foto: Sebastian Becker


Mr Rieniets, Ms Kämmerer, »Big Beautiful Buildings« focuses not just on architectural icons but also on more ordinary buildings that often look quite out of date. Why did you feel it was necessary to honour them, too?

TR: One thing we must not forget is that ordinary architecture can also be good. Sadly architecture seems to only get public attention when it can come up with superlatives. The media are not exactly innocent here, because they like to feature buildings that are particularly spectacular or expensive – or both at the same time, such as the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Yet with many buildings there are qualities that you only see when you look closer: innovative constructions that are being tried out for the first time right now. Also behind the façade of what might look like an average building, you might find a very high quality of residential accommodation, something you would not expect from the outside.

CK: With the post-war buildings that we are focusing on, there is another factor: Around 38 percent of all buildings in Germany were built between 1949 and 1979 – never before were so many buildings constructed! Now these buildings are getting on a bit and the question keeps coming up: What shall we do with them? And very often the quick response is – tear them down.

Foto: Serkan Akin


Do you think the architectural legacy of the post-war era is not getting the appreciation it deserves?

TR: Yes, I do. The architecture of the post-war era does not have a good image, unfortunately. Added to this is that there is a growing number of these buildings that need serious renovation, so that only reinforces the prejudice that post-war architecture is ugly.

CK: And as long as there are these prejudices, we cannot expect post-war architecture to be treated carefully. And in fact quite a number of them, including some architecturally valuable ones, have been destroyed without proper consideration of their quality. Sure with some buildings there are problems that are difficult to deal with. But simply saying all of them have to be demolished is in our view not an option. Just from an ecological point of view this is not responsible. Instead we want to prompt people to think about a contemporary upgrade, about renovation and modernisation, and about new uses.

TR: These buildings are witnesses from an era that was important for Ger?many, and for many people they are places that are linked with their own personal stories and memories. We should therefore on a case by case basis first consider the architectural quality and the historic significance of a building before deciding on its future.


The »Big Beautiful Buildings« initiative, which raises awareness in the Ruhr district in a whole year of events, also has a European dimension …

TR: Our project is taking place as part of the 2018 European Cultural Heritage year announced by the European Commission. So it seemed logical to look not just at what is around us here, but to glance at other European countries, too. The themes that our partners at TU Dortmund are tackling will be visible on a joint website. Also there will be meetings in Germany and abroad to exchange ?ideas and experience. In this way the international network, which is coordinated by the TU Dortmund, fulfils a very import?ant, communicative function for our project: It shows that the post-war modern was an international phenomenon and arose in all developed countries, east and west.

CK: Of course this architecture has taken on a different look in the different countries, because it arose there under different technological and political conditions. Take for example the post-war architecture in Eastern Europe. It was very much a servant of the Socialist politics of the time. Accordingly ?people in these countries will approach their post-war legacy in a different way to people in other countries. But common to all countries and regions is the fact that we all have buildings from this era, and in some cases very many of them, and so we have to find ways of dealing with them.

Foto: Juliander Enßle


There is an extensive advertising campaign for the project. What is the aim with the visual identity of »Big Beautiful Buildings«? And to whom is it addressed?

SS: That is a question we were also asking ourselves for a long time. Especially as we had quite quickly identified the target groups as local residents, ?people who work in the Ruhr district, artists and housewives. We weren’t just targeting it at architectural buffs. Basically the visual identity was designed to appeal to a broad general audience. Which is why we opted for a design that signifies the time and the zeitgeist from which this architecture comes. Because back then, especially during the years of the »Economic Miracle«, the architecture had very positive connotations in the public consciousness.

MF: We didn’t want the design to be too museum-like or romanticised, instead we aimed for a subtle reference to that zeitgeist. Via selected old photographs, a colour code and contemporary architectural photography, we tried to create a pool of visuals that allowed us to vary the design depending on location or event, and thereby to shift it more in the direction of the intended target group.

Foto: Juliander Enßle


How did you approach the work on this theme? Where, in your view, does the graphic design have most points of contact with the architecture?

SS: In terms of content, you can’t avoid seeing the buildings in their historic context. And we looked at why this post-war architecture came to be less valued in the years after its construction, although in the time of its creation there was tremendous euphoria. We also explored why perceptions of architecture keep changing over the decades.

MF: Graphic design and architecture definitely do have several points of contact – the clearest perhaps, their public presence. No building is unplanned, no design just happens, both métiers have an impact on public space but in different ways, depending on factors relevant to the respective disciplines. One big difference, however, is that architecture is perceived more strongly, even people who have no connection with the subject tend to have an opinion on a building but not on a poster. Unlike in Scandinavia, for example, in Germany aesthetic sensitivities don’t tend to be so high. Nevertheless it is un??usual for individuals to design and build their own houses, while it’s quite common for people to buy a digital camera and work with Photoshop. So, public appreciation for the work of an architect is slightly higher than for that of a graphic designer. Yes, graphic design can change the world, it can impact events. But let’s be honest, you don’t get graphic design that has the power to shape a whole epoch …

This interview was first published in our novum issue 06.18 (novum+ »design & architecture«). Single copies: