Between the glorious Baroque and Art Nouveau houses of the rulers of yore the customary visitor to Vienna usually follows in the footsteps of the nation’s famous men and women. Yet the Austrian capital can be discovered in a far less clichéd manner and from quite different angles, as the recent Vienna Design Week once again proved. So off we went on a city tour under the sign of designs! You only needed to follow the chairs – painted in the green of hope – that pointed at the 6th edition of the design festival to the countless event venues and exhibitions spaces. And I’ll return to the role played by the sausage.
The ten-day event deployed current topics such as social and green design by way of overarching frame, not to mention recycling and urban work. In Vienna, and this may seem surprising, this has a lot to do with thinking about the past, about incorporating what is already there, about resorting to history and the many stories that exist in this city. This key idea was impressively presented as part of the “Passionswege” (Path of the Passion), the central item on the Vienna Design Week program. To this end, ten new-generation international and Austrian designers were teamed up with traditional Vienna corporations to jointly work on a project, with the emphasis being experimentation. And the fruit of these labors were on show, above all in the 16th and 17th districts around Ottakringer Strasse, a part of town that is often termed “typically Viennese” and at present stands out for its colorful and multicultural lifestyles. Here, the results of these meetings of minds were presented in a variety of venues, and also elsewhere in town: for example in the high-end ambience of Wiener Silber Manufactur, where French industrial designer Charlotte Talbot placed her contemporary interpretation of silver tableware in-between highly polished silver spoons and fanciful accessories. What a contrast to the brusque charm of Norbert Meier’s workshop, that long-standing Viennese brush maker, where Polish designer Matylda Krzykowski presented her project. Together with Norbert Meier and Thomas Petz, the owner of Vienna-based “Petz Hornmanufaktur” tortoiseshell makers, she created various items made of the two materials, calling the ensemble “Borste & Horn” (“Brisk & Horn”). Between all manner of machines and countless storage boxes containing all types of brushes, she also offered a cordial insight into the history of two companies renowned for their craftsmanship but possibly fated to be the last of their kind.
Last but not least, the green chairs then led the tour onto the Sterkl butchers shop, a renowned family-owned Viennese company on Brunnenmarkt – it recently included in its range a pork-less sausage for the multicultural district. And this prompted Linz-based design duo March Gut to dream up their “Brunnenviertler-Menu”, a combination of recipe and map, enabling you to make the above-mentioned sausage with ingredients bought from the neighboring stands on Brunnenmarkt.
As varied as the presentations on the Passionswege were, at almost all the stages along it you could feel the strong honest recognition for the knowledge, skills and history of the respective project partner. The success of the Passionswege is thus not just a matter of the final products. Rather visitors could see how a path had been taken together, and a creative course traveled – something the curators of the event somewhat clumsily evoked as “knowledge transfer and an exchange of ideas”.
The active inclusion of visitors into the Vienna Design Week program was a logical way of expanding the principle. For example, furniture makers Thonet along with Austrian design studio breadedEscalope realized the “Misfits Revisited” project. A workshop was held at Vienna’s Stilwerk where participants were able to use obsolescent parts from Thonet’s production lines to make their own items from cantilever-based or coffee-house chairs – and even keep the results.
And there were of course international references. This year’s guest of honor Spain hosted two exhibitions of its own, not to mention countless other pieces, thus showing clearly that creative thought and work is possible and necessary, precisely in times of economic crisis.
So that was it, Vienna Design Week 2012: A place where you were encouraged to discover things, to play an active role, to learn, to participate, and to be astonished; a place where young and old, tradition and innovation met quite naturally. The Vienna Design Week thus remains a refreshing way of enabling a quite surprisingly different perception of the city and its creative scene. Without doubt, next year the organizers will again dream up something original.