He was always on the look-out for the archetype of an object
Nov 17, 2011
Simon Husslein, photo: Studio Hannes Wettstein

After the untimely demise of Hannes Wettstein three years ago, Studio Hannes Wettstein had to redefine itself. One key milestone was achieved with the publication of "Hannes Wettstein Seeking Archetypes" and the related exhibition, which went on show at ETH Zurich recently. Today, the company has 18 staff members, and is run by a board of three: Stephan Hürlemann, in charge of Architecture; Britta Herold, who is gradually assuming responsibility for operational management; and Simon Husslein, who is at the helm of the Design portfolio. Meret Ernst interviewed Husslein.

Meret Ernst: The publication "Hannes Wettstein Seeking Archetypes", like the show at ETH Zurich, have for the first time given an overview of Hannes Wettstein's oeuvre. How did you go about preparing them?

Simon Husslein: They're both based on the intensive discussions Stephan Hürlemann and I have had since Hannes Wettstein passed away. That dialog now forms the heart of Studio Hannes Wettstein activities. The publication and the exhibition are both thus nothing like the other presentations of a company I have been involved in to date. The idea was to outline Hannes Wettstein's immensely varied oeuvre. Moreover, for me they were also personal, as they are in large part bound up with my own biography.

When did you start working with Hannes Wettstein?

Husslein: I signed up in 1999 as an intern. Hannes Wettstein was so intense, so charismatic. He relied on the principle of a cone of light. If he addressed to you, it was as though you were sitting in the cone of a bright spotlight.

Before you were able to devise the publication and the exhibition you first had to sort out the Wettstein estate. No mean feat. Did you receive state support?

Husslein: We discussed the project with the Federal Office of Culture, with archives and foundations, and with any number of key decision-makers. But a lot of water would have passed under the bridge if we'd waited for all the resolutions to be taken that would enable a definitive structure for the estate. So we took things into our own hands. We hired Barbara Meier, who graduated in English and Art History, and together with her assistant she spent almost two whole years handling the substantive side to the project, cataloging the estate and researching sources. So we can now with a clear conscience bring out an in-depth catalog of Wettstein's works.

What state was the archive in when Hannes Wettstein died in summer 2008?

Husslein: We had to research any number of names, data, and projects. Hannes always looked to the future and swiftly lost interest in whatever was done. We spoke with many of his companions along the way and discovered projects we hardly knew anything about. Eventually, we ended up with a catalog of 347 works. Since then we've discovered three or four other project that could be included. But at some point you simply have to go to press...

Is there not only a digital archive, but a physical collection?

Husslein: Many of the products and materials, including hundreds of sketches, are housed in the studio. They're part of our everyday studio life, such as the silver "Capri Chair", and are in constant use. We don't have the resources to create a standalone physical collection – don't forget the daily tasks we always have to go about!

Have existing collections and archives approached you to procure part or parts of the estate?

Husslein: No. But I'm convinced that the publication and the exhibition will kindle attention and lead to a greater focus on Hannes Wettstein's oeuvre. Many people will only now gain a clear idea of the sheer scale, reach and status of his work – even those already very familiar with Hannes Wettstein's oeuvre.

What struck you most when sorting out the estate?

Husslein: It is truly astonishing just how consistent Hannes remained in the statements he made – across the 30 years of his work. We really noticed this when collecting quotes he had made.

Remains to ask: How do you work today, under his name but without Hannes Wettstein in person?

Husslein: Hannes tried to take objects back to their origins, isolating them from any trimmings. He was forever searching for the archetype of an object. Once he'd exposed its core in this way, he then developed his personal approach to it. We've adopted this method. We now bring the emotional aspects he used to infuse his projects with to bear in our own way.

Hannes Wettstein Seeking Archetypes
Edited by Studio Hannes Wettstein
Hardcover, 292 pages, German
Lars Müller, Baden, 2011
58 Euro

Simon Husslein, photo: Studio Hannes Wettstein
Exhibition at the ETH Zurich, 2011, photo: Beat Bühler
347 projects were reviewed for the exhibition, photo: Beat Bühler
Studio Hannes Wettstein for Horgenglarus at the Designers Saturday in Langenthal, 2008, photo: Cortis Sonderegger
"Sparc MGS" by Studio Hannes Wettstein for Ventura, photo: Ventura
"Apoluna" by Studio Hannes Wettstein for Erik Jorgensen, photo: Erik Jorgensen
"Stratos" by Studio Hannes Wettstein for Maxdesign, photo: Maxdesign
"Hannes Wettstein Seeking Archetypes", published by Lars Müller