Renowned German publicist and poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger did not visit the ISH. And yet in his much-praised new book, "Album", the writer, researcher, editor, man of belle letters, and advocate of nuclear power addressed not only a potpourri of texts and found objects, namely any number of conceivable and inconceivable themes and items, but also design and bathrooms. "At some point, where they did not yet call themselves that," Enzensberger writes in a fiercely mean sentence, "designers must have pursued an honorable profession, if one thinks of Bauhaus or, with limitations, Ulm, that college not of design but of ‘shaping'. Today, we have to do with a group of overpaid persons who have the ambition to re-invent the faucet, with the result that they make it as expensive, unusable and ugly as possible. They certainly do not wish to assist us but to ‘realize' themselves. They should desist and spare us their pretentious machinations."
Pretentious machinations? Is it really designers of all people who think of things people do not need and refuse to assist us? Enzensberger at least knows what he is talking about as regards the history, as in 1956-7 he was a visiting lecturer in the "Information" Dept. at Ulm. No doubt, in Ulm whoever penned the brochure "Bedarf wecken - Aufträge holen" (Create needs, get jobs) published by the German Sanitation Industry Association for the "Fitness test for the bath" campaign would have been failed. A checklist consisting of ten questions in the brochure says that is the way "to find out whether your bathroom is still up to scratch." Meaning that it appeals to the bathroom owner's bad conscience. In actual fact, or so a survey by Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (Association for Consumer Research) reveals, over half of all Germans have not modernized their bathrooms either since the building in question was built or since they moved into it. But before we eliminate all the old, convert and modernize, we must surely "study our baths!" Because there are evidently still a great many outstanding specimens of past ages to be scrutinized.
So what new things are there? The "Deque" faucet caught the eye not only because its single-lever mixer is asymmetric in shape and delivers an unusual stream of water consisting of many pleasurable streams. Its minimalist appearance, the brainchild of Sieger Design, is highlighted in a contemplative bathroom architecture devised by Mike Meiré. In terms of structure it is reminiscent of Carlo Scarpa's gardens for Venice's Fondazione Querini Stampalia.
By contrast, Dornbracht subsidiary Alape presented "be yourself" and thus a future application for precisely this faucet as part of a standalone washing unit. Resembling a lengthy kitchen island, the object with its integrated tub of frosted steel and movable mirrors can be moved freely and is accessible from all side. Infused with a spirit of cooperation, some manufacturers are presenting products that are destined to function harmoniously together, by designers who work for both bathtub makers and for faucet producers. An increasing number of manufacturers are, however, trying to provide everything from a single source or at least under a single brand. What counts is no longer the manufacturer's competence but that of its brand. An example of the opposite case: Duravit's "Onto" ceramics series, which was presented along with Dornbracht's "Gentle" faucets - both were designed by Matteo Thun and intended to be used together, and seek to trace the sensations of everyday life. Or, to put it in Andreas Dornbracht's words: "The special thing about ‘Gentle' is precisely how normal its shape is." That said, "Onto" is structurally quite unusual, as the basin forms the basis for the wooden console, which curves downward at the front.
In order to blend living and bathrooms, wherever possible you need an even transition in the floor connecting those areas where possibly water will be flowing, foam soap will be used, with those destined to remain dry and clean. Viega showcased "Advantix Vario", a shower tray that can be shortened at will and adjusted to fit the shower area down to the last millimeter. It can also be adjusted to the height of the tiles. The idea was conjured up by Artefakt Design and won the trade fair operator's Design Plus Award. As regards sizes, diversity reigns immoderately: the "Conoflat" shower, which is level with the floor and designed by Sottsass Associati for Kaldewei comes in a total of 29 different sizes. The manufacturer caters to current color trends with new grays and anthracites, as well as satin white, brown and satin black.
In order to give its array of products clearer and more transparent lines, Villeroy & Boch has devised a four-stage vertical structure for the product portfolio and called it "360° Projects", ranging from the entry-level segment "360° Orange" via "Blue" and "Silver" through to "Violet". As with "O.novo Style", a new washstand series from the Orange segment, the products can be configured online, whereby you can choose between different shapes, colors and decors when selecting an individual product including the bathroom furniture. And here we're seeing a return to flower power and large-scale ornaments of the 1970s.
Swiss manufacturer Runtal is part of the Zehnder Group and launched a radiator with a base frame made of expanded graphite and a front made of Corian, designed by Christian Ghion. The 750 Watt electric radiator is just short of eight centimeters thick, can be mounted on the wall horizontally or vertically.
Back to the faucet: the established principles of the turned tap and the thriftier, as easier-to-dose lever handle will in future no doubt be joined by the press-button variant. Once the bathroom becomes electronic (irrespective of whether this is practical or not), it will be possible to control it digitally. Whoever thinks this is meaningful will in addition to up and down pipes in future also need a power socket for the basin and tub. In this context, Viega offers "Multiplex Trio E", a digital tub inflow and drain set, with temperature settings and a switch to activate the shower. The whole thing works by a touchscreen, although your fingers need to be as dry as possible to use it. The design, along with that of the "Evolution" shower fittings for Jado, was created by Artefakt Design.
Anyone who finds all the technology a bit off-putting will possibly find consolation with the US collection called Waterworks, which is based entirely on traditional shapes and devices, and is now being marketed in Europe by THG Paris. Or may even be interested in the exclusive collections designed by the French company itself, which regularly provides the interiors of yachts and luxury hotels, examples being the "So" mixing set by Olivier Gossart with cube-shaped handles made of lenses into which the words "chaud" and "froid" have been etched by laser. This does not really have much to do with design in the sense of mass production of articles, and more with perfect craftsmanship for one-offs. Will it perhaps be more to Enzensberger's liking?