They have climbed up the spire of the main church in Ulm, the tallest gothic building in the world. The foehn is blowing and the air is crystal clear as a teardrop. From that height, their gazes stretch as far as the peaks of the Alps, and the Münsterplatz looks like a miniature down below. Otto holds his breath and leans out over the void holding on to his friend's hand, while Fridolin acts as a counterweight.
"Trust me, Otl!"
"Okay, Frido, hand me the camera first, and then the mirror."
Otl stretches his arm and pushes the shutter button on his Rolleiflex as soon as he sees the reflection of a smiling gargoyle.
Some of those extraordinary photographs have reached us through the Volkshochschule calendar for 1947. They are the result of a combination of the latest and boldest German technology-the kind that really takes you out on a limb-and the originality of someone who is capable of seeing beyond the lens.
Otl Aicher was not allowed to go to university. Far from resigning himself, he decided to be a self-taught man, to the extent of becoming -jointly with his wife Inge Scholl- the foremost promoter of cultural activity in Ulm during the post-war period. Otl Aicher's legacy includes the founding of the HfG in ULM, the school that defined design as we understand it today, as well as a handful of works that forged the identity of companies the likes of Lufthansa, Braun, Erco, and bulthaup; unforgettable images such as that of the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the Rotis typeface -the one I am using right now.
However, if Otl Aicher has been remembered as one of the most prominent graphic designers of the 20th century, it is partly due to that ability of his to see beyond a lens polished in Jena. Design is the art of giving efficient, elegant answers to often complex formal questions. A poster announcing a lecture, a book, a company's corporate identity, and, ultimately, the clear, memorable communication of content are the specific missions of a graphic designer. Yet for Aicher design was, in addition to all of that, an ethical imperative -in other words, a way of testing the moral integrity of society and of his clients.
Starting in 1979, bulthaup, led by its then recently-appointed CEO Gerd Bulthaup (1944-2019), was put to that test. The affinity between the two men, which developed over more than three years of joint travels and interviews, dramatically transformed a high-quality furniture factory into a privileged instrument of reflection about modern domestic life.
While for Gerd Bulthaup Aicher served as the perfect counterweight, and one of those hands you could trust before leaning out into the void, for bulthaup Aicher was like that click of a camera shot that reveals something radically new.
Architect Arturo Frediani will be one of the speakers at the panel discussion The Perversity of Beauty. The Legacy of Otl Aicher in Times of Post-Truth, which we are holding in Madrid, Barcelona and Girona to celebrate bulthaup's 70th anniversary.
The dialogues will take place in:
COAM (College of Architects of Madrid)
COAC (Girona Delegation)
Centro cultural Arts Santa Mònica (Barcelona)