Ulm School of Design (HFG), Ulm, Germany

The HfG, was a private school of design within Ulm, Germany. It was established by Otl Aicher, Max Bill, and Inge Scholl in 1953, with the intent of contributing to the modernisation of German social life in a post-war environment. The school was running under Bill, a prior student of the Bauhaus school in Weimar, beginning as a continuation of the Bauhaus ideology.  It promoted a
progressive quality of education despite existing in a still hurting economy. This progression despite hardships meant the school went on to have a lasting impact on how design would be taught through its use of experimental educational methods uncovering now obvious relationships between design and industry. 

Teaching was based around a four-year curriculum, starting with a basic course. This was used not only to bring students from different educational backgrounds onto a uniform level of knowledge, but its primary goal was to prepare its students for work in their later departments. This goal of equality was something that made HfG stand out as a forward-thinking establishment. This, with a philosophy of social responsibility, shows a stark contrast from the capitalism that would ironically emerge from it. This practice should be encouraged in 21st century education – an education that focusses on equality and a recognition of different abilities and strengths.

Bill used the building itself to project and validate the school’s proposed function and social goals or contributions. The vision was to train a new class of designers who use modernist values to build a new socially minded world from the post-war ruins. A world view tied to democracy rather than commerce. Designers were therefore essential to building this brighter society and were deemed to be inseparable from any social impact itself. It only made sense that in 1953, early students were involved in the campus’ own completion with study projects such as the ‘’Ulmer Klinke”; a door handle used throughout.
The school was intended as a place for students and lecturers to live and work together – a concept already explored at the Buahuas. The school complex consists of five elements, all integrated into the hilly landscape, taking advantage of its prominent slope. The campus layout encourages a social coexistence, determining the interactions of those on site. This is promoted through individual buildings containing public teaching spaces, workshops and a canteen, as well as private student dormitories and a series of semi-detached houses for the teachers, all connected along a long corridor. This connection not only through a shared campus but an obvious corridor, facilitated an idea of equality and a community encouraging collaboration and a more holistic approach involving multiple disciplines and facets of design. Bill treated the campus as its own self-sufficient village. The canteen and self-service counter are placed within the centre, a ‘’village square”. The counter being the only curved element within the entire school, providing a welcoming place for group activity. The main lecture hall took on a social aspect too, using adjustable
walls, it could be separated from the canteen but also opening, used for concerts, events and performances. The interior was designed, along with the furniture with this flexible use in mind. The Ulm Stool for example, could serve as a seat, tray or table and was used wherever needed including the classrooms, canteen, accommodation and terrace. ‘’When I planned the HfG building in Ulm, I intended to combine an uncomplicated arrangement of rooms with a complex variety of options for their use. The location had to have a special character; at the same time, I wanted a recognizable coherency of features. The unified impression may also result from the fact that everything was kept as simple as possible.''
Collaboration was a theme reflected again in the layout of the campus. The arrangement of rooms in the main wing shows how Max effectively translated the teaching concept, with practical design being a key focus of the curriculum, into the architecture. Generously sized workshops were interconnected and open, fostering a large interdisciplinary work environment. There was also a feeling of progression, a journey educationally. The foundation course and departments of information and film acted as foundations, a floor below the main departments and disciplines of the school; Industrial Design, Visual Communication, and Building which were situated at the top.

A post-war Germany meant that resources were scarce, the country needed to be reconstructed. Bill was bound to a strict budget after the war and took advantage of material donations from industry. A strong sense of community built the school and would therefore have contributed to the construction of this brighter post-war era. 

As a result, serviceability and utilitarianism took priority over embellishment and the school emanates the idea of equality using in-situ concrete. The cheaper choice to expose the concrete both on the exterior and interior, was in line with the Bauhaus ideology that materials should be used in their most honest, true form. This with laminated wooden doors and windows, gave the campus a uniform appearance. There was a conscious decision to go against the normal building conventions of the time, rejecting the idea of architecture communicating the status of a higher educational institute. With a reduced palette of materials and a renouncement of evoking pity nor flaunting wealth, the campus itself instead conveys the views behind the HfG teaching.

The buildings were instead fit for purpose and use, with their sober architectural language conveying this. This helped to provide a sense of hope from the ruins, of aspiration which is important for education and would have been especially necessary after a draining war. From plan the campus resembles a village. A dark forest lays in front of a flat, geometric white building, behind that, a hazed grey tangled city. It is complete with the five buildings gracefully climbing the slope with only the four-story inhabitable tower exceeding two stories. ‘’transient. the past is behind us. ahead, white, the blocks of the future. a glorious castle of the future.''

(Information from : "To What Extent Did Modernist Architecture Play A Role In Affecting The Quality At Which People Were Educated And Should This Influence Contemporary Education?" - Essay 2021 - James Davies (Myself))