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Where everything is perfectly in place: Design history using modular systems was written by Burkhardt Leitner. On Tuesday, February 19, he turned 80.

By Adrienne Braun

Burkhardt Leitner
Burkhardt Leitner, Foto: Max Leitner

If someone accused them of being lazy, they would be offended. Not Burkhardt Leitner. Who knows, perhaps the designer wouldn’t have been as successful if he hadn’t been so at ease. Leitner, though, had no desire to engage with concerns as they were. For this reason, he improved his products until he was confident that both the customers and himself would have no problems with them. His lack of initiative ultimately paid out dearly.
Now that Burkhardt Leitner is 80 years old, he reflects on a successful career as a designer. In addition to laziness, there was also a bit of luck because it was the ideal time for him to launch his own company in the beginning of the 1960s. In amongst the booming economic miracle, there was a rising need for products for trade show construction, and he could provide them: partitions, shelves, compartments, and tables, or other items required for a successful trade fair presentation. Leitner rose to prominence as a major authority on architectural systems for exhibitions and trade shows.

“First straighten everything, then it will slant naturally.”

Burkhardt Leitner, who had just turned 18, established his first company in Stuttgart in 1963. He was already involved in the development of the first node-plate system, which he confidently named “Leitner 1” three years later.

His name has a strong connection to Stuttgart. Leitner, however, was born in 1943 in Poland. After escaping to West Berlin, the family was first kept in receiving camps. They finally settled in Esslingen. The son completed an apprenticeship as a window dresser at the Stuttgart menswear store Knagge & Peitz. A crucial piece of advice from the boss to his apprentice was: “First straighten everything, then it will slant naturally.”

“What remains is the impression it leaves on its visitor: the spatial experience.”

Burkhardt Leitner
Euroshop 2011, Trade fair presence burkhardt leitner, Concept: Ippolito Fleitz, Photo: Zooey Braun

The master was not to be proven correct. Because Leitner-Design has stood out for accuracy and usability from the beginning. After all, an exhibition stand needs to be simple to travel and quick to assemble, without the need for lengthy setup instructions. Leitner developed modular systems in response to the demands. One of his exhibition systems is portable and the other is a screen system. Magnetic plug-in connections are used with “Clic.” The exhibition stand is dismantled into the smallest transport units as soon as it is finished being set up, according to Leiter. “What remains is the impression it leaves on its visitor: the spatial experience.”

“Design starts with listening”

The notion that “design begins with listening” is one of Leitner’s guiding principles. Whether it was the exhibition “Anti-Fascist Resistance 1933 to 1945” in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt in 1971, the exhibition system for the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, or the show “Design – USA” in 1989, which travelled from Moscow to the Far East, he liked to rely on his gut feeling, especially when it came to the clients’ wishes. There were 19 stations in the exhibition, whose design was created by Leitner USA.

Burkhardt Leitner
Photo: René Müller

Posture and shape

He naturally committed himself to the community. From 1998 to 2014, Leitner served as a founder and praesidium member of the German Design Council. “Burkhardt was a pioneer in trade fair construction even before the present rebirth of temporary and modular solutions. ”I do, however, link Burkhardt with a significant and devoted fellow supporter of design, much as he does with his innovative spirit. He is one of the personalities who shape the German Design Council with their clear stance,” remembers Lutz Dietzold, Managing Director of the German Design Council. Leitner has consistently emphasised “attitude and form” at the meetings as a crucial part of a corporate philosophy, and he has done so with equal intensity. Today, it is a given. He was close to the German Association of Craftsmen, and the conversations in Leitner’s kitchen were legendary. Leitner was a member of the aed Association for the Promotion of Architecture, Engineering, and Design e.V. in Stuttgart, as well as the Merzakademie’s sponsoring group. And, of course, he presented his innovations in prestigious design competitions, with great success.

Not everything went as planned

Burkhardt Leitner retired from his work life in 2015, which wasn’t entirely streamlined, of course, but wasn’t just a drawback. Leitner had a wooden shelving system created in a workshop for the disabled when he was supposed to produce it for Kodak. But, the wood did not dry completely quickly enough. Leitner quickly created a wire construction while the delivery deadline was approaching: “Leitner 6” was born.

In terms of economic success, the gallery he founded in Stuttgart in 1998 was a failure. But he was never only a businessman; he was also a creative thinker. As a result, he also dedicated himself to traditional product design on the side. For instance, he created a large ashtray for Ernte 23 that was made of vivid orange plastic to fit in with the trends of the 1970s. Leitner also had the concept of treating production waste at some stage. As a result, a small shop called “Alu-Laden” opened up in Stuttgart and began selling salt shakers, trays, and bookends as well as candlesticks and vases.

non art – not art

non art, Photo: Peer Oliver Brecht

His secret passion also extended to the modest, humorous gifts he made for himself every year, such as balls that danced on fine wires. The design and material both mirrored the spirit of the time. Every year, Ulrich Fleischmann, a friend and author, was tasked by Burkhardt Leitner to create a text for this non-art with complete creative freedom. This also extended to photographers who used their cameras to capture contemporary non-art. Burkhardt Leitner considers these small items “non art,” although he has always had a strong passion for the arts, which is why postmarks for the business were frequently created by artists.

In 2015, the Burkhardt Leitner company was taken over by his longtime friend and business colleague Akin Nalca. The new company Burkhardt Leitner Modular Spaces GmbH has also remained true to Leitner’s guiding principle: Sustainability First.  The architectural systems from Burkhardt Leitner continue to meet all sustainability requirements in the trade fair business and exhibition industry of the future to the highest degree.

Cover of the book “Burkhardt Leitner – System Designer”.

Burkhardt Leitner System Designer

Edited by Prof. Ulrich Fleischmann and Burkhardt Leitner constructiv GmbH & Co. KG

With contributions by Barbara Friedrich, Rainer Hascher, Florian Hufnagel, Andrej Kupetz, Sabine Mescher-Leitner, Nils Holger Moormann, Michael Peters, Peter Pfeiffer, Wilfried Stoll, Kurt Weidemann and many more.

415 pages


avedition, Stuttgart 2013

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