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The exhibition ‘al dente: Pasta & Design’ at the HfG Archive in Ulm explores the design dimensions of pasta – from spaetzle to macaroni.

Key visual for the exhibition ‘al dente. Pasta & Desig’ | Graphic: Eva Hocke, © Museum Ulm , HfG Archive Ulm
Teigwaren Riesa GmbH, Riesa Plant 1, Woman with macaroni, 1960s | Photo: Teigwaren Riesa GmbH

Making pasta is a special design challenge. Especially in Italy, pasta comes in all imaginable colours and shapes, sometimes smooth, sometimes grooved, curved, coiled and twisted, short and long, with and without holes. The shape of the pasta determines the sauce with which it is served: Long and thin pasta goes best with tomato sauce and olive oil. Short pasta goes best with meat sauces, especially if the pasta is corrugated or twisted so that it can absorb the sauce well. In short, making pasta is as much a science as it is an art and a creative task. The experimental filmmaker and culinary artist Peter Kubelka, who taught cooking at the Städelschule in Frankfurt, once described it as ‘architecture for the palate’, because the different types of pasta can only be distinguished with the mouth, where they develop their flavour, and not with the eyes. 

As the archive of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm explains in its press release for the exhibition ‘Al dente: Pasta & Design’ exhibition: “Pasta is a product that only makes sense in large quantities, because no one has ever been satisfied, let alone happy, with pasta alone”. Pasta is ‘a prime example of a mass-produced product’ and design as a creative activity ‘transforms the undefined dough into a beautifully shaped, culinary adequate food that is served on plates all over the world today’.

Accordingly, the exhibition, which opens on 7 June 2024 and runs until 19 January 2025, explores the many design dimensions of pasta – from spaetzle to macaroni, from orrechiette to spaghetti. At the heart of it all is the question: ‘How does pasta get its shape and what do people do with it? Topics range from the mould-makers in the kitchen and in industry, pasta by star designers, art, commerce and kitchen gadgets to communication design with posters and packaging. Devices such as an egg beater, a ‘chitarra’, bronze moulds, pasta rollers and spaghetti presses show how much has changed in terms of technology, from handmade pasta to fully automated high-tech pressing processes and pasta from 3D printers. 

It is said that pasta was not only valued as a food at the Ulm School of Design: It was probably the first time ever that a pasta factory signed a contract with product designer Walter Zeischegg to find new pasta shapes. French star designer Philippe Starck has also created pasta shapes, as have Italian car designers Giorgio Giugiaro and Walter de Silva. And with Papiri, Trigatelli and Mezzi Rigatoni in the shape of a heart, the Italian manufacturer Barilla has turned pasta design into a marketing tool. The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated book published by av edition.

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