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As a student of industrial design at the Ulm School of Design (HfG Ulm), Hans (Nick) Roericht achieved great fame with his TC 100 stacking tableware for the porcelain manufacturer Thomas (Rosenthal). As a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, he left his mark on design teaching for almost three decades. Roericht regarded design as a “holistic problem-solving instrument”. Now the designer celebrates his 90th birthday on 15 November.

Reflect, react, agree – Hans (Nick) Roericht in Ulm, 2016. © Bettina Strauss / Roericht-Archiv, HfG-Archiv Ulm

By Viktoria Lea Heinrich.

The archive of Hans (Nick) Roericht occupies 13 rows of shelves – over 1,000 boxes, numerous models and archive folders gather the work of the designer and university professor. Roericht’s library complements these holdings. The countless boxes make visible an understanding of design that unites theory and practice, teaching and actual execution, cross-disciplinary collaboration and an understanding of design that is still current today.

For Hans (Nick) Roericht, design meant more than designing industrial products; however, he never completely detached himself from his own training as an industrial designer at the HfG Ulm. Instead, he supplemented this with new approaches and an open view of the (design) world. The holistic approach to a subject, the ” putting it into context”, was an approach that Roericht applied both in his own teaching and in his cooperation with companies. His designs and projects show how this approach led, among other things, to products with circular approaches or a reform of design education in Germany.

Roericht is always one step ahead. He took up the design professorship at the HdK Berlin in 1975 with the resolution “that one could no longer work for the (consumer goods) industry”. Instead, he fundamentally structures the teaching in Berlin and combines industrial design with social and socio-ecological topics.

Roericht stays in the background during the discussions about design education that are fought out in the magazines form and designreport in the 1970s and 1980s. His stage is the actual implementation of design teaching in Berlin, and quite successfully at that. Even today, numerous former students of Roericht occupy professorships at German design colleges and universities and thus also shape the content of contemporary design education.

From Ulm’s Kuhberg to New York’s MoMa

When the 23-year-old Roericht came to the HfG Ulm in 1955, the new university building on the Upper Kuhberg in Ulm had just been ceremoniously opened. He studied there in the product design department until 1960. In a portrait for designreport in 1979, he reports on the influence the Ulm college and the teachers had on him: “(…) Thomas Maldonado showed ‘overbuilding’; Werner Blaser minimalising; Konrad Wachsmann technical imagination; Hans Gugelot improvisation and Georg Leowald solid designer craftsmanship.”[1]

How industrial design was taught and understood at the HfG Ulm is particularly evident in his diploma thesis. Roericht designed the TC 100 tableware system in response to the lack of “exemplary tableware” in the HfG canteen. In keeping with rational system design, the design emphasised the robustness, stackability and optimum dishwasher suitability of the tableware, which attracted a great deal of attention in the German design world. For example, form 1961 features the tableware on its cover and dedicates a major article to the 29-year-old Roericht’s diploma thesis.

The design was considered to be as successful as the radio sets for Braun, which the HfG lecturer and industrial designer Hans Gugelot designed. The form was to be proved right: From 1961 to 2006, the TC 100 was produced by Thomas (Rosenthal). The tableware also attracted international attention early on. As early as 1968, it was included in the collection of the New York MoMA alongside other designs by the HfG Ulm. It is not surprising that the almost iconic photographs of the TC 100 stacked in towers still shape the perception of the HfG Ulm today.

The stacking tableware TC 100 becomes one of the pictorial motifs that characterise the HfG Ulm in general reception. Tomás Gonda, Stacking Tableware TC 100, GO 238.20 / Fa 61/0190, 1961 © HfG-Archiv Ulm

Crown Prince and King

After completing his diploma, Roericht worked for a short time as an employee in the E3 development group with the architect and furniture designer Georg Leowald, but soon switched to Otl Aicher in the department for visual communication. There he began an extremely fruitful collaboration, which is illustrated by numerous joint projects. Among other things, Roericht contributed to the appearance of Lufthansa and the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He designed on-board tableware and packaging for the German airline and developed plastic seat shells for the Olympic stadium in Munich. How formative the relationship between the two was is shown by the “10 stations to otl aicher”, which the “crown prince” Roericht wrote for his “king” in 2010. “lufthansa flew in new make-up and i flew to usa to teach there – to separate myself strengthened from aicher, from aicher.”[2], Roericht says.

The spatial and personal separation, however, by no means meant turning away from what he had learned at the HfG Ulm. From the beginning of 1966 to mid-1967, Roericht taught product design at Ohio State University.The projects created during this first teaching experience clearly show the influence of the Ulm school. Among other things, the American students worked on solutions for a standardised mailing system and a polystyrene cutter.

Bordgeschirr für Lufthansa. Otl Aicher
Hans (Nick) Roericht developed numerous packaging and tableware items as a member of the E5 development group at Otl Aicher, including this on-board tableware for Lufthansa. Otl Aicher, on-board tableware for Lufthansa, HfG-Ar Ai.D. 4446, ca. 1962 © Florian Aicher / HfG-Archiv Ulm
On Otl Aicher’s 88th birthday, the “Crown Prince” Roericht congratulated his “King” with an article about their joint collaboration. Tomás Gonda, Hans (Nick) Roericht and Otl Aicher, HfG-Ar Ai Br 605, 1964 © HfG-Archiv Ulm

Products, concepts, studies

After his return from the USA in 1967, Roericht became self-employed. First in an office in the centre of Ulm, then from 1976 in the former building of the HfG. For more than 25 years, ProduktEntwicklung Roericht, Ulm (PER Ulm) worked as a partner for numerous companies and public institutions. These include Lufthansa, Wilkhahn and the architects Heinle, Wischer + Partner.

Over the years, Roericht has moved further and further away from the product design that had been practised until then. The focus of his work is on the development of concepts and studies that are less concerned with the finished product but rather with the contexts in which it is used. Roericht’s designs and products serve here as projection surfaces for an intensive examination of the respective environment. Possibility and feasibility studies as well as documentation of research or studies are always created with the claim to include the most diverse disciplines and perspectives in a process.

This becomes clear, among other things, in the collaboration with Wilkhahn. Roericht had a very personal and intensive exchange with the entrepreneur Fritz Hahne, who reformed the German furniture manufacturer Wilkhahn. Office chairs, conference tables and, among other things, the well-known “Stitz” standing and sitting aid were created for Wilkhahn. In 1991, with the “Picto” chair, Roericht designed a product that today can easily be described as a pioneer of recyclable design. The design was preceded by an intensive examination of the future of sitting and the ecological consequences of production. For Roericht, it was important to pay attention to the choice of materials and the environmental compatibility of the mass-produced product. Accordingly, the Picto programme could be combined in many ways, the chair was completely dismountable and many of the materials were reusable. Even today, the chair’s castors can be purchased and replaced.

Dynamic and mobile seating – that was the aspiration with which the Picto was developed for Wilkhahn. Already in the early 1990s, Wilkhahn was talking about material cycles and dismantlability. Wilkhahn, Picto chair range, design: ProduktEntwicklung Roericht Ulm, Burkhard Schmitz, Franz Biggel, 1991/92, Photo: Axel Bleyer for Wilkhahn, 2004 © Wilkhahn
Hans (Nick) Roericht typenblatt des gesuchten designstudenten
Hans (Nick) Roericht not only restructured design education at the HdK Berlin, he responded to students’ questions with clever humour. Hans (Nick) Roericht: typenblatt des gesuchten designstudenten (eilfertigung 7.85), 05.07.1985, abgebildet in: Christian Borngräber (Hrsg.): Berliner Design-Handbuch, Merve Verlag, Berlin 1987, S. 38. © Hans (Nick) Roericht / Merve-Verlag Berlin

From object to subject studies

Theory and practice were closely linked for Roer, not only in his office in Ulm. In 1973, he took on a position as a guest lecturer at the Berlin University of the Arts, which led to a professorship at the Chair of Industrial Design two years later. In 27 years – Roericht retired in 2002 – he gave decisive impulses for the reorientation of design teaching at the HDK Berlin. However, he was by no means solely responsible for these changes, but relied on teamwork and the consideration of as many people as possible. In particular, the close collaboration with his partner of many years, Gisela Kasten, a psychologist of perception, fertilised the teaching in Berlin. Together, the pair developed a study structure based on various design process levels as early as 1976. Issues of a social, political and sustainable nature were now to be included and considered in the design. Among other things, Roericht introduced short projects – intensive projects lasting only a few weeks – and interspersed the studies with professional input from numerous colleagues from design, art and culture. The Italian designer Enzo Mari, Roericht’s long-time collaborator, the designer Andreas Brandolini, or the design professors Uta Brandes and Michael Erlhoff are just a few of the personalities in the large network around Roericht. They worked and taught in constant exchange, between design commissions and courses in Berlin and Ulm.

Roericht depository

Early on, Roericht was concerned with how the results of his teaching and practice could be meaningfully housed and further used. It was to become a kind of “living archive”, accessible to future (design) generations.

At the end of the 1990s, various possibilities were being considered to collectively house the material. Roericht considered, among other things, “burning (everything)” or leaving the collection to a design museum. He decides on the latter option. Since 2010, the extensive library has been part of the HfG archive in Ulm, and since 2014, Roericht’s archive has also been located in Ulm.

A real highlight is the extensive collection of everyday objects. In over 150 boxes, you can discover everyday objects, natural materials and curiosities. Anyone looking for inspiration is recommended to visit the website www.roericht.net. Here, the entire Roerichts archive is reflected in the spirit of open source. In other words, a “living archive”.

Today Hans (Nick) Roericht celebrates his 90th birthday. If you were to ask him what would be a suitable gift for this great birthday, you would probably not get a clear answer. But if you take a look at the countless boxes in his archive, it quickly becomes clear: every object is of interest and value to the designers Roericht thought of. With this in mind, we congratulate you.

[1] dr-Porträt, Design-Report 3/79, 1979.

[2] https://roericht.net/anfang/kronprinz, accessed 25.10.2022.

About the author

Viktoria Lea Heinrich is a design scholar and research assistant in the Theory and Practice of Design in the Product Design Department at the Kunsthochschule Kassel. Among other things, she has worked as a curatorial assistant in the design collection of the MAK Vienna and as a volunteer in the HfG archive in Ulm. She is co-curator of the exhibitions “HfG Ulm: Exhibition Fever” and “The Ulm Stool. Idea – Idol – Icon”.

Viktoria Lea Heinrich is doing her doctorate on Hans (Nick) Roericht and design teaching at the former Berlin University of the Arts between 1973 and 2002.

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