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Portrait Peter Ghyczy
© Peter Ghyczy

To this day, the name Peter Ghyczy is inseparably linked with his “Egg Chair” from 1968. The furniture of the pop era hides more than just the spirit of a time when total plastic living seemed within reach. Peter Ghyczy has passed away at the age of 81.

By Thomas Wagner.

Anyone who hears the name Peter Ghyczy inevitably thinks of the legendary “Garden Egg”, also known to many in Germany as the “Senftenberg Egg”. The early work from 1968 is undoubtedly the designer’s most famous design and should not be missing from any design-historical overview, especially since its form, color, material, function and attitude clearly pay homage to the equally open-minded and hedonistic zeitgeist of the pop era. Moreover, the history of the chic sitting egg with its fresh colour contrasts shows how intertwined design and production were in West Germany and East Germany during the Cold War era, since the fold-up seating furniture is still mistakenly considered a GDR design. The fact is that Ghyczy developed the Garden Egg chair for polyurethane manufacturer Elastogran/Reuter in Lemförde, Lower Saxony, but the company moved serial production to the GDR in 1971, where the waterproof sealable plastic eggs with removable cushions were manufactured by VEB Synthesewerk Schwarzheide near Senftenberg. Most of the production, since the seat eggs were too expensive for the East, went to the West, but did not find the hoped-for sales there either. The oil crisis, which made plastics more expensive, did the rest, its production was discontinued. It was only after the egg gained cult status as a vintage antique object in the 1990s that Peter Ghyczy reissued the design as part of his own collection in the Netherlands.

Colourful Gareden Egg chairs. Foto: Ghyczyselection. Published by Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under a “Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported” License.
The Garden Egg chair on an exhibition in the GDR
The Garden Egg chair on an exhibition in the GDR. Photo: Bundesarchiv. Published by Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under a “Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported” License.

A reserved loner

Chair S02
Chair S02. © GHYCZY

Despite the fame of the Garden Egg chair, Peter Ghyczy as a designer is still known mainly to insiders. If one believes the monograph “The Evolutioner” by Bernd Polster, this is not only a result of a lapse of memory in historical design research. The reasons for this, according to Polster, also lie in his reserved manner. Ghyczy had always remained a loner who kept his distance from the design business. It was also part of his attitude as a designer not to consider himself responsible for spectacular effects. Added to this: As a medium-sized producer, he did not appeal to a broad audience, especially with his glass tables and shelves. Cultural openness, design versatility and physical mobility did the rest and prevented Ghyczy’s work from becoming appropriately visible. “Ghyczy,” says Polster, “who was born in Hungary, has a German passport, a house in Holland and a large, cross-border family. Because his life has also never been one-dimensional and static, he has made the improvement of things – read evolution – his guideline.”

After ruminating on the concept of design and the problematic creatorship of those who design, Ghyczy confessed in his “Thoughts on Design”: “Although it does me good to be allowed to tweak creation a bit and perhaps even to have tweaked one or two things, the truth of course lies somewhere in between, as always. This already shows the different titles with which designers have been inundated lately: There are star designers, top designers and designer of the year. Wouldn’t it be nice if the title of intelligent designer was awarded somewhere?”

Wanderer between East and West

Peter Ghyczy was born on 1 December , 1940, and grew up in the Buda district of the Hungarian capital as the child of a wide-ranging, aristocratic family. In 1945, after the invasion of the Red Army, during which his father was killed, he came to the family estate of Vásárosnamény in the Puszta, where he attended the village school. In 1947 he was sent to Belgium for a year by the Red Cross and learned French. In 1952 the estate was expropriated, and he returned to his mother in Budapest. In 1956, after the suppression of the Hungarian popular uprising against the communist regime, he fled with his mother and brother via Vienna to Bonn, where he graduated from high school in 1960. He then studied architecture with a focus on structural engineering at RWTH Aachen University, where he became an assistant to Rudolf Steinbach, a renowned architect, in 1961 and also worked at the faculty’s plastics institute. After working on a UNESCO project to save antiquities from a dam in Egypt, he graduated in 1967 with a thesis on a new type of school architecture.

Innovative products made of plastic

His career as a designer began when he took on a managerial position at the Elastogran company in Lemförde in the Diepholz district in 1968. The owner Gottfried Reuter, originally a chemist at Bayer in Leverkusen, was a luminary in the field of polyurethane technology and the holder of numerous patents. As enterprising as he was, Reuter set up his own design department for his group of companies, for which Ghyczy realized numerous designs between 1968 and 1972, including the Egg chair, and also designed the architecture of the Design Center, which opened in 1970, a building that itself broke new ground as “plastics architecture”.

GHYCZY showroom in Amsterdam
GHYCZY Showroom in Amsterdam. © GHYCZY

On the way to a plastic living world

Little is still known about the details of Ghyczy’s designs from those years, which were created in close interaction between technical development and product design in one of the first German design studios and were unique in the plastics industry of the time. According to Polster, in addition to new types of modular components such as emergency shelters and façade elements, the studio produced a wide variety of furniture, including chairs, bucket seats, living room landscapes, tables, shelves and plastic door fronts for offices and kitchens. Licenses were also granted to companies such as Drabert, Vereinigte Werkstätten, Vitra (then Fehlbaum GmbH) and Beylarian in the USA. However, the awakening did not last long: As early as 1972, the “Design Center” was closed again, and the building later demolished. Reuter sold his company to BASF, and polyurethane technology to the GDR at the same time.

In the same year, the designer founded the company Ghyczy + Co Design in Viersen and presented his first own furniture collection. This included tables without a frame, which were based on a clamping technique developed by Ghyczy, which makes it possible to connect glass and metal. The principle of the R 03 clamping console for a shelf can be found today – as a plagiarism – in every hardware store. Numerous filigree lamp designs were also created. In 1974, Ghyczy moved its headquarters to the Netherlands, where the company operated under the name Ghyczy Selection. In 1985, the company moved to Swalmen, where it still exists today.

Oriented to the purpose

For Peter Ghyczy, technology and design always formed a unity. Technical construction and cultural form were always combined with an affinity to the functionalism of the early 20th century, without, of course, paying homage to a uniform style and appearing dogmatic. “The constructor and aesthete,” Polster states, did not shy away “from borrowing from other epochs, be it Art Deco or antiquity.” Whether this was a case of “conscious eclecticism” remains to be seen. “My designs,” as Ghyczy himself put it, “are oriented to their purpose. They are based on technical solutions that I apply in a new way. Again and again, it is technology that strongly determines the form in my products. So, it’s the ratio that permeates the design. Still, designing can be a passion. And in this, the designer – I can only repeat – is truly close to the divine. After all, he is practicing a profession that gives him the chance to drive evolution forward.” Peter Ghyczy died in Venlo on March 10.

More about Peter Ghyczy

Peter Ghyczy’s designs are now in the care of his son’s foundation, the Felix Ghyczy Foundation, and can be ordered upon request. The Foundation we continue to work on his ideas and develop new products.

Visit Ghyczy.com, the website of the design and production studio of Peter Ghyczy and Felix Ghyczy.

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