2 Min Lesezeit
Willy Guhl, Blumenkistchen, 1954, Design Collection, Museum für Gestaltung Zurich, Photo: Photography class © ZHdK

Willy Guhl (1915 to 2004) is undoubtedly one of Switzerland’s design pioneers. He not only designed world-famous seating furniture such as the beach chair made of Eternit or Europe’s first plastic seat shell, but also practised a design approach oriented towards people and their needs for decades and passed this on to generations of Swiss designers as a teacher. The exhibition “Willy Guhl: Thinking with your hands” at the Museum für Gestaltung Zurich from 9 December to 26 March 2023 provides an insight into Guhl’s holistic and practice-oriented work.

Whether he was designing flower boxes, bathtubs, stools, candlesticks or an agricultural vehicle, for Willy Guhl design should be useful, suitable for the material, durable and accessible to all. For this reason alone, his designs are still exemplary today. At the Zurich School of Applied Arts (today’s ZHdK), he carried his own creative work directly into his teaching. Conversely, the themes of the teaching influenced his designs. Guhl himself had attended the “Interior Design” class at the School of Arts and Crafts under Wilhelm Kienzle in the 1930s. Later, under his direction, it became “Interior Design and Product Design”. Designing was no longer done exclusively at the drawing board. Models were built in the workshop to test ideas. The direct experimentation in the material, the announcement says, the “designing in the making” is “a way of thinking of its own, which is called ‘thinking with the hands’ in the exhibition project”. This “embodied knowledge”, which is “based on the perception of all the senses, cannot be written down, but can be discovered in drawings, models or photographs”. During the war, when Switzerland participated in the reconstruction of largely destroyed Europe from 1940 onwards and materials were scarce, Guhl designed parcel furniture. His approach to design continued to evolve, from “good form” in the 1950s to the non-conformism of the 1970s and the booming design industry of the 1980s. In the process, Guhl remained true to himself and his values, but remained open to new technologies and the changing challenges of the time.

The exhibition is based on a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. In addition to design processes, furniture and product design, photographs from Guhl’s estate are presented. In addition to a film portrait from 1985, interviews with former students such as Hansruedi Vontobel, Klaus and Rosmarie Vogt, Robert Haussmann, Carmen Greutmann, Alois Rasser, Pit Wyss, Silvio Schmed and Stefan Zwicky will be shown. Guhl’s design thinking can also be experienced physically in the exhibition with specially made exhibits. The exhibition is accompanied by the publication “Willy Guhl – Denken mit den Händen” edited by Renate Menzi and published by Lars Müller Publishers. It is available in German and English and costs CHF 45. The exhibition programme with talks and guided tours can be found on the website.

More on ndion

Discover more articles on the topic of design.

Share this page on Social Media:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email