Craft Union

Plaid and Stefi Orazi Studio give us the lowdown on their collaboration for the exhibition design of Craft Becomes Modern: Bauhaus in the Making at the Bauhaus Dessau...

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

Craft Becomes Modern: Bauhaus in the Making, which is currently on show within the former weaving workshop at the Bauhaus Dessau, is the first in a series of exhibitions to be held at the institution in celebration of the forthcoming centenary of the Bauhaus in 2019. The exhibition focuses on the role of craft at the Bauhaus, investigating its historic practice within the workshops and the intersection of craft and industrial production explored within the school, which continues to be an important area of enquiry for designers and makers to this day. Exhibits include Bauhaus objects, textiles and documents alongside the tools and machines used in their creation, and a selection of contemporary projects by designers including Formafantasma, Álvaro Catalán de Ocón and Assemble.

The exhibition is designed by London-based practices Plaid and Stefi Orazi Studio, who worked together to develop an installation and visual language for the show that responds to the themes and concepts within. We caught up with them both to discover more about the creative solutions they came up with to display such a diverse range of exhibits, and to find out what it's like to design an exhibition for such a revered and iconic client. First up, Brian Studak of Plaid talks us through their approach to the three-dimensional aspects of the exhibition and tells us how it all came about...

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

Working on an exhibition about the Bauhaus would be a dream project for many designers; how did the project come about, and what was the brief?
Brian Studak: The Bauhaus Foundation contacted us very unexpectedly. We received a crisp and official-looking package in the post which contained a project brief and an invitation to present our ideas to the curators in Dessau one month later. The exhibition content certainly resonated with our studio's output and our way of working, so we were really excited to be invited. We immediately contacted Stefi to work on the pitch with us as she has such a passion for modernism.

How did you incorporate craft into the 3D design and production of the exhibition?
BS: We integrated craft in the exhibition feel and the simplicity of the exhibition build. The majority of the objects on display are visually quiet—for example, there are over 100 documents on display—so in order for the design to fulfil a supporting role and not overshadow the content, it needed a subtle narrative of its own. We set up rules relating to fabrication, primarily about making the assembly of parts and build production visible. Some of those rules were very mundane, such as not hiding fasteners, exposing edges of substrates, keeping all solid timber products in their raw and unfinished state, using only standard dimensioned timber etc. These rules of simplified production provides the exhibition with a strong, rational, workshop feel. We were also quite keen not to try and recreate any of the original workshop furniture as that wouldn't have been authentic.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

The exhibition is set in the weaving workshop of the Bauhaus building in Dessau—did this space pose any particular challenges to the design of the exhibition, and how did you overcome them?
BS: The original Bauhaus building is quite strongly protected, which meant that our exhibition couldn't permanently affect the building in any way. The whole exhibition design needed to be freestanding, which can be difficult with larger structures, but we like to work this way so it wasn't really a problem.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

The exhibition presents a wide range of different objects and works in a variety of form factors. Can you describe the approach you took to their display throughout?  
BS: A modular display approach certainly seemed to fit the bill for an exhibition on early modernism. We wanted the content to be displayed in an informal way so we arrived at a series of low table design supported by workshop trestle legs. The tables are formed as trays to allow the displays, however disparate, to visually connect. There are other variations on this approach throughout the space.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

Tell us about the participatory aspects of the exhibition, and how the design facilitates this?
BS: We wanted some aspect of craft, creation and/or process to be part of the visitor experience. There were several routes that we tabled for this and we eventually settled for a visitor-lead exhibition catalog assembly activity. This is housed within an open workshop space that sits between the Contemporary display and Bauhaus display. Two very large tables were constructed to allow this to be as collective an activity as possible. It’s a great space for discussion.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

Stefi Orazi Studio is a London-based design practice whose work mainly focuses on publication and exhibition design. The studio collaborated with Plaid for Craft Becomes Modern: Bauhaus in the Making, working together from the outset to develop a cohesive approach to the exhibition design in both two and three dimensions. Stefi Orazi tells us more...

How did you and Plaid work together to develop the visual language of the exhibition?
Stefi Orazi: I’ve worked with Plaid on a number of exhibition projects in the past. We approach things in a similar way, and share a similar aesthetic also. The boundary between graphics and exhibition design is fluid when discuss initial design ideas. It’s very much a collaborative approach.

Brian from Plaid had some early sketches of the exhibition design that he had presented to the Bauhaus for the pitch, so some of the 3D language was already in place when I got involved. It was important that the graphics felt part of his overall architecture.

What were the particular design and technical challenges within this project?
SO: I am used to being very hands on with production and dealing with printers etc. The fact that the Bauhaus is in Germany was challenging, as most of the production was done there.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

Tell us about the digitally woven text panels created for the show—what made you choose this particular process, and how were the panels created?
SO: The idea of of having the panels woven came to me very early on. The exhibition is in the original weaving workshop, so it seemed fitting. I actually presented the idea to the Bauhaus before I knew it was actually possible! They bought into it instantly, and luckily I managed to find one company, WOVNS in San Francisco, who can produce jacquard textiles by the yard, from a digital file. Working with such a new technology and using it for something that it wasn’t intended for—i.e. text as opposed to patterns—was really exciting. WOVNS were also really up for the challenge; there was quite a lot of sampling to the get it right, and the end result was always going to be a bit of an experiment, but I felt that was quite Bauhaus in spirit.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

Can you explain the thinking behind the use of colour throughout the exhibition graphics?
SO: As Plaid's scheme for the space is very monochrome, I wanted to inject some colour in a very controlled way. The exhibition is in dual languages—German and English—so using two colours for the two languages seemed obvious. I opted for a slightly brighter version of the classic Bauhaus primary colours of red and blue.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

What was the rationale behind your choice of type for the exhibition?
SO: As you can imagine, there’s quite a lot of pressure designing something for the Bauhaus. You can’t give ‘Bauhaus typography' to the Bauhaus! It needed to be contemporary without it feeling too much of the moment. It’s best not to overanalyse these decisions, but to choose something that feels and sits right. I opted for Radim Pesko’s F Grotesk.

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

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Opening of the exhibition "Craft becomes Modern. The Bauhaus in the Making" Bauhaus Dessau, 12.4.2017 / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Photo: Thomas Meyer / OSTKREUZ

Craft Becomes Modern: Bauhaus in the Making
Until 7 January 2018
Bauhaus Foundation Dessau
Gropiusallee 38
06846 Dessau-Roßlau
Germany

bauhaus-dessau.de
plaid-london.com
stefiorazi.co.uk