Interview: “Exemplary region for change through design”

Professor Matthias Wagner K, director of the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt, is aiming to make Frankfurt RheinMain the World Design Capital 2026.

Professor Wagner K, how did you come up with the idea of the application for World Design Capital?

First of all, I should mention that the initiative for the city and for the Frankfurt RheinMain region to apply for the title of World Design Capital came from the Werkbundakademie Darmstadt. Experts from the worlds of culture, art, and business were brought on board to produce an initial exposé, and that was enough to convince the politicians of the importance of an application like this. That is what led to the current backing: the City of Frankfurt, with the Department of Science and Culture taking the lead, in cooperation with the towns, districts, and municipalities in the region and supported by the Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain. At the end of last year they approached me and tasked me with managing the venture, and a project manager with as great knowledge of the subject was brought on board in the person of Daniela Kupetz.In the project office that was set up in the Museum of Applied Arts, the different threads of the application process are now all coming together.

What is required to become World Design Capital?

The criteria for selection of a city or region as WDC include a high density of creative people, companies in the design industry, and design infrastructures, but also a desire to make use of the broad opportunities and areas of application for design in order to develop exemplary new solutions for the complex challenges associated with shaping a future that offers a high quality of life.

What does Frankfurt RheinMain have to offer that is unique?

As a vibrant residential, business and cultural metropolitan area, Frankfurt RheinMain has often been a model region for comprehensive social change through design. More than 550 years ago Johannes Gutenberg from Mainz invented the printing press with movable type and thus triggered a media revolution which crucially influenced social developments such as humanism and the Reformation. In the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, the National Assembly drew up the first democratic constitution for Germany in 1848. Then there is German Art Nouveau as a reform movement as is expressed in Darmstadt, or the emancipatory, design-oriented course set by the Deutscher Werkbund founded in 1907 as a business-cum-cultural association of artists, architects, businesses, and experts, not to mention Frankfurt itself. All of these have repeatedly been centres of modern design. Under the name of “Das Neue Frankfurt” (“The New Frankfurt”), the design utopia encompassed not only the well-known housing construction programme initiated by Ernst May, but also from the 1920s onwards universal aspirations in the areas of fashion, interior, industrial, product, and communications design. With new forms, the applied and liberal arts permeated all areas of human life. We see this as a profound basis that is set to find new momentum in the Frankfurt RheinMain application entitled “Design for Democracy. Atmospheres for a better life”.

How do you rate the chances of becoming World Design Capital?

We recently held a presentation for renowned representatives of the German arts and cultural world. The conclusion was that exactly the topics included in the title of our application, the basis of it and the resulting design offensive are of global interest, and this application from Germany, from Frankfurt RheinMain, should also be given the greatest possible support from the constitutional bodies of the Federal Republic of Germany. This makes us cautiously optimistic.

And what can we look forward to when the time comes? We can look forward to a new movement driven by responsibility and optimism, and by active participants and designers who are willing to design and develop credible new opportunities for a democratic culture of freedom, for more maturity and a better life – one that goes beyond our own wellbeing and fosters that of future generations.

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