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Werhahn-Linie in Düsseldorf, © Jan Dimog / The Link

Designing #urbanana


Manufacture and Hi-tech & Bauhaus and Boomtowns

From traditional manufacturing concepts and the finest craftsmanship to innovation labs and hi-tech precision, you will find a love of good-quality products and sophisticated design in many unexpected places in the urban jungle of North Rhine-Westphalia. Here, the mantra “form follows function” often takes priority over a desire for decoration. The spirit that has been set in concrete in the cities, which don’t immediately stand out for their attractiveness, is often reflected in the furniture, fashion and product designs.

Clichés and contrasts

The Cologne design scene revolving around the “imm” furniture fair and the Designquartier Ehrenfeld, as well as the aura of luxury fashion in the “Kö” (the Königsallee shopping street) and the “Off-Kö” in Düsseldorf are just as much a part of #urbanana as the proverbial Gelsenkirchen Baroque and the idyll of the smallholdings. There, it is broken up by the pioneering spirit of the Ruhr Area enthusiasts, who are creating their own version of Ruhr urban life in places such as the Rotunde Bochum, Kultur im Turm e.V. (“Culture in the tower”, or KITEV), and the Dortmund Unionviertel district. For the astonished visitor, state of the art and a stubborn unwillingness to change result in a high-contrast snapshot of a transformation that is more exciting than some high-polished urban veneer.  

New perspectives on major changes

The aestheticisation of simple objects, the analytical perspective of the Düsseldorf photography school on the industrial structures of the coal fields, as well as the current reinterpretation of concepts of beauty, which for a long time has brought overlooked objects back into focus, is an expression of the spirit of the times.  Suddenly, through events such as Liebe Deine Stadt! (“Love your city!”) in Cologne or the commitment of projects such as the Ruhrmoderne, the beauty in the buildings of the 1950s and 60s, which were formerly the subject of derision, is now being discovered.

Then there is the appropriation of industrial buildings for creative use, with transformation projects the Exzenterhaus in Bochum, where a giant glass structure is placed on top of a water tower, or where a factory site is turned into the Factory Campus co-working space in Düsseldorf, or a gasometer becomes either a vast art space (in Oberhausen) or a diving pool (in Duisburg).

Creative and open

In #urbanana, the open, creative spirit is above all transferred from person to person, in thousands of small shops and at festivals ranging from Öko-Rausch sustainable design to .process, and from Robodonien to platine, at maker fairs, barcamps and in repair cafés. Also and in particular at the impressive tours of the academies and higher education institutions. The interaction is characterised by understatement rather than garishness. The Heimatdesign magazine asked 21 creatives to clear a path through their personal urban jungle in front of their studio doors and present their urban favourites, from the local doner kebab stall to fashion labels. After all, love flows into the products, not self-promotion.

A trialogue between art, fashion and design

The inspiration for the small fashion design studios in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Gelsenkirchen often comes from the great textile traditions in North Rhine-Westphalia. The patchwork nature of these traditions in a state that has always been a destination for immigrants forms a basis for the cosmopolitan activities around Jan Kath’s knotted carpet artworks in Bochum, just in the same way as the regional furniture industry has spawned the Marta Museum in Herfold. Art and design have long been in close dialogue here in the west, as the Folkwang-Impuls from Hagen, which propagates a reconciliation between art and life, testifies. The work of Peter Behrens, director of the Düsseldorf Kunstgewerbeschule (the Düsseldorf school of applied arts) and former representative of industrial design, also creates a bridge between art and design. Today, this interplay is presented to visitors from all over the world in a highly contemporary manner in the Museum of Applied Arts Cologne, the NRW Forum Düsseldorf, the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen and in the exhibitions of the Hartware MedienKunstVerein (Hartware media art association, or HMKV) in the Dortmunder U centre for art and creativity.

70 years as an experimental field for new building

For 70 years, #urbanana has also been an experimental field for new building. There are new discoveries to be made, from clever designs for new towns such as Marl, the brutalist high-rises of the post-war years and the Pritzker Prize-winning concrete of Gottfried Böhm through to the invention of industrial culture and waste dump art through to the Emscher-Park international building exhibition and the post-modern Lego-like star architecture in the Düsseldorf Medienhafen media harbour area.

The Link to #urbanana

The glittering panorama of a highly varied century of urban architecture is visible wherever you go. This includes the outstanding products of Brick Expressionism and early Bauhaus by Mies van der Rohe in Krefeld, the garden cities of Essen-Margarethenhöhe and the Kolonie Anna in Leverkusen, and the Zollverein World Heritage Site as a representative of the New Objectivity movement in Essen.

The purpose of The Link, an architecture and travel magazine, is to depict and describe this variety. It invites readers to experience the rough and the daring, successes and failures on site, and highly promising if hidden traces through the #urbanana Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region.  

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