Results from Ulm
Atlanta suburban development

Reflections on Ulm: when does cultural method become style

One of the cool things about being in Ulm, Germany last week was to see why many of the decisions around the Modern, International methods of design make sense. For example, German words are very long, so condensed typefaces make sense. The Post-WWII relations between Germany and the rest of Europe were dismal, so it made sense to develop typefaces without national markers as German, Italian, French, especially in Switzerland where all "national" groups reside. So the erasure of ethnic markers was important to the development of Europe. You can see in the order of the farms, the towns, and the desire to distance oneself from an medieval past and the economy of space in the hyperdensity of Europe make more necessary the rationality of the grid. So to be in Ulm where the reason for this is clear and transparent makes me wonder the appropriateness of this method in an American context. In an American context, does it just become "style" because the cultural-historical meaning is not apparent nor relevant?

For example, American words are not especially long. The "erasure" of ethnic markers now has a negative connotation tied to cultural assimilationist policies. The vast expanse of space enables a certain flexibility that the grid does not allow for. So what is the cultural method of the US as it relates to design that is as aligned to the "values and needs" of American society as the Modern International methods were to Post-WWII Europe? Are these the experimentations of Cranbrook and the West Coast Schools?

The interesting thing is that with the EU, the context for design in Europe has changed.  Yes, you still have the long words, but will future generations need the "old" markers of national identity to engage in the superstructure of the EU? Will nationalist typefaces need to come back as a way to challenge the homogenizing force of the EU? Will the grid need to loosen as more flexibility in needed to accommodate Romanians going to school in England and the influx of immigrants from around the world?

What will be the EU cultural method of design? What is that of the US's?


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