In the Learning from the Bauhaus series, Wilkhahn looks at the company’s ties with the legendary school of design. Following a foreword and explanation of the historical context, the second part is all about architect and Bauhaus student Herbert Hirche, his furniture and architectural designs for and his influence on Wilkhahn.
Herbert Hirche (born in Görlitz in 1910 and died in Heidelberg in 2002) is one of Germany’s major post-war-modernist architects and designers who had a key influence on Wilkhahn’s design mindset. After completing a carpentry apprenticeship, he studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau from 1930-33 before following Mies van der Rohe to Berlin who employed him at his studio when the Bauhaus school closed. Until Mies emigrated, Hirche worked there on various projects, one of which was his first residential house, Haus Krum in Niederhausen. From 1939-45, he worked for Egon Eiermann and after the war was a key player in the planning group under Hans Scharoun for the reconstruction of Berlin. Just two years later, he had already resigned from his post as professor for applied art at Kunsthochschule Weissensee in East Berlin, which he had accepted in 1948, due to arguments about the style and form of the buildings on Karl-Marx Allee because the SED party was discrediting modernism. In 1952, he was employed by the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart to lecture in interior design and furniture making until 1975 and was also chancellor there from 1969-71.
Alongside these positions, Hirche also ran his own architectural studio specialising on interior design and furniture making from the 1950s onwards. And that was how he got to know Fritz Hahne and came to create lots of successful models for Wilkhahn. Above all, by collaborating with him, the company transformed from being a chair manufacturer to a contract furnisher. It was no longer just making standalone pieces of furniture such as chairs or tables but began to think in terms of series of chair, table and sofa families. At the same time, Wilkhahn started to design and produce complete furnishing for offices, educational organisations, nursing facilities or office buildings. The 480 series by Herbert Hirche is a typical example.
However, Hirche’s most important work for Wilkhahn was the new office building: at the end of the 1950s, the company employed around 350 people and was bursting at the seams. The premises had been consistently expanded but offices took a back seat in favour of the production department’s increasing need for space required to saw, dry and store wood. Wilkhahn was able to purchase a few adjacent fields and even the founders’ gardens had to be sacrificed. Hirche designed a two-storey, light-flooded, steel-concrete building with brickwork filling and a flat roof on Im Landerfeld Road. The clearly structured building originally consisted of two open-plan storeys, with the bottom one used as a showroom and the top as an open-plan office. The latter was divided up into single offices and conference rooms later on, which did restrict the feeling of spaciousness but didn’t spoil the outward appearance at all.