Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand

Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand

Hifi Wall Units by Braun


„The design of the modular Wall system tuned out as I had imagined it: to develop a system where the design was more related to technology and operation. In 1965, I installed it at my home. I never removed it. The unit is still functioning and acustically impeccable" (Dieter Rams,1995) 1).

In 1965, Dieter Rams created a formally and technologically innovative, classic wall system, consisting of control unit (TS 45), tape recorder (TG 60) and two loudspeakers (L 450) an utility value standard within the development of hifi systems (fig. 1 and 2) 2)3).
What must be examined: Are there any historical connections to this wall unit? What are the design rerequisits that Dieter Rams took into account when designing the audio system? Are there any successive model? Are there examples of aesthetic equivalents to this wall unit in modern art?


Historical Context (I): 'Phonola Radio'


In 1939 Achille and Per Giacomo Castiglioni, together with Luigi Dominioni, designed the Phonola radio (fig. 3) 4). In cooperation with the designers, technicians reduced the minimized chassis measurements and also those of the electronic circuits. A revolutionary design: the form of the white and brown duroplast housing follows the chassis - the formal design and the technological construction were directly related to each other. The dominating form of the loudspeakers stressed their function of intermadiary between radio and listener 5). For the brothers Castiglioni, the symmetrically arranged operating elements and the square-shaped scale were of great importance for functionality 6).


Per Giacomo Castiglioni stressed the multifunctional utility of the radio set when he designed it for table and wall operation (fig. 4) 7). In 1939 the Phonola radio set represented a useful device throughout the entire radio manufacture league - it became the classical predecessor of the wall unit.


Historical Context (II): The Hifi Modular System by the Gugelot Group.


Between 1954-1957 Hans Gugelot designed radios, phono and TV sets for the Max Braun Inc. 8). Hans Gugelot was lecturer of product design at the HfG Ulm and he was a strong believer in the theory of modular systems, the combination of existing space measurements and design. He did not separate record players, radios and TV sets, but for him they were components of a complex media system. In 1958 the Max Braun Inc. commissioned the Gugelot group with the development of further comprehensive design product studies. Hans Gugelot defined guidelines for the designing of modular hifi systems. The idea was „to come up with measurement coordinations, to work on common aspects for the arrangement of the sets as well as on standardised operating elements and scales" 9). Within the group, Herbert Lindinger examined the possible integration of different information devices in a suitable system (fig. 5). He defined basic positions for system integration and visualized them in model studies (fig. 6 and 7) 10). In 1959 the Max Braun AG failed to turned all gathered examination results into products. The design of moduls looked formally too puristic, production technology was unrealistic because of the common tubes used at that time and the very unsatisfactory development of tape recorders.


The Classic Wall Unit by Braun (TS 45, TG 60, 2x L 450)

Starting by the end of 1961 Dieter Rams - as head of Braun product design together with his team - developed a variable system „of units for the storage and reproduction in the living areas" 11)12).
Also in 1961, electronic experts experimented on the sector of the innovative transistor technology. Their consequent use became on the perequisists for the construction of powerful and compact moduls. In 1962, designers and technicans developed the control unit 'audio 1' for serial production. In formal design and technological know-how the 'audio 1' was to become a milestone within the development of hifi systems (fig. 8). Designers chose silver-colored eloxy aluminium as material for the protection lid covering the operating elements.


All elements of the 'audio 1' were arranged in a very strict manner. Light grey or dark grey operating elements stress there respective functions. The colour of the green mains switch served to explain the apparent use. The 'audio 1' control unit together with loudspeakers L 45 (L 50 or L 450) were optimally placed on a wall shelf 'vitsoe 606' designed by Dieter Rams. This combination looks like a wall unit (fig. 9).


Based on the control unit 'audio 1' Dieter Rams designed a whole system of differently arrangeable moduls: control units TS 45 (1965), the record player PS 400 (1965), the tape recorder TG 60 (1965) and the loudspeaker L 450 (1965) 13). Main focus of comprehensive basic research work was the creation of different moduls for an entire system in connection with their specific combinations (fig. 10 - 15).
Dieter Rams avoided edges and links, he designed the moduls in a rectangular form with corresponding measurements in depth and hight (28 cm or 11 cm) 14).

The robust steel plate housings were overlayed in white or grey. The use of identically measured parts reduced raw material and production costs 15). All operating elements and scales on the front side of the moduls T 45 (TS 40) or TG 60 were related to each other according to a strict orderly concept. Loudspeaker fronts were covered by an eloxy aluminium frame, slim housing edges render an impression of visual ease. The slim loudspeakers were placed on both sides of the TG 60 and the TS 45, which stressed the harmony of the classic wall unit - a convincing wall sculpture of great aesthetic expression.
Technicans tried to construct a high quality record player suitable for integration with the TS 45 and the TG 60 and also wall-montable. Lots of difficulties had to be met when trying to find solutions for technological problems, e.g. the quide mechanism of the pick-up arm. Trial with runs with a desk-shaped construction did not lead to satisfactory results. The record player PS 400, which was finally integrated in the system, can only be operated horizontally.

The connection devices of the moduls were sunk on the back of the unit. Wallfasteners allowed a complicated assembly. Dieter Rams himself installed the wall unit at Erwin Braun's home. "Not such an easy matter", was his opinion 16).


Aesthetical Equivalents: Sculptures by Donald Judd


Aesthetical equivalents to the classical wall system can be seen in the designs by American object artist Donald Judd (fig. 16). His artistical expression can be put into the category minimal art - his most striking feature was a reduced form 'vocabulary' 17).


For his sculptures the artist preferred steel and fibre glass. The construction was symmetrical. He did not present them - according to tradition - on a pedestal, but fastened them on the wall. In the scupture 'Without title' he arranged light blue fibre glass discs  inside of industrial cubes of aluminium sheets (fig. 16) 18). In front of these were thin aluminium plates in different combinations. The relationship between form and space; this is the aesthetical effect - it always changes according to the observer's point of view.

This scupture by the artist David Judd was a good example for a highly developed feeling for space, a rigorous distinction of form and feeling for proportions - just like the design of the wall system by designer Dieter Rams 19).


The Hifi Stereo Receiver 'regie 308' - the Succeeding System to the Classic Wall System


From 1970 onwards Braun found a new market by offering attractive prices and new specially created system forms for the younger generation 20). Designers experimented with plastic, a material especially suited for mass production. In 1973, the formal design of the hifi stereo receiver 'regie 308' (fig. 17) gained particular attraction. The cover lid was made of black, the lower frame of white plastic. The material determined the design of the strikingly large perforation diameters of the baffles simply by its proportions and manufacturing possibilities. The minimal housing height was defined by mains transformer measurements 21). Designers Dieter Rams and Peter Hartwein created a housing slightly slanted by 8 degrees - the system thus looked much slimmer. The 'regie 308' can be wall-mounted, but the expressionistic design of this system does not pose the strict distinctness of the classical wall unit.


Design Studies 'telecompact' and 'Audio Additiv Programm'


By the end of the 1970s Peter Hartwein revised the modularly constructed hifi system resulting in the making of the design study called 'telecompact', Roland Ullmann designed the 'Audio Additiv Programm' (fig. 18 and 19).

The hifi system 'telecompact' was equipped with remote control for all operating elements, a gadget that was brandnew at that time. Each component can be placed separately or can be fastened on the wall by means of a specially designed clamping rail which also housed all additional connection cables. A tilted fastener allowed the integration of the PDS 550 record player 22).

In the design study 'Audio Additiv Programm' (design Roland Ullmann) technicans combined loudspeakers and amplifiers to a powerful modul. This allowed for the use of micro chip technology. A second modul consisted of control and operating functions (fig. 19). The large display indicated all required informations of the individual system functions. The moduls with their matching basic housings made of pressurized zinc can be assembled in any possible arrangement (fig. 20). Regretfully, this convincing design study did not go into production - the market segment seemed to small to attempt mass production.


The Compact Audio System 'BeoSound Century'


The tradition of compact, flexible audio systems was continued (among others) in 1993 by the designer David Lewis who designed the system 'BeoSound Century' (fig. 21) for Bang & Olufsen 23). Radio, cassette desk, CD player and two integrated loudspeakers were the components of this system. The 'BeoSound Century' can be transported without problems, mounted on a functionally designed base or hung on the wall by means of a special fastener.


As Dieter Rams in the classical wall system, David Lewis optimized the operating elements of the 'BeoSound Century': the glass protection lid opened automatically by a slight hand movement. Blinking functional keys and the display with all relevant data indicate the selected functions. With this compact audio-system technicians and designers have managed to combine modern technnology and function as well as sensible design.




The classic wall unit was an important step in the development towards the integration of individual components into a complex system of different media. Conceptional data for the integration of new technologies in combination with innovative and especially practical design are necessary in our day and age. What must designers consider? Dieter Rams: "Simplicity, self - explanatory design quality of operating elements and of course the consequent consideration of an ecological choice of materials, production and recycling" 24).


Text: Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand



Jatzke-Wigand, H.: Hi-Fi Wall Units by Braun. In Design+Design 35, Hamburg 1996, 6-19

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