Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand
Nicola von Albrecht: Herbert Hirche and the Braun Enterprise

Nicola von Albrecht

Herbert Hirche and the Braun Enterprise

"This company, I mean the 'head', the top was like very open. It had left everything behind, wanted to break new ground – mainly the credit of Erwin Braun and Fritz Eichler. He was an artistic man, came out of the film industry and he played a very important role at Braun, for everything to do with design. That was a very nice cooperation. I would go there, you would introduce, present your ideas, very personal. Only the 'head' was there, the two Brauns, Eichler. A very private meeting. For technical issues, the respective experts would join in, where you had to make your point then. Once I had a terribly tough discussion with a production manager, later, for a later television. But I made my point, it was done this way and no other. But also before: It was important to be accepted. And that was actually the case. I was always a personality there, let's say, whose ideas were accepted." 1)


This is how Herbert Hirche described the character of meetings at Braun. Erwin Braun also recalled that Herbert Hirche, besides his own design work, was a key figure when it came to convincing skeptical employees of the company of the new product design concept. 2) Hirche was one of the pioneers of the new Braun design (fig. 1).


He developed some successful radio, phono and television sets. And he worked as an architect for Erwin Braun, to whom he was connected in deep and respectful friendship. It was based on the common search for design quality, for intellectual and human attitude.

Herbert Hirche, a carpenter, an architect with Bauhaus diploma, a former assistant to Mies van der Rohe, and a member of the Deutsche Werkbund had gained a reputation after 1945 as a furniture designer and also as a propagandist for the so-called "good shape" as a means for social reconstruction. In 1949, he designed the Stuttgart exhibition "Wie wohnen?" (How to live?). His 1952 exhibition "Gute Industrieform" (Good industrial design) at the Kunsthalle Mannheim showed series products from a vast variety of industries. The spectrum covered everything from Porsche cars to ballpoint pens. "Good and functional design for industrial products is one of the most important cultural challenges of our time" was the main idea that greeted visitors in the entrance hall. Back then, Herbert Hirche was planning to establish an applied arts academy in Mannheim focusing on the Bauhaus with a separate department for "Industrial Design". The intention of the exhibition was to convince the local industry of the education of industrial designers. The academy project failed as in 1951 the public funds were granted the academy in Ulm. In 1952, Herbert Hirche answered the call of the Stuttgart Academy of Art and Design. As a professor for interior design and furniture construction, he extended the workshops there and advanced the idea of establishing a new department for "Industrial Design". Much of his own furniture was developed to series production standards in the academy workshops and in the 1950s and 1960s produced by Christian Holzäpfel, Walter Knoll, Wilkhahn, Deutsche Werkstätten, and Wilde+Spieth. All of which are Werkbund members who shared with Braun the vision of establishing a modern culture of living and product design. In 1953, Herbert Hirche equipped the exhibition "Schönheit der Technik" (The beauty of technology) at the Landesgewerbeamt in Stuttgart. He was a member of the German Design Council. The young Verband Deutscher Industrie-Designer elected Herbert Hirche advisor and mentor in 1959. For many years, Herbert Hirche presided over the VDID.


The well-balanced proportions and consistent simplicity of his furniture, their functional austerity and discrete elegance is also characteristic for Herbert Hirche's radio-phonographs, which he was commissioned to design by Braun at the end of 1955. In January 1956, Herbert Hirche arrived in Frankfurt with a first draft. On August 31, the radio-phonographs 'HM 1' to 'HM 4' were presented at the Electronic Exhibition in Stuttgart – and were well received by the public. The magazine "Funk-Fachhändler" wrote: "Looking at these new models, one is inclined to say that this – presumably due to most precise market research – really puts the dot on the i of the current program." 3) The wooden legs acknowledged the taste of conservative consumers. Braun's intention was to offer a modern but slightly less technically looking line of products with Herbert Hirche for exactly this type of customer in addition to the Ulm program.



For Christian Holzäpfel, Herbert Hirche had put his furniture program 'DHS 20' on rectangular steel profiles in 1954. 4) Herbert Hirche's music and television center 'HFK' (1956) had a steel frame (fig. 2). Also due to its loudspeaker cover painted in white that ranged across the entire width of the device – Herbert Hirche did not cover it with fabric – the 'HFK' had a more technical look than the 'HM' models. With its vertical sound slots it already featured a design element which should later become characteristic of the television set 'HF 1'. Some pictures of a radiophonograph model (one version of the 'HM 5'), which never went into series production, are still existent: It also featured a dominant, presumably gray loudspeaker front with vertical slots (fig. 3). However, the versions built in 1957 featured a homogeneous wood face, which provided for a more comfortable look: 'HM 5' with steel and 'HM 6' with wood frame.


The show apartments of the International Building Exhibition opened in the Berlin Hansaviertel in 1957 were almost exclusively equipped with Braun devices, including Herbert Hirche radio-phonographs. Interbau then was the most important showcase for a modern culture of living propagated by the Werkbund. A culture of living that does not focus on the residents' need for representation but on the practical value of things. A great success for Braun.Herbert Hirche furnished three of the apartments with his own models (fig. 4) and commented his furnishing: "For me, it was important to show what contemporary living could be like today and tomorrow, with all the comfort but without everything that is not essential; despite reduced and stringent shapes, providing the possibility for harmony, peace, and a calm atmosphere. The atmosphere of a room as the basis for a modern and also healthy lifestyle!" 5) This illustrates how much his work corresponded to the corporate philosophy of Braun. Also the Grand Prix of the eleventh Triennale di Milano for the entire corporate program was a triumph for Braun. Herbert Hirche's 'HM 5' stood in the German living pavilion furnished by the head of the Munich interior design information center Brigitte d'Ortschy (fig. 5). This pavilion additionally received a silver medal. Herbert Hirche also integrated his radio-phonographs into shelf units or mounted them freely as a sideboard on the wall, as in the living room he furnished for Christian Holzäpfel in 1957 (fig. 6). In 1957 he also designed his radio set
'TS 3'. "I was a bit, I don't want to say sad, because I was so .... limited to this phono furniture. I was actually only able to free myself with this one television, where I really did my own design object for once..." (Herbert Hirche 1996). 6)


Already in 1956, Herbert Hirche had built a television set into his music and television center 'HFK'. The screen could be hidden behind a door. At the 'HFS' the doors could even be locked – a real closet. Only with the 'FS 3' and the 'FS 4', internal Braun drafts that had been developed further, but in particular with his 'HF 1', Herbert Hirche designed television sets that did not hide their personality as a technical device behind a furniture cover. The 'HF 1' with its gray plastic coating was entirely lacking visible wood (fig. 7). As the first television with a plastic front it made design history. Placing the control elements on top of the device was a radical and forward-thinking idea. Except for the power button and the loudspeaker slots, there was nothing to distract the eye from the screen. Nonetheless, this solution was also based on functional and ergonomic aspects: The user did not have to bend down in front of the device. The development of a rotating foot for additional comfort had also been planned. 7)


Drafts dated December 16, 1957 that were never realized show subtle differences in the number and arrangement of the vertical loudspeaker slots and slight changes in the proportions of the screen. Also, for some versions, the control elements are not hidden under a cover (fig. 8). Version C shows the loudspeaker as a separate element (fig. 9).
In version D, it has been integrated into the enclosure, however, the view of the device is closer to the 'FS 3' as Herbert Hirche did not plan a plastic mask for this version that would unify the entire front of the device (fig. 10). With these drawings, Herbert Hirche's struggle for order and details, for solutions perfect in design and function become visible.

While the 'HF 1' was still acclaimed at the 1958 Brussels world exhibition, talks had already started with Erwin Braun and Hagen Gross about the development of a 21" television set whose enclosure should look similar to the 'HF 1'. 8) At the same time, Herbert Hirche was working on the radio-phonograph 'HM 8' or rather 'HM 10', which went into series production in 1959 under the designation 'R 10' and was exhibited at the 1964 documenta III in the industrial design section. Herbert Hirche's radio-phonograph 'R 22/23' was the last one in the series of Braun phono furniture. A radio-phono combination with an aluminum enclosure drafted in January 1962 did not go into production (fig. 11). 9) "The entire phono furniture sector was running out, and for the television range, well, I had given one last impulse there and then another department took over. The Ulm people were already gone then, so Dieter Rams did everything with his office." (Herbert Hirche 1996) 10)


The "impulse" was the television set which was called 'HF 2' during the development phase and would later go into series production under the designation 'FS 6'. "It was actually like this, the technology developed so fast that e.g. such a device, only one or two series would be running of it, then its technology was already outdated. Suddenly there were more channels or the entire technical chassis did not fit anymore into such an enclosure. Then you would, I also did that, build bigger ones. That's what the development was like." (Herbert Hirche 1996) 11)


At the beginning of 1959, Braun received new chassis from Telefunken. The front of the new draft had to be adapted to the new radius of the television tube. In February, Herbert Hirche's office delivered first drafts. One version already shows an asymmetric arrangement of the loudspeaker and the control elements (fig. 12). The front was rebuilt with plaster material at the academy workshops. 12) At a model presentation in Frankfurt on July 2, 1959, the new front plate was accepted and a new color scheme was defined. 13) But actually the 'FS 6' went into production only three years later. 'FS 5' and 'FS 51' were launched on the market whose appearance was hardly different from the 'FS 4'. The television set 'FS 6' was Herbert Hirche's last work as a designer for Braun.


On his birthday on August 29, 1958, Erwin Braun took Herbert Hirche to Königstein in the Taunus to show him a piece of land. There, Herbert Hirche built an apartment complex at ground level for him. In one of the apartments Erwin Braun would live for some years himself – "some particularly happy years", as he wrote later (fig. 13). 14) Herbert Hirche also worked as an architect at the industrial area Schanzenfeld. Many years, Herbert Hirche was an active member of the Braun Prize jury. He provided advice to Erwin Braun when planning his institute for preventive medicine in Engelberg (Switzerland) and was the owner representative from 1978-1980. The mutual recognition was also expressed by Erwin Braun's generous support for Herbert Hirche's monographic exhibition "herbert hirche. architektur innenraum design"(herbert hirche. architecture interior design), which opened at the Landesgewerbeamt in Stuttgart on February 16, 1978 and traveled to Darmstadt, Essen, and Berlin afterwards. Fritz Eichler gave the opening speech at the Institut für technische Form in Darmstadt. He characterized his former colleague as follows: "He is not one of those people who know everything right from the beginning, but he was always persistent in looking for the best solutions. His works tell how much effort was required until they took shape. For the rest, he never was an 'easy' employee...". 15)




The Herbert Hirche inheritance was given to the Werkbundarchiv-Museum der Dinge (WBA-MDD) in Berlin in 2004. On the occasion of the architect's and designer's 100th birthday, the exhibition "brilliant gray" made parts of the inheritance accessible to the public for the first time.A book based on the exhibition is expected to be published in 2012.

Source:Von Albrecht, N.: Herbert Hirche and the Braun Enterprise. In: Jatzke-Wigand, H.; Klatt, J.: The Development of the Braun Design. In: Design+Design zero, Hamburg December 2011, 1. Auflage, 76-87

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