David Vink reports from the 30th anniversary exhibition of Germany's museum for plastics design for this feature for Plastics News Europe.
The Plastic Icons exhibition presented both classic and modern plastic designs in Düsseldorf, Germany, in April and May. It was held at NRW Forum's Ehrenhof 2 museum to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the Deutsches Kunststoff Museum Verein (KMV).
Over an area of 250 square metres on the first floor, the museum presented 130 products made in plastics from the distant past through to today – an impressive display, yet only a small part of the 15,000 objects KMV keeps in storage made available to it by Messe Düsseldorf.
The items on display ranged from early Bakelite (phenol formaldehyde) radio receivers through to a 3D printed bicycle frame. The bicycle frame had reached the museum several days before it opened the Plastic Icons exhibition, said KMV president Dr Wolfgang Schepers at a 28 April press preview attended by Plastics News Europe.
Italian design studio EuroCompositi di Marco Genovese designed the Aenimal frame of the 3D-printed Bhulk prototype mountain bike, which won a gold award at the September 2015 Eurobike exhibition in Friedrichshafen. All3DP used the fused filament deposition 3D printing process with recycled polylactide acid (PLA) biodegradable plastic in a choice of 20 different colours. The lightweight Bhulk frame has an internal reinforcement grid structure to strengthen the PLA.
The Bhulk frame was accompanied at the exhibition by other plastic-framed bicycles. There was also a poster presenting BASF's “rethinking materials” in an electric velocipede. This is a redesign by the Ding3000 studio with BASF's Designfabrik of an 1865 bicycle, retaining the original outline shape and wheel proportions, but using a range of BASF's plastics and elastomers in 24 parts, with metal retained just for brake, axle and motor components.
The Plastic Icons exhibition was divided into themes of Drying, Eating, Hearing, Moving, Seeing, Sitting, Speaking and Writing. The Bhulk frame was displayed in the Moving area, along with the renowned blow-moulded polypropylene children's Bobby car. This has been in production at BIG-Spielwarenfabrik (now part of Simbie Dickie) in Burghaslach since 1972 up to today, with more than 19 million produced so far.
Sitting area exhibits included classic Panton chairs in GF-PP and ASA versions and the Myto chair designed by Konstantin Grcic in 2008 for Plank in BASF Ultradur Highspeed PBT. Also displayed was the Belleville chair designed by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra and produced since 2015 with gas assist injection moulding for its frame in the BASF Ultradur B3EG6 SI grade of polyamide. BASF used the chairs on its Fakuma 2015 fair stand.
Bakelite was shown in several early hairdryer designs, providing an early cool-touch alternative to uncomfortably hot metal housings. A later Braun HLD4 hairdryer (1970) was housed in polystyrene and PVC.
The oldest exhibit, the VE 301 W Bakelite Volksempfänger radio bears the number 301, referring to the date of 30.1.1933 when the National Socialists grasped power in Germany. The Bakelite‑housed radio had been intended as a means to achieve ideological conformity, Schepers said. Twenty-eight German companies were ordered to produce the radio, with nine million of them finally produced.
A Bakelite-housed TV was also on display in the Seeing section: a TV22U model produced by Bush Radio in 1948. Its housing is similar to radios of that time, with the usual loudspeaker aperture taken up by a cathode ray tube.
It was accompanied, among other TVs, by a highly sculptured RFT Colani TV-72 4000H television designed by Luigi Colani in 1996 (KMV referred in the past to PMMA for the housing, but named ABS in this example). This TV was an unsuccessful attempt to keep the former East German TV producer RFT Staßfurt in production after German reunification by having a product aimed to be competitive in the world market, Schepers explained.
The Writing area included various typewriters such as the ABS-housed Olivetti Valentine (1969-1975), along with early computers such as Apple's clamshell design iBook laptop (1999‑2006) and iMac PC (1998) with translucent polycarbonate housings.
Schepers explained that the first KMV exhibition had also been in the Ehrenhof museum, in 1998 during the K 1998 fair, and it had been originally intended to be a permanent exhibition. But this could not be justified, despite support from Messe Düsseldorf and the German plastics producers' trade association VKE (now PlasticsEurope Deutschland), Schepers explained, “so we went over to a travelling exhibition”.
Locations where the exhibits have gone on display for short periods include K 2012, the NRW parliament in Düsseldorf, Composites Europe in Düsseldorf, Saarbrücken historical museum, Düsseldorf airport and various universities. There was also a display at K 2016.
“To put a positive turn on it, we now go to the people to bring our message to them,” Schepers said.
Schepers and KMV curator Uta Scholten have put together a 146-page Plastic Icons book, published by Avedition in Stuttgart. Other contributors to the book include one of the museum founders, Dietrich Braun, professor for macro-molecular chemistry at Darmstadt University, and Friederike Waentig, restoration and conservation sciences professor at Cologne Technical University and a member of the KMV presidium. In a foreword, Braun looks at the history of plastics, while Waentig writes about conservation and restoration towards the end of the book.
Appropriately, the book's blue soft-touch cover bears an image of a Panasonic R72 Toot‑a‑Loop radio, produced with an ABS housing by Matsushita in 1969‑1972. The Toot‑a‑Loop was also at the Plastics Icon exhibition, suspended from the ceiling.