In September I was invited as a final juror for the 2009 BraunPrize for design students. The event took place at the Braun headquarters in the small town of Kronberg, east of Frankfurt, Germany. Four finalists had been selected to present their designs to the jurors who would then cast their votes. After the presentations, the finalists and the invited jurors gathered in the Braun headquarters:
Some 3-400 people gather in the large steel and glass hall. Most people stand at high café tables, chatting and sipping white wine. In the length of the hall, design models of all the runner-up entries are lined up on podiums which sit in a large water basin. The many guests study the models. Then a call for attention is heard on the loudspeakers. It’s time to reveal the winners.
Since the BraunPrize was first organised 41 years ago, it has grown from 122 participants from 14 countries in 1968 to 1074 participants from 54 countries in 2009. Among those, 58 runner-up participants were asked to hand in the physical models, a selection of which now sit in the water basin.
First, the winners of the separate BraunPrize China and BraunPrize Mexico are announced. The Chinese winners have designed a device which can be installed in mining shafts to protect miners in the case of shaft collapses and thus to save lives. The Mexicans have designed a simple collapsible water bottle with a carbon filter which can filter otherwise non-potable water.
The winner of the main competition is Johanna Shoemaker from Germany who designed a lamp, the Clam OLED lamp. By making use of the very flexible OLED technology, Shomaker’s lamp can change the intensity and colour of the light. It can therefore both reproduce natural light and be programmed to more dynamic light settings.
Although the BraunPrize is not aimed at developing new product for Braun’s own product lines of smoothly designed household appliances, Shoemaker’s design posseses a similar cool elegance. The same is true for one of the other finalist designs, a white cane by Tobias Stuntebeck.
The theme of the 2009 BraunPrize is “Envision Conscious Design”. This has been picked up enthusiastically by the many design students who have contributed to the competition. All entries show a consiousness about the capacity of design to make a difference – also for those who do not belong to the typically more affluent customers of Braun products.
On this background it may seem puzzling that the winning entry is a seemingly trivial low-energy lamp which would fit in any design furniture store. But Shoemaker’s design is more poetic than the otherwise more bold and potent entries – a sort of poetry which was also apparent in her very evocative presentation. It also showed a mastery of detail which may derive from her background in jewelry design.
The first prize includes the offer of a six months internship in the holy halls of the Braun Design Department. Talking to Shomaker after the prize ceremony, she told me that she might not accept the offer which would otherwise be the wet dream of most design students. Shomaker graduated from Wuppertal University in March and has worked for Carbon Group Design, Seattle, since then.
This entry is based on a small piece in Danish which I have co-written with my colleage Kaare Eriksen for the Arkitekten architecture Journal:
Steinø, Nicolai & Kaare Eriksen (2009) “BraunPrize 2009”. Arkitekten vol. 111, no. 11, 2009, p. 11