November 2021

A design campus in Pillnitz Castle and Park: When a museum sets a precedent

With the Design Campus, the Dresden Decorative Arts Museum returns to its roots as a teaching and educational institution almost 150 years after its founding.

At the time, a reaction to the upheavals of industrialization, the founding concept is being recalibrated for the 21st century against the background of social transformation through digitalization and climate change and is conceived into the future - as a place and school for utopias.

A guest article by Thomas A. Geisler, director of the Decorative Arts Museum

Anyone who visits Dresden will of course know the Zwinger with the Meissen porcelain collection, the Green Vault as an art and treasury, the Old Masters with the Raphael Madonna, the Semper Opera and the rebuilt Frauenkirche. A detour to Pillnitz Castle and Park about ten kilometers up the Elbe, past the “Blue Wonder” - an impressive bridge built in early steel construction in the middle of the idyll, is an additional attraction for weekend guests. Then we recommend taking a trip on one of the paddle steamers along the Elbe meadows, bridges and castles to see what once thrilled the Romantics and contemporaries around Caspar David Friedrich in terms of landscape and at the beginning of the 20th century for the artist group “Die Brücke”. became eponymous. The complex in Pillnitz, conceived 300 years ago by the legendary Saxon Elector and Polish-Lithuanian King August the Strong as a pleasure and play palace, is now one of Europe's largest architectural monuments in the style of Chinoiserie, the highly popular Chinese fashion at the time. After a visit, many rave about this elysian place.

The newly founded company's first international summer school took place exactly here in August 2021 Design Campus of the Dresden State Art Collections. The castle and park were ideal because of their architectural and landscape design requirements, and both are already integrated into a research and training location, the so-called “Green Forum Pillnitz”. These include institutions such as the State Office for the Environment, Agriculture and Geology of the Free State of Saxony, the Julius Kühn Federal Research Institute for Crops and the Faculty of Agriculture, Environment and Chemistry at the University of Technology and Economics (HTW). Pillnitz also stands for a centuries-long tradition in gardening and garden art. These are good conditions for thinking about the future in a transdisciplinary manner with the neighboring design experts and the big questions surrounding climate change and a sustainable lifestyle.

From the Decorative Arts Museum to the Design Campus

The driving force and starting point of the Design Campus is that which has been temporarily housed in the mountain and water palace at Pillnitz Castle since 1963 Decorative Arts Museum. Along with a total of fourteen museums and various other institutions, it is part of the Dresden State Art Collections. The third largest museum network in Germany, whose history can be traced back to the art chambers of the Saxon Electors since the 16th century, today encompasses the modern and avant-garde in art, architecture and design. The collections, which manage several million objects, represent a thematic diversity and a fund that is internationally unique of its kind. The Decorative Arts Museum itself was founded in 1876 in the wave of decorative arts collections modeled on the South Kensington Museum in London (today's Victoria & Albert Museum) and now includes over 65.000 artifacts from antiquity through the Middle Ages to the present day. Gottfried Semper's concept of an “Ideal Museum”, organized according to materials and techniques, is considered a template that grew out of the spirit of the first world exhibition in 1851. The museum was seen as a teaching and educational institution for designers, craftsmen and producers (usually only accessible to women for training after 1900) and as a training facility for good taste among consumers. Across Europe and beyond, arts and crafts schools and museums were founded as study collections by state order in order to remain competitive in the competition of industrialization and its new world of mass-produced goods. Towards the end of the 19th century, this form of state creative and economic support brought about an enormous design boom and a new type of museum, which, in close connection with industry, research and teaching, had an unprecedented relevance for society and everyday life, as well as significantly training and the current professional profile of designers. (You can find a current research project at the Design Campus on the pioneers of design education before the Bauhaus here .)

A lack of will to reform, but also rapid technical and social change, as well as political upheavals, caused the former successful model of school and museum in tandem to fail at the beginning of the 20th century. In Dresden, where the arts and crafts school and museum were given a shared building for teaching and collection in 1908, the separation took place at the beginning of the First World War. Large parts of the city were destroyed by the bombing raid in February 1945, and subsequently and throughout the GDR era, the museum only found temporary locations. The longest interim since then has been in Pillnitz. Mart Stam wanted the successor institution to the arts and crafts school to become a “building school” with the traditional Academy of Fine Arts as director of both institutions. “State University for Fine and Applied Arts”, which failed in 1950. As a result, the Dresden University of Fine Arts founded. The examination of the eventful history and legacy of the museum, but also the genius loci at its current location in Pillnitz Palace and Park, which only allows exhibitions to be held during the spring and summer months, led to the author's appointment as director of the Dresden Decorative Arts Museum 2019 on the conception of the Design Campus.

The Design Campus sees itself as a year-round research and development platform for the contemporary further development of arts and crafts museums, with regard to expanded transcultural exchange and critical reflection on the previous Eurocentric and colonial perspectives on their own collections. In addition to a 6-week summer school, artistic and scientific research residencies, so-called labs, serve to initiate interdisciplinary projects and build an international network for collaborations. As a think tank, the Design Campus is a project of the Dresden State Art Collections and interacts with all of its collections and institutions, from the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony (SES), to the Green Vault in the Residenzschloss, the Neue Meister Gallery in the Albertinum and the Donation Hoffmann Collection right up to the archive of the avant-garde. The initiative is supported by the Free State of Saxony and the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media.

“Open Studio” of the Summer School 2021 on the Design Campus, Decorative Arts Museum of the Dresden State Art Collections, photo: Oliver Killig, ©SKD

A summer school for design and democracy

The first edition of the Summer School Class 2021 included a multi-week program of workshops, project work, lectures and discussions under the guiding theme of “Design & Democracy”. The program was developed with the internationally renowned curators and design critics Amelie Klein from Vienna and Vera Sacchetti from Basel. Every year, visionaries are invited as “Heads of School” to program a temporary “School of Utopias” together with the Design Campus team. Drawing on the progressive schools of thought in art, design and avant-garde, such as Black Mountain College, Global Tools and other experimental initiatives throughout history, utopian thinking serves as a tool for designing sustainable alternatives against the backdrop of emerging crisis scenarios. Above all, the crisis of democracy, which is currently becoming apparent amid the challenges of dealing with the corona pandemic, but can be traced back to deeper fractures in society. More than one reason to dedicate the opening to this burning topic.

The wide-ranging one-week workshops, each led by international tutors and experts from various disciplines, examined the complex interactions between design and democracy from a global perspective. For example, the Mexican urbanist and activist Gabriella Gomez-Mont questioned the mechanisms of engagement and participation under the title “Realists Of A Larger Reality: Cities, Political Imagination and Social Creativity”. In his “Power Building” workshop, the Dutch architect and theorist David Mulder van der Vegt explored the structural and visual manifestation of parliaments, assemblies and power structures. Design researcher and author Basma Hamdy, who teaches in Qatar, discussed forms of activism and protest culture in her workshop “Future Realities: Designing New Worlds”. Vivian Tauchmann from Leipzig taught strategies of solidarity through performativity in her dance workshop “Solidarity Is A Verb”, while Canadian-born Jerszy Seymour, designer and co-founder of the “Dirty Art Department” at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, taught in his workshop “New World Propaganda “was looking for a new visual language for utopians and revolutionaries. Finally, Klein and Sacchetti questioned the democratic principles of museum and curatorial work in their workshop “Making A Deliberative Design Museum” together with the Brazilian activist and co-founder of the feminist platform “Futuress”. The aim of all workshops was to empower participants from all over the world (3G made it possible!) to have creative scope for action and the political impact of artistic and design disciplines such as architecture, design, fashion or media design. In addition, scientists and researchers gave insights into the theory and practice of design and democracy in weekly lectures. The public discussions can still be accessed via the Dresden State Art Collections' YouTube channel. The prototypical and largely ephemeral workshop results were presented and discussed publicly towards the end of each week as an “open studio” or happening. Amelie Klein and Vera Sacchetti summed up: “There is no doubt that design has contributed in many ways to the loss of trust that democracy faces today, from poorly designed, confusing ballot papers to the echo chambers that restrict the flow of information and thus on social media also control people's beliefs. In this year's Summer School we wanted to question and analyze how this happens and also develop suggestions and test how things could be different. It is time and also our duty to rethink the role of design in democracy and society and to develop alternatives to the status quo.”

A temporary design school for whom?

The summer school is intended as an additional offering for professional in-depth study and networking for advanced students and young professionals. Particular emphasis is placed on creativity and diversity when selecting participants. In addition to discounts for students and those financially disadvantaged by the pandemic, there is a “Diverse Vision Scholarship”. Scholarships are also possible as part of collaborations with universities and other partners. This is how we were able to do this together with the initiative in 2021 German Design Graduates Six graduates from design universities in Germany will take part with a free ticket. Another cooperation was with the Vienna Design Week. With the Design Campus network – such as the iF Design Foundation – the opportunities for further scholarships and collaborations grow.

The next summer school will take place from July 18th to August 26th, 2022 under the leadership of the internationally acclaimed design duo Formafantasma / Andrea Trimachi and Simone Faresin, founding professors of the new “Geo Design” course at the Design Academy Eindhoven.

Further information about the project, the program and registration for the Summer School Class 2022 can be found at

Leave a Comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked with * marked