Ulm School of Design Insight – Stackable Tableware TC 100


The first thing that many people express when they see the Stackable Tableware TC 100 in the current RMIT Gallery exhibition ‘Ulm School of Design’ (1-30 August 2014) is surprise. That’s because such a ubiquitous design looks out of place in an art gallery. After all, they think, didn’t we just drink out of one of those white catering cups the other day at a work event?

In fact,soon after its launch in 1959, the TC 100 Stackable Tableware was deemed so extraordinary that it was snapped up by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of its collection. It has won a number of awards, and is ubiquitous because it has been in serial production since 1961. It is important in design because it integrates production processes, transportation, and storage issues at the design stage.

The TC 100 started life as a diploma project at the Ulm School of Design, and was the brainchild of student Hans (Nick) Roericht. All pieces of the tableware with the same diameter are stackable. The individual stacks are stable thanks to a double cylinder construction which no designer had used before. A sloping side with thickened rim made it possible for the saucers and tureens to be stackable – these characteristics resulted in a unique product appearance.


In his RMIT Gallery podcast, Dr. Martin Mäntele, director of the HfG-Archive, explains that as the Ulm model is based on technology and design, the product designer is no longer a lofty artist but is involved in the whole production process.

“That means that [the designer] does not only have to know about aesthetics, but also he has to know how a factory works. This brings me back to the library [an important resource within the school] because we also find many technical books within the library, which were available to the students. My favourite is a brochure about how crockery dries in industrial dishwashers.”

“We all know this problem of opening the dishwasher, and there’s always one item you have to give an extra wipe with your tea towel. And, of course, you have to think about this problem too when you are designing tableware, because if you try to sell this to somebody running a restaurant, and that person sees that his people have to dry the cups or whatever for an extra minute, they just lose too much time, so they won’t buy this particular design, and so, it will not be a successful design. And so that’s why designers have to be so precise about everything with the design.

“The example of the Stackable Tableware TC 100 shows that you can’t resolve problems like this just by intuition alone, because you might not think about it, because you might instead be meditating about a perfect shape. Good design however doesn’t come from intuition.”

At one of the recent guided tours at RMIT Gallery the question was asked – just how are the underside of the cups and plates designed to ensure that they come out of the industrial dishwasher without water clinging to them?

Stackable tableware TC 100

When we forwarded this query onto Dr. Mäntele, who had returned to Germany, he took it the question back to the source – in fact, to the original designer Hans (Nick) Roericht. A lunchtime discussion at Ulm ensured, and this was the reply:

Dr. Mäntele writes: “We found that the underside of the cups and the saucers (or plates) are quite different. The cups have a rather shallow underside just like the large serving bowls. However the saucers and plates look different and are comparatively deep.”


“We concluded that this has also to do with how you have to place the item into the dish washer. Naturally the cup goes in upside down whereas the plates or saucers are placed more or less vertically, resulting in the water running down and not collecting  puddles of any kind or size. The shallowness of the cups’ underside does not collect so much water that it would not dry anyway.”


“The stackability is the main issue about the TC 100. That’s why the exhibition displays different stacks. Again it was an absolutely new concept that pitchers and tea and coffee pots could be stacked. Older models had a more stout if not even bulgy shape which could not be stacked and also not be stored in a compact manner.

vjp-132“So in the vitrine we have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, stacks  – one cup on top of the other – but we could go even higher. Just don’t try this with any cups you have at home, you won’t be able to do it usually, because again, the handle has to be at a certain point of the cup in order to make this possible.”

It wasn’t just stackability that was the breakthrough – the ‘C’ in the nifty name ‘TC 100’ stands for  ‘compact’. The tableware can be stored in very tight spaces too, because all the elements are within a grid system.

“Hans Nick Roericht told me that it was a big diploma project because he designed more than 30 pieces, because in those days they tried to have many different pieces for different functions within this field.” 

“Design students just can’t design this by intuition, they have to know about what is happening in the factory and Hans (Nick) Roericht went to the factory, which is in the Bavarian area, close to the Czech border where the large china factories are situated in Germany.

vjp-14“Even though the cylinder as a basic idea in the tableware design,  if we look at the finished product we find that the lower part is not a cylinder any more but has a slight slope. And this is simply a necessity in order to remove the finished product from the form in the factory. And technical engineers will tell you that this particular slope has to be at least a 2 per cent degree, the slope has to be 2 per cent slope.”

So – there you have it. The next time you are at a catered event, ponder the origins of the TC 100 and its significance in modern design. However, chances are that the white cup you are sipping out of isn’t an authentic TC 100 and the coffee will spill into the saucer, and you should not try to do a 20 height stack if it is your task to clean the tables.

But if you are lucky enough to be able to use one of the original products in the TC 100 series – would you notice the difference of good design? Indeed you would. Dr. Mäntele says that he knows from experience that the milk jugs don’t drip and splatter all over the table.

Want further insights into the Ulm School of Design? Here is Dr. Martin Mäntele, director of the HfG-Archive, speaking at the RMIT Gallery exhibition:







Ulm School of Design video

Dr. Martin Mäntele, director of the HfG-Archive, discusses the Ulm School of Design exhibition at RMIT Gallery, which explores the work and influence of one of the world’s most important contemporary design academies. Regarded as being second only to the Bauhaus, the Ulm School reflected the spirit of change in Germany in the post-war years, and revolutionised artistic and architectural thinking and production.

The RMIT Gallery exhibition closes Saturday 30 August at 5 pm – don’t miss the final chance to see this highly successful international touring exhibition. Melbourne is the last venue before the works return to the HfG-Archive.

Vale Jennifer Phipps – esteemed curator, friend & colleague of RMIT Gallery


The world will now be a bit more ordinary, following the passing of Australian curator Jennifer Phipps on August 21, 2014.

Jennifer was an esteemed friend and colleague of RMIT Gallery. RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said she was saddened by Jennifer’s death, and paid respect to an independent, creative thinker who brought a fresh perspective to every project.

“Jennifer was generous and a wise mentor and a brilliantly unpredictable curatorial force in Australian art,” she said.

We pay tribute with this extract of a catalogue essay Jennifer Phipps contributed to RMIT Gallery’s 2007 exhibition ‘Fashion Face: Fashion Photography by Robyn Beeche 1979 – 1989’.

This extract is accompanied by installation images from the exhibition.       

In this essay, Jennifer acknowledged discussions she had with Robyn Beeche.

The London Look of Robyn Beeche (catalogue extract)

By Jennifer Phipps

Robyn Beeche was a key artist in creating and disseminating the London look of the early 1980s: New Romanticism or New Puritanism that may be characterized as satirical rebellion through flamboyant aestheticism. It was an alternative to Britain’s Conservative government, growing unemployment, economic recession and the British class system.


Vivienne – a look for the 1980s was commissioned in 1979 for the first edition of a new London magazine, Now! Beeche, asked to create the look for the future, found it at The Blitz Club, London, where post-punk music and styles were first played out. Here she photographed Willie Brown’s fashion parade of his Puritan collection based on traditional Austrian peasant costume.

This photograph launched the New Romantic look in London. Vivienne is austerely crisp and spotless, dressed in an Elizabethan ruff that Willie Brown designed on the spot, and is made up as a Puritan by the Australian make–up artist Richard Sharah. Beeche took a photograph that is exceptional for its flatness and uniform whiteness.  It hints at the German and Bauhaus films, and art from all ages, that stimulate Beeche’s invention.


In 1980s’ London, Beeche kept an open studio for innovative artists in fashion and in hair and make-up. Costs were shared and people worked co-operatively. For these portraits, elaborate make-up that could take twelve hours to apply was first drawn up on paper, lighting was calculated meticulously and there was little thought of personal reward in a heated atmosphere of mutual creativity. (In a later commercial photograph, Four-face II 1987, Beeche ran out to Soho, while Phyllis Cohen applied the make-up, to buy and paste up the multi-language collage of newspapers that underline a message: the versatility of the face.)


Steve Strange of Visage, founder of The Blitz Club, introduced Beeche to The Blitz, and  together she and Richard Sharah did Strange’s 1980 record cover Fade to Grey, as well as his Visage record single sleeves. The same year, Beeche photographed Leigh Bowery in the bedroom of his council flat, against his Star Trek wallpaper. He called this look “A Paki from Outer Space”.  Part Hindu God, his costume could be that of a Whirling Dervish but for its extra arms – a style taken up by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. The elaborate, brilliant make-up, extravagant and sexually diverse costumes, the transformed bodies of the New Puritans like Bowery and dancer Michael Clarke, come partly from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character of 1972. The Blitz had opened with a Bowie night in 1979.

PODCAST: The ‘Ulm Model’ – floor talk with Dr. Martin Mäntele, director of the HfG-Archive


On 1 August, 2014, Dr. Martin Mäntele, director of the HfG-Archive, took a large group on a tour of the RMIT Gallery exhibition The Ulm School of Design. Dr Mäntele spoke about the ‘Ulm Model’ and the designer’s role in helping to build a democratic society in a technologically driven age of mass production.


From 1953 until it closed in 1968 the influential Ulm School of Design in Germany was one of the world’s most important contemporary design academies. Regarded as being second only to the Bauhaus, the Ulm School reflected the spirit of change in Germany in the post-war years, and revolutionised artistic and architectural thinking and production.


Dr. Martin Mäntele:

“The idea [for the Ulm School of Design] was to sort of re-enact the Bauhaus – to live in it again….But then the younger generation said, well, so many things have happened and the whole world has changed [after the second world war] and we really now have to approach the concept of how do we train designers.

“This is the most important aspect of the Ulm School of Design. Up to then there was no school, nowhere in the world you could go to, to become an industrial designer. There was no curriculum which said you have to do this and this and this and all to become an industrial designer and that’s what they were trying to do.”

The Ulm School of Design, RMIT Gallery, Friday 1 August to Saturday 30 August, 2014.

* Main installation photos by Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2014.





ULM SCHOOL OF DESIGN PODCAST: Dr. Martin Mäntele, director of the HfG-Archive

Dr. Martin Mäntele, director of the HfG-Archive, the archive of the former Ulm School of Design, flew out from Germany to attend the opening of the Ulm School of Design exhibition at RMIT Gallery on 29 July, and conduct a tour of the exhibition for a large audience the following day.

Although there were no Australian students at the Ulm School during its 16 years of operation, interest levels have been high among Melbourne artists, designers and students.

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In this podcast, Dr Mäntele talks about the Ulm School of Design exhibition at RMIT Gallery with Dr Evelyn Tsitas, RMIT Gallery media coordinator.

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About Dr. Martin Mäntele

Dr Mäntele studied Art History and Modern German Literature at Tuebingen University, in Newcastle (GB) and Hamburg. 1994 M.A., 1999 Ph.D. in Art History at Tuebingen University. 1999-2002 Research Assistant at Kunsthalle Tuebingen. 2002-2004 Junior Curator at Ulmer Museum. Since 2004 Head of Public Relations and Education at Ulmer Museum. Various exhibition projects and publications, including “ulm model – models after ulm”, 2003. April 2013 Head of HfG-Archive, the archive of the former Ulm School of Design. 2003-2012 lecturer in Design History at Polytechnics in Ulm, Wuerzburg, and Schwaebisch Gmuend.


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Still Modern: Ulm Design Exhibition Opening Night

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Trays of fresh baked bretzels were carried into RMIT Gallery for the opening night of the Ulm School of Design Exhibition on Thursday 31 July…and by the end of the night, the crowds had snaffled up every last one. Not a bretzel crumb in sight.

The international touring exhibition was opened by Michael R Pearce SC, Honorary Consul-General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Melbourne (pictured below left, with Ulm exhibition curator Dr Martin Mäntele, Director of the HfG Archive), who merrily tucked into a fresh bretzel as soon as he arrived. 

Michael and Martin IMG_4649

A large crowd braved the stormy weather to view the exhibition of the renowned Ulm School of Design. Regarded as being second only to the Bauhaus, the Ulm School of Design reflected the spirit of change in Germany in the post-war years, and revolutionised artistic and architectural thinking and production.

foyer crowd IMG_4654

The audience loved the iconic Ulm designs – from the revolutionary Braun SK4 ‘Snow White’s Coffin’ radio and record player to Lufthansa’s corporate branding and the ubiquitous stackable white tableware.

snow white crowd IMG_4657

RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said in her opening remarks that the relationship between RMIT Gallery and the Goethe-Institut, and Ifa, was finely matched and mutually rewarding.

“RMIT Gallery has introduced many leading European artists to Melbourne and facilitated workshops and skill exchange with photographers, designers, architects, town planners, musicians and gold and silversmiths over the past 30 years,” Ms Davies said.

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Among the audience at the opening were designers and design students who had come to see products and rigorous design exercises produced by the famed ‘Ulm Method’. As Dr. Martin Mäntele explained in his opening speech, in rejecting design as an artistic activity, and focusing instead on inter-disciplinary work, social responsibility and objective design analysis, designers trained at the Ulm School of Design produced work that resulted in iconic mid-twentieth century designs that remain utterly modern and practical.

malte IMG_4643

Dr Malte Wagenfeld, Head of Industrial Design at RMIT (pictured above, left), will explore the social focus, thinking and impact of the Ulm School and German design in the 60 – to early 80s in a public program talk at RMIT Gallery on 12 August from 12.30 – 1.30 pm.

ulm stool IMG_4674

The audience were invited to try out the Ulm Model designs themselves by sitting on the Ulm Stool as they watched films from the Ulm Archive and documentaries about the School. Designed in 1955 (and still in production), the Ulm Stool’s construction is simple and inexpensive, with three spruce boards connected by mechanical dovetailing; a strip of beech completes the edging. With postwar austerity and a lack of funds, the stool worked hard as a multi-purpose piece of equipment – it was a chair that could be carried to classes; upside down it could be used to transport books and equipment. One stool placed on a table formed a lectern. it also served as an occasional table or a shelf unit. Bonus!

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After an international tour that has taken the Ulm Model to many countries across the globe, Melbourne is the finale for the exhibition. Melbourne, which did not suffer bombing during the second world war, is a long way from the large photograph of postwar Ulm in ruins (above). But the design philosophy that emerged from the Ulm School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung or HfG) from 1953 until it closed in 1968, resonated around the world. And on July 31, on a cold and wet Melbourne night, a large crowd gathered to gain a deeper insight into one of the world’s most important contemporary design academies.

The Ulm School of Design Exhibition is at RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston Street, Melbourne, from 1 to 30 August 2014.