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.

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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Bretzels & German beer – we celebrate Ulm School of Design opening!

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It’s cold outside as Melbourne turns on one of its winter days (sunny and beguiling one minute, storm forecast and rain the next) but city workers, art lovers & RMIT Staff and students who pop into RMIT Gallery at 6 pm tonight for the opening of the Ulm School of Design exhibition will be greeted warmly with German beer and bretzels.

The exhibition will be opened by Michael R Pearce SC, Honorary Consul-General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Melbourne, with a special address by Dr Martin Mäntele, Director of the HfG Archive, and Dr Arpad Sölter, the Director of the Goethe-Institut Australien.

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For those unable to share the evening with us, please join us at 12.30-1.30 pm at RMIT Gallery on Friday 1 August for the curator floor talk with Dr Martin Mäntele (pictured) from HfG Archive, and learn about the design & social theory behind the famed ‘Ulm Model’ approach to design methodology. This extended across the five departments; industrial design; visual communication; film; information (journalism) and building and embraced studies ranging from subjects such as semiotics, technology, ergonomics, sociology, and linguistics.