Design Legends ("DL") had the distinct honour to interview legendary designer Udo Hubert Dagenbach ("UHD") for their original perspective and innovative approach to design as well as their creative lifestyle, we are very pleased to share our interview with our distinguished readers.
UHD : I grew up in a forestal research institute, where my father was a kind oftechnical director of the nurseries and outside plant research spots. So gardening was always an issue for me as my mother was gardener as well. At the age of 10 I saw my father chisseling a small sculpture in stone - he was a skilled landscaper for natural stones. That was the moment it happened. I immediatly wanted to work with stone then. So i became an apprentist for landscape gardening. Finishing that after two years I had already many clients who wanted to have dry stone walls etc. So I decided to open a company at the age of 20. Paralle I started to do sculptures in sand stone. After 2 years I went to Berlin to study landscape architecture at the technical University. Parallel I was guest student at the University of artsin Berlin at Makoto Fujiwaras class. We started competitions together and we have won the international art competion for the BUNDESANSTALT FÜR GEOWISSENSCHAFTEN in Hannover in 1985 a federal geological and geophysical research institution. parallel to that I worked as a free lancer in a landscape architects office in Berlin. After finishing the realization of two competitions with Makoto Fujiwara in 1987 I decided to open an office as landscape architect in Berlin together with Silvia Glasser in 1988.
UHD : I had no choice to do another job. I was very clear since finishing school that I want to create,built, sculpt, shape things.
UHD : It was my decision and I received any necessary support through my parents.
UHD : My main design theme are gardens, landscape architetural tasks, like parks, city squares, school yards, hotel landscapes, residential green spaces, memorials, listed building surroundings and smaller land art installations or hybrid garden sculptures. the last one I would like to increase more in my work.
UHD : If you feel the passion for what you are doing and you know you have talent then never give up, work hard , take any chance to improve, get new impressions, meet people who are successful in the business. Cross borders to other design fields to learn from their point of view, travel , expose yourself to other cultures, visit museum wherever it is possible. Sketch and scrabble in sktech books or tablets your life long- never stop it. and most important: STAY CURIOUS
UHD : I guess the great designer just meets this certain point of best possible solution more frequently and on top sells this quality better than the good designer.
UHD : First of all the function is the key point. The design should perfectly work. Then I like to be surprised by the solution. May it be shape , function or material, no matter what, it should have a new point of view on a problem and its solution.
UHD : Design is an important part of our life. It influences us direct or subconciously. Good design may cause good feelings. It does not substitute good friends, love etc, but can be an add on that is more important tahn we rationally can evaluate.
UHD : That is the best question of the interview. We should forward it to tip for young designers: First think about that and then start ! One of my life time dreams is to create big plant sculptures. I would like to shape them according to their growth possibilities but in a new way - lets say I would like to create the topiary of the 21 st century- wow big word, but now it is said.
UHD : It is the above mentioned plant sculptures idea. It takes very long time and patience to go for that. A project for minimum 20 years. Means I should start soon, but a forest man does also not see the ready trees he planted..
UHD : Passion and curiosity. The ability to change roles for a while to understand other points of view and cultural diffferneces.
UHD : Isamu Noguchi, Jean Arp, Max Bill, Makoto Fujiwara, Vo Throng architects, Shiberu Ban architect, Wang Shu architect, Dani Karavan, Andy Goldsworthy, Tony Cragg , Richard Long, Antony Gromley Sorry my dear friends of inspiration if I forgot some of you, but I keep you in my designing soul.
UHD : Still today I would say I like the sculpture, gardens, installations of Isamu Noguchi. His work helped me very much when I was younger. It is unique mixture of traditional Japanese and modern avantgarde. He spread his activities and many other fields of design. Still today his work has this timeless quality- a rare moment.
UHD : If we take the word great seriously I does not mean the design is big in size, but still one of the best designs is our project Moabit Prison Historical Park in Berlin. It was the first time a memorial should be connected with the function of a recreational park. The left overs of the history where just enough to refer on it. The rest was a new story. So we told the story of the prison with means of land art and created an archtectural garden. When it was finished i was astonished that it had an effect like in some barroque gardens. the architectural elements play the guiding role in the park. They are the story.
UHD : Step one find out what YOU like. Start with collecting sampleas what you like- real ones or digitally. Step two reproduce them , play with it, arrange it new, use it in another way, if you can sketch them. Step three start to think about space. How much of something you want to see lets say on a plate. Then play add more and reduce. Stop when you think it is enough. Do that with all kind of things. Arange fruits in basket or on plate, add new fruits , different fruits etc. - Start to play with space and different materials. Do not simply acept the design suggestions in magazines. Find your own way to lokk at design. After some years you will be a self determined design user or in best case design producer - Good luck.
UHD : I would have become a stone sculptor for sure, if not that - possibly be just a happy gardener, yes a good option as well.
UHD : There is an inflationary development in reclaming that something is design. We are close to killing the idea of it, but
UHD : At the beginning my parents for sure. They never pushed me in a direction and accepted my chosen way. Then influental elder people I have met during work, can be craftsmen or architects and artists. Later my internship at Ken Nakajimas Consolidated Garden research in Tokyo. He was a brilliant landscape designer, working very often against the traditional standards in Japan. While studying my cooperation with Prof. Makot Fujiwara was very important too. He also was not the pure traditional japanese artist, he stepped intoa new way of sculpting stone. Also his way of looking at the European art tradition was mind opening to me.
UHD : Not knowing that somebody regards me beeing one.
UHD : I myself was the biggest obstacle. It took a long time until I knew that I was on the right way and I just had to follow it
UHD : It depends on the theme they are working on. But I think we should use as much medias as possible. We have to improve our presentations every year. Without a good presentation it became very difficult to be successful. At the end it is the product, in our case the park and the garden that brings the success, but way to that needs more. Communication is getting more and more important. We have to tell our client , the public, the construction companies how we understand our design. This process is sometimes longer than the design process.
UHD : In the center of Berlin we will change a 550 m long walkway at a width of 20 m into a hybrid between walkway and park. It will especially regard the needs of the rootsystem of big plane trees. At the Baltic sea cost of North Germany we will start the design for a 2-3 ha Hotel compond which shall especially be designed for familys and kids and will have an educative link to the surrounding nature.
UHD : Getting better every day and stay happy .
UHD : I guess they expect a functional well working but surprising solution.
UHD : We do not realy change society, but society would be poor without good design. Design can have impact by pushing forward the use of sustainable materials which is produced in a responsible way. If we are part in such a process we help to improve society.
UHD : We try to develope aquaponic gardening system combined with living walls and green roofs. We already developed living wall green at the United worls Collge in Dilijan. Armenia. For that project we receive the International Green roof Leadership award in the category Trendsetting architecture together with Tim Flynn architects. In phase two ofthe project we want to bring green roof and living walls together in an aquaponic system. That means reuse the irrigation and surface water by fertilizing with the excrements of fish swimming in adjusted water tanks. We did a small version of that at the IGA International Gardenshow in Berlin on a small 120 sqm house garden plot. we are curious how it will develope and what problems we will have to solve. A new field for us.
UHD : I think the Moabit prison Historical Park project in the center of Berlin. It was running for the period of 17 years until we could finaly hand it over to the public. At the beginning there was not clear that we can find a solution for the double use as memorial and recreational park.
UHD : A stronger development of sustainable design. for that we need all participants in one boat. clients, designers, producers and consumers. That means we should think stronger about the need for products ingenerall and specific. do we need it, do we have to produce it, do we have to consume it ? I know that sounds like killing the industry, but I don´t think so. It will help to keep it alive.
UHD : I think the new possibilities of 3 D printing and will change production a lot. We will have more variabilty, more individualization. That will change the request for design. Form and shapes will change with the new production processes. The creative possibilities will change and develope strongly. Virtual reality will become part of design processes. The request for optional solutions will increase.
UHD : From several hours to many years, as you can see in our Gold award winning Prison park project in Berlin.
UHD : I try to find out what is the real and minimum purpose of it. I check the expectations of the client and the future users consumers. Then we do a profound research on existing solutions, evaluate them and are starting to find new solutions which have an individual and specific touch.
UHD : Do not "overdesign". Keep it simple.
UHD : Sometimes design realy sets trends. But I am sure every trend already exists in a subconcious way in all of us. If trendestting design popped into our daily reality as a new trend then the trends creates a big wave of trend following design. I do not judge that as good or bad. It is just a fact. ;ost design is trend following but not necessarily bad because of that.
UHD : Mankind developed according to its technological development. So we always are checking if there are new technical possibilities in our design field - for example the aquaponic gardening idea. Out of that we develope new solutions. Research for new technology is part of the creative process.
UHD : Autocad, Sketchup,Photoshop, 3d Studion max, Cinema 4d and all regular office programs. What we do not have we hire from outside.
UHD : It is deciding, because that is what meets the eye or the other senses.
UHD : The best questions are those who already show that people already accepted the design and try to use it. So like: Can do this and that with it ?Can we also use it as ...?
UHD : First I am realy happy to see a new great design. Next is always how could I change or improve it. That is our archaic program, even if the best solution for that moment stands in front of you, the search for a better one starts.
UHD : Almost everything is done co-design. Isolated solutions are not possible. We all need the moment of a reflectory dialogue with a partner. This is a human need. May it be the client or team mebers.
UHD : My father. The people i meet during stuying. For example Ken Nakajima, in his office I did internship in Tokyo, Makoto Fujiwara , the cooperation with him influenced me a lot, my office partner Silva,
UHD : At the beginning all books about Jean Arp, Then the books on Japanese gardening - there are many but not so many good ones. A book about the history of the chinese gardens. Some books of Carlos Castandea. All books of Isaac Singer. Later the books showing the work or Bauhaus members like Paul Klee, Mies van der Rohe, Martin Gropius. Biography of Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner. Now I am facinated by AiWeiWei, Olafur Eliason, Tony Cragg and Andy Goldsworthy. I liked to study Richard Long as well for some years.
UHD : Going through a profound pracitical education, Followed by ongoing studies of all kind of arts and keeping the line of my work during all phases of doubt on my works quality that pops up frequently when you reflect what you are doing.
UHD : Isamu Noguchi, Louise Bourgeois, Peter Josef Lenne´,Diter Kienast- former Swiss landscape archtect, Andy Goldswothy
UHD : I am not famous at all. Most people know me as Udo and do not know about the awards as well. And I am very happy with that. The awards came through the years and to honest they do not change daily life. But anybody who tells you, he or she is not proud about the awards is big lier. I was so happy about my first award. It is something outside regular life. It is not connected with money you have to make in daily life. Awards are a very important part of a designers life - believe me - let say they are a special gasoline for your engine. You can drive without, but you have definetly more fun with it.
UHD : right now blue turns out to be a favorite colour. Especially if it is not fixed in paintings. Not a special blue, just a strong one. My favorite seasons are springtime and autum, when temperatures are still not to high, hot seasons are a time to suffer for me, especially if it is combined with humidity. Vietnamese food and japanese food i like most. But I allways go for a good vitello tonnato. Brands ? I have to admit I do not realy think about brands, but I am sticking for example to my swiss garden scissors from FELCO - you can not beat them.
UHD : Some years ago we finished a residential project in Moscow. The client wanted to disccuss some changes. We met with him in Hotel in the evening. With me was Leonid my Russian adviser at that time. A realy big guy, former Icehockey player. We sat together, had dinner, drinking Vodka and were discussing the changements. Next morning I woke up and did not rember our discussion at all. At breakfeast I asked Leonid about the result of the discussion. He said he does not remember as well. I said to him: Leonid what mess, we do not know what we agreed on ! He replied: Ah , no problem ! The client will not remember as well. He was right.
UHD : I feel life as a constant flow in which always new situations are created or create themselves. I am curious on what will happen. I do not need films. I am happy to be in this constantly running film with an unpredictable flow of activities. That motivates me. If I know exactly what a day will bring I am not so happy.
UHD : Designer yes, but great ? I was a little boy running around with allways some tool in my hand. My father went crazy searching for lost tools. I grew up between working people in a forest nursery. They all were doing something. So I tried to do as well. May be this was the kickoff to be active always and do things and do not wait until they are done.
UHD : We will have another level of existence- more something like astral existences. Communication will be without language only by thoughts. Our existance will not anymore be earth bound. We have no regular bodys anymore.
UHD : Keep it simple. Your life, your design , more of something does not mean to be more happy.
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