Trix and Robert Haussmann

25 Jan — 25 Mar 2017 at Maniera in Brussels, Belgium

Trix and Robert Haussmann. Courtesy of Maniera
Trix and Robert Haussmann. Courtesy of Maniera
15 MAR 2017

Trix and Robert Haussmann may be counted among the most important Swiss architects of the twentieth century. They have realized about 650 projects in their lifetime including the legendary Da Capo Bar, Shopville in Zurich’s main railway station, the boutique Weinberg, the famous Kronenhallenbar and numerous successful experiments in artistic and handcrafted furniture. The so-called Lehrstück II (1978) and the mirrored Lounge Seating (Knoll International, 1988) rank amongst the most important icons of post-modern Swiss design. The couple brought forth works breaking with the dogmas of entrenched architectural practices. In addition to designing buildings and furniture, they have developed a rich theoretical œuvre. To this day, Trix and Robert Haussmann continue to work on their complex body of work.

Both architects have impressive roots in modern architecture. Robert Haussmann (1931) studied under architecture greats Johannes Itten, Gerrit Rietveld, and Willy Guhl; Trix Högl (1933) studied under Rudolf Olgiati and Ernst Gisel. It is fascinating to note how the couple eventually moved away from a particularly Swiss form of modernism. Since founding their ‘Allgemeine Entwurfsanstalt’ (General Design Institute) in 1967, Trix and Robert Haussmann have been questioning the modernist doctrine of continually inventing the new. In their work they turn to architectural and art history, to extract and update historic models. Evading the dictum ‘form follows function’, their designs pursue a ‘Manierismo Critico’ (a critical Mannerism), permitting them to merge the old and the new, to generate dissent and work with ambiguity, contradiction, and chance. By employing illusionism as a means of material alienation and through the optical dissolution of volume through mirroring, they create complex, illusionary, apparently infinite spaces, furniture, and objects, which humorously undermine the canonization of concepts of value and order.

Trix and Robert Haussmann implement their manifesto in a diversity of forms. Lehrstück II is an interpretation of an antique fluted column that disintegrates into individual drawer segments — one of a total of nine Lehrstücke, in which the form is distorted by function, and which may neither be reduced to one nor the other. The trompe-l’oeil murals in the interior of the Da Capo Bar imitate its historic façade. This imitation classicism is broken down through bizarre mirror elements. Both gestures create a surreal, illusory setting, emblematic of their architecture.

The dedicated and thoughtful challenging of aesthetic conventions of Trix and Robert Haussmann was ahead of its time and deserves to be rediscovered today. There has been a revival of European interest in the work of Trix and Robert Haussmann over the past four years, initiated by their inclusion in the V&A Museum’s 2011–12 show Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990, which took place not only in London but also in Zurich. In Switzerland, art spaces have championed the Haussmanns’ oeuvre since then: Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen of Studiolo staged the exhibition Log-O-Rythmic Slide-Rule (2012) which led to a publication they edited for Patrick Frey (2012) and to another Haussmann show at Hard Hat in Geneva (2013). After a presentation at Fri Art in Fribourg in 2014, a major exhibition on the duo took place at the Austrian Kunsthaus Bregenz in 2015.

In 2013, the Swiss Federal Office of Culture awarded Trix and Robert Haussmann the Grand Prix Design.