ICE designer Alexander Neumeister turns 80. Large-scale design – ndion

He formed ICE, worked on the design of Transrapid, made a new travel culture tangible on the Deutsche Bahn, and helped design a Shinkansen in Japan: On December 17, 2021, industrial designer Alexander Neumeister turned eighty.

By Thomas Wagner.

“Design,” as Alexander Neumeister once explained, “is a long process, a constant work. You must not just do something that already exists, you must first improve it.” The concept of “industrial designer”, which he falls under, contains the promise that design in close connection with production processes can improve important areas of everyday life, for example. when it comes to technology.When it comes to designing the transition from mechanical to electronic systems, Neumeister is there and accepts the challenge.

But to succeed in designing capital goods, a good sense of technology alone is not enough. Alexander Neumeister is also curious and would like to find out what options there are for the designer. When new technologies emerge, they must first be understood and their practical application designed with the user in mind, who often encounters the new with misunderstanding or even skepticism. Neumeister responds to such challenges with tremendous integration power, which is also reflected in his idiom, which warms the cold technology and makes it livable. Such power arises when the designer does not see technology as an end in itself, but as part of a concept of use based on specific needs. Technology alone is no more effective than design misunderstood as embellishment.

Curious about everything foreign

Anyone who wants to understand Alexander Neumeister’s integrative approach will quickly find what he is looking for in his career. At the age of fifteen, he went to the United States for a school year and developed a curiosity for everything foreign. According to Neumeister, the study at HfG Ulm, which he began in 1964, was in fact an emergency solution. Fixed on the United States as he was, he wanted to apply to the Illinois Institute of Technology. »It was only later that I realized what a chance fate had given me in Ulm. I was interested in design because I was interested in technology. But not the construction, but the function, the use and of course the form of things. ” In 1968, he completed his education and became a consultant at MBB (Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm), but left – the position was kept open for him – d. A scholarship to Japan for a year. There he is enthusiastic about traditional architecture, crafts and lacquer art, gets a feel for shapes and materials, for the balance between nature and the world shaped by man. And he recognizes that optimizing something slowly, as is practiced in Asia, does not have to be a stumbling block to innovative thinking.

Commitment to the Third World

In 1970, Alexander Neumeister founded his own office in Munich. How socially and politically he understands design becomes apparent when he and his wife, sociologist Gudrun Neumeister, engage in the Third World. Convinced that design can promote economic and social development, he organizes workshops in the Philippines and Indonesia. Although the approach is not very successful, it does not detract from its openness to other cultures. Driven by the belief that development work can only be done locally through one’s own entrepreneurial commitment, Neumeister founded an office in Rio de Janeiro in 1988 with local partners.

ICE and Transrapid

On June 2, 1991, the first “Inter City Express” whizzed from Hamburg via Frankfurt to Munich at a top speed of 250 km / h. Not only is travel time reduced; With ICE, a new railway era begins – finally – also in the German railway network. In Japan, the legendary Tokaido Shinkansen had already started in 1964, the year of the Olympics in Tokyo, and in France the TGV between Paris and Lyon in 1981. The role that Neumeister’s design played in the not only technical renewal of Deutsche Bahn can hardly be overestimated. It all started with a high-performance express train survey commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology, which resulted in the ICE and Transrapid maglev train.

Alexander Neumeister has been involved in both projects from the beginning. With Transrapid, he slipped right into the beginning of the project and then accompanies all phases of the development of the magnetic hovercraft that transported 50,000 people in the form of “Transrapid 05” in 1979 during the International Transport Exhibition in Hamburg. Ironically, it is ICE that competes with Transrapid when it comes on the rails in 1985 and causes the introduction of the expensive technology on its own routes in Germany to fail.

A new travel culture

It would be a misconception to assume that ICE would have changed the train journey in this country simply because of the higher speeds. With the first technology carrier, a process had begun in which the railway culture was cleared out, renewed, modernized and redefined. This was not possible without design, a design that freed itself from the touring aircraft – with a comfortable space atmosphere, bright and clean entrances, comfortable service zones and conference areas. To achieve this, Neumeister has studied the travel culture as intensively as the expectations and habits of travelers. Although only a fraction of his proposals are adopted in ICE 1, the sleek train as a “designer train” becomes an ambassador for a new era and a symbol of a successful railway reform. Innovation, technology and design now form one unit. Only with ICE 3 does everything from Neumeister except the seats and cockpit, from the walls lined with beech wood to the curved luggage racks made of sandblasted glass to the red leather upholstery in the restaurant on board.

Trams, regional trains and much more

Of course, it would be ignorant to identify Alexander Neumeister exclusively with ICE and Transrapid. In addition to a low-floor tram, which was not realized due to technical problems, but from which many ideas flowed into the design of the Munich metro, he and his team also designed regional trains and suburban trains, which still shape the idea of ​​such transport systems today. If you look at the pictures of the interior created for a night train just over 30 years ago, you wonder about the lack of foresight. The coziness that Neumeister’s interior exudes clearly shows what traveling through the night could have looked like if the designers’ suggestions had been followed at the time, instead of letting existing night trains in Germany run down and then completely do away with them. .

For decades, Neumeister has acquired what is probably unique knowledge and expertise in railway design, in a discipline that combines technical, aesthetic, cultural, social, economic and climate policy aspects. One who is so competent is also appreciated elsewhere. And then he becomes the first foreigner to be entrusted with designing a generation of the Shinkansen. As a consultant for Hitachi, Neumeister co-developed the HST-350 in 1991 for an exhibition on “A Pleasant Way to Travel Faster.” The result was the JR-W 500 “Nozomi” Shinkansen, for which Neumeister and the teams from JR West and Hitachi received the “National Award for Invention” in 1998. “Nozomi” has long been the fastest commercial train in the world.

Live up to your responsibilities as a designer

Of course, Neumeister has not only designed trains. But the large scale remains its territory: the passenger ship Ms 2000 is on its way on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, the Bodensø ferry “Euregio” has since 1996 connected Romanshorn and Friedrichshafen. No matter what he designs, technology is never an end in itself for Neumeister, but must be something that can be experienced, is easy to understand and use and can be integrated into everyday life. An everyday life that is culturally influenced and cannot be smoothed out by products of washed-out international style. What Neumeister said in a 1999 interview about increasing environmental awareness is all the more true today: “I sometimes have the feeling that we Western Europeans live in a kind of complete displacement. We hardly notice what is going on in the rest of the “If there’s a bang somewhere, we’re getting started – so we can quickly enjoy the New Beetle or other design gadgets again. As designers, we finally need to become aware of our responsibilities and act accordingly.” Alexander Neumeister celebrates his 80th birthday today.


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