Although employing differing practices, the group came together to ruffle the feathers of German design, which they saw as burdened by the weight of functionality, and instead employed imaginative narratives and were driven by an unyielding desire to experiment resulting in work that was radical and provocative. I had the pleasure of speaking to Meyer Voggenreiter and Wolfgang Laubersheimer.
He recounts the group being inspired, to a certain degree, by the work that was coming out of Italy at the time, Arte Povera or the Memphis group for example; not in terms of aesthetics—Memphis favoured an optimistic colour palette and a slickness, while Pentagon created objects that were more rugged, clinically cool and jaunty—but sooner in terms of the group’s tongue-in-cheek, playful and unexpected approach. The group took the whole process—design, production and distribution—into their own hands, which sometimes resulted in unusual, but functional production methods, and in some cases, they developed the tools for the production itself. I ask Voggenreiter if they were punks, because to me this hands-on, dynamic, all-rules-out-the-window temperament felt that way. He pauses to think before hesitantly agreeing with a coy smile. Today, Voggenreiter runs MV Projekte, a design firm specialising in exhibition design, in the broadest sense of the word. He carries with him the idea of the object—the artefact—and just like in May ’68, he continues to play with ways in which to re- and de-contextualise artefacts; although nowadays he favours clarity and readability. Which means, yes, he hates immersive exhibition rooms.
Take one of Laubersheimer’s designs, the Amazonas Desk, for example: someone could be sitting at their desk in Frankfurt, reviewing documents, and there in front of them, there’s the Amazon river. Laubersheimer trades in the description of himself as a punk for more of a romantic. “I tried to bring poetry into my designs. People using my work could be pioneers, they could have an adventure—have a bit of fun!” Today he sees much the same phenomenon of “spießigkeit”, most people making similar stylistic choices and living rooms looking largely the same: mostly Eames and Jacobsen. He’s still challenging this notion as a teacher and academic researcher at the Köln International School of Design (KISD) where he focuses on product development and process design. It strikes me as a good fit: being able to help broaden the minds of young creatives in an environment ripe for experimentation. He says the Pentagon times and the mentality he developed during those years have continued to be the basis of his daily life. “The way of being obsessive and ambitious, that’s what I learned. I made such extreme experiments, and I failed a lot; but I learned that sometimes the effect of failing is often more helpful than succeeding on the first try.” This is a lesson that any student looking to push boundaries could learn early on.