The staircase is the protagonist of the current exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich at the Toni Campus. Clearly visible from a distance, it is large and colourful, juts up into the exhibition space, and invites visitors to linger. It is the centrepiece of “Design Studio: Processes,” an exhibition that blends education and exhibiting.


Fourteen steps in a range of bright colours — cyan, magenta, yellow, and black — run along the visible axis to the exhibition entrance: the staircase is prominently placed and occupies a lot of space, about one quarter of the total exhibition. Its sidewalls house showcases, magnetic walls, shelves and boxes filled with materials, in front of which tables and benches are grouped that can be relocated as required. The ensemble of different elements and variable parts forms an open workshop that invites visitors to do things themselves and to experiment.

Shaping the exhibition: the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black staircase. Photograph: © Museum für Gestaltung Zürich

In motion

Where there’s a staircase, we settle down. Stairs are not only popular places to sojourn in front of churches, office buildings, or gardens. They also tempt us to sit down indoors. Stairs invite us to climb up and catch new glimpses and vistas. The staircase erected at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich intends to “enable visitors to change their perspective” and to function as a “central meeting place where the exhibition’s deliberations on its subject express themselves spatially,” explains Angeli Sachs, the curator. Just as the staircase requires movement and wants to be scaled step by step, so museum education ought to follow suit and be just as dynamic. “Our educational programme makes suggestions and provides impulses; we don’t simply want to inform visitors, but would like them to make discoveries,” Franziska Mühlbacher, the museum’s education curator, emphasises. Concretely, this means that visitors are encouraged to participate and experiment on-site. Thus the boxes and shelves contain not only explanatory videos and in-depth reading, but also an occasionally alternating range of tasks that visitors can solve on their own: which means and methods can be used to discover the right form? Which intermediate steps are necessary to advance from the idea to the finished object? What role does the material used play? For this reason, plenty of different materials — wood, paper, wire, bicycle tubes, etc. — are always available. As are tools suited to unassisted exploration as well as being ready to hand for the numerous guided workshops, tours, and excursions on offer. Moodboards and blackboards are provided for designing and sketching. Visitors looking for theoretical input can make themselves comfortable on the stairs — whether at one of the audio stations at the top of the stairs, or on a step with a fitting book from one of the shelves lining the staircase, or at one of the iPads providing online access to the eMuseum. Various worktables invite hands-on involvement.

Looking at the exhibition from the staircase. Photograph: © Museum für Gestaltung Zürich

An Exhibition that grows

Visitors’ sketches and finished objects can be displayed in the showcases and boxes. This makes the open workshop a place of exchange: education does not simply take place in one direction, but visitor reactions, experiences, and experiments continuously “update” and invigorate the exhibition, leaving their traces in the museum space. Visitor exhibits join the exhibited works, which present various historical and contemporary collections and positions illustrating design and production processes, as well as how design and the role of the designer are changing. Arts & crafts pioneer William Morris’s decorative hand-woven tapestries, Swiss shoe designer Anita Moser’s inkstain structures, and the Freitag Brothers’ sustainable and bio-degradable T-shirts and trousers thus enter into dialogue with visitor contributions. Together, this array of exhibits promises interesting discoveries: it will be fascinating to see what future design comes up with and how visitor participation will keep changing the show. Please come back again!

Design Studio: Processes,” until 14 April 2019 Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Toni-Areal, Pfingstweidstrasse 96, Zurich Tuesday–Sunday 10–17, Wednesday 10–20
Mirjam Steiner (, a literary and art scholar, is a research associate at ZHdK’s Interaction Design Programme.
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