Passion becomes profession

Since 2006, the Passionswege projects have been matching the abilities of young international designers with the skills of the best traditional craftspeople in Vienna.

Pedro Ferreira (Studio Pedrita), Irene Stiefelmeyer, Lilli Hollein e Tina Thiel
This article was originally published in Domus 983 / September 2014
When we (Lilli Hollein, Thomas Geisler and Tulga Beyerle) initiated Passionswege in 2006, it was not so much about the political and economical situation but more about the development of our city and our personal professional careers. All three of us – with different focuses – were somewhat established as experts in design, but were lacking exchange, activity and most of all validation and respect for design from entrepreneurs in the city where we lived and worked. We were also seeing all the fascinating, highly specialised workshops and shops disappearing and making place for big brands. We knew that the skills of many manufacturers were vanishing.
Boaz Cohen e Sayaka Yamamoto (BCXSY)
Top: Pedro Ferreira (Studio Pedrita), Irene Stiefelmeyer, Lilli Hollein and Tina Thiel at work in the Stiefelmeyer glassworks. Photo Stefania Donno Above: Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto (BCXSY) at J. & L. Lobmeyr’s. Photo © ABC – Peter Schernhuber
So Passionswege combined these weaknesses and strengths and created an international platform. At that time, major companies and brands in Austria still thought they could get along without design. Young designers had a really hard time finding clients, and it created a strange void in the cultural field, as if design were nothing but an aesthetic exercise, something nice to fill coffee-table books with. There was – and still is – only a handful of design practises with international relevance, some big, others smaller.
Most successful Austrian designers became famous without anyone knowing about their nationality. The Chamber of Commerce and the Tourist Board have been trying hard to strengthen the position of Austrian designers. From the beginning, the Vienna Design Week was set up as an international festival, so we invited schools from abroad as well as Austrian ones. There are a couple of highly influential European schools at the moment and it is good for other ones to compete. Strangely enough we have more students and young professionals coming from outside Vienna wishing to participate in the festival, which is proof of a very Viennese attitude and I confess that it really annoys me.
Rudolf Scheer & Söhne, shoemaker’s workshop, founded in 1816
For seven generations, the Rudolf Scheer & Söhne shoemaker’s workshop, founded in 1816, has been producing made-to-measure footwear of the highest standard entirely by hand, using traditional tools and without the aid of machinery. Photo © ABC – Peter Schernhuber
The MAK was involved from year one, still under the former director Peter Noever. Its engagement has risen over the years and I think the MAK knows and values what a festival like ours does for the general level of attention for design in this city. Many of the major institutions for design and art have been taking part for years: the Hofmobiliendepot, the Wien Museum, the Zoom children’s museum, the Kiesler Foundation and the Wagner Werk Postsparkasse, to name a few.
What has always been important to us is for visitors from abroad to see different faces of the city and for residents get to see a new side of their hometown, too. This is why purveyors to the royal court, but also small hidden workshops in the outskirts of the city. Many of these shops and makers know they might be the last generation of a business that has lasted for over a century. They lack attention and curiosity from others for their excellent skills.
Rudolf Scheer & Söhne, shoemaker’s workshop, founded in 1816
The Rudolf Scheer & Söhne shoemaker’s workshop, founded in 1816, already involved in previous Vienna Design Weeks, this year it will work with the Polish designers of Studio deFORM Photo © ABC – Peter Schernhuber

Working together with designers, their situation has changed radically. We had one participant who was depressed; he had no customers, no challenges. Thanks to the Passionswege project, he came back on track. He gave an interview that still moves me to tears. He said more or less that, at time when everything in his life was going down the tubes, Passionswege came and showed him a new perspective. Of course this is an extreme example, but everyone – designers, manufacturers, production people – profits from their skills being valued, from being challenged and from a whole new public entering their shops and discovering the possibilities of the workshopnext- door.

For instance, a leather manufacturer with a small hidden shop in the red-light district took part in the Vienna Design Week. Using his computer numerical control leather cutter, Adrien Rovero conceived of a project that used his scraps and made little playful animals to clip together. Adrien’s project was picked up by the super luxury brand Hermès.

Rudolf Scheer & Söhne, shoemaker’s workshop, founded in 1816
For seven generations, the Rudolf Scheer & Söhne shoemaker’s workshop, founded in 1816, has been producing made-to-measure footwear of the highest standard entirely by hand, using traditional tools and without the aid of machinery. Photo © ABC – Peter Schernhuber
We do not profit directly from the success of the many Passionswege outcomes, but it gives wonderful satisfaction to follow the road from the red-light district to luxury heaven. Sometimes, it is hard to convince little workshops, because they have to invest time, and some have never been in touch with design before. This is a reason why even a small festival like this, with a restricted budget that has to start from scratch every year, does provide the designers with a fee.
Bueronardin. Photo © Katarina Šoškic
A baby-blue chair is the distinguishing mark of this year's Vienna Design Week campaign conceived by Bueronardin Christof Nardin. Photo © Katarina Šoškic

We also give the designers more freedom. Part of Passionswege’s success is that there is no brief; it is all about knowledge transfer, respect and ideas for the future. It’s about making visible the skills of respective partners. Vienna Design Week, for sure, has managed to bring international designers to Vienna, foster a design debate in Austria and put the city and country on the map of international design happenings.

Among design professionals, the Vienna Design Week is an international success, for which we are very grateful. Equally important is the fact that the festival has achieved a significant interest in the fields of experimental design and social design among a broader local public that now makes up an important part of our 32–37,000 visitors per year.

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