2017-02-27 08:14Press release

Josef Frank – Against Design. 10 March – 27 August 2017.


Josef Frank – Against Design is the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to this world-renowned architect and designer. The exhibition shows the diversity of Frank’s body of work and includes many architectural projects that are unknown to the Swedish public. The exhibition presents unique material from the ArkDes collections never previously displayed.

The exhibition presents the whole range of Frank’s diverse body of work, from the ground-breaking architecture of his early career to the brilliantly-coloured patterns and furniture for Svenskt Tenn in his later years. Josef Frank was a pioneer of Modernism and continues to influence and inspire the designers of today.

Amongst the important works on display are pieces of furniture from the first interior he created in 1910 – Karl and Hedwig Tedesko’s apartment in Vienna. There are also items from Haus & Garten, the furnishing house that Frank ran in Vienna with his colleague Oskar Wlach.

Josef Frank as architect

Josef Frank was born in Baden, just outside Vienna, in 1885. He was one of the key figures in architecture and design in Austria in the 1910s and 1920s, but with the emergence of anti-Semitism in Austria in the 1930s he felt he had no option but to move to Sweden, his wife’s home country, in 1933. From 1939 to 1947 he worked in the United States, but subsequently returned to Stockholm, where he was employed as a designer for Svenskt Tenn until his death in 1967.

Most of Frank’s architectural work in Austria focussed on social housing projects for the working classes. These included large residential areas and blocks inspired by the garden city ideal. In 1932, Frank was in charge of the Werkbundsiedlung housing exhibition in Vienna, an important contribution to the debate on a more liberated lifestyle in the modern age. Architects represented included contemporary modernists such as Josef Hoffman, Adolf Loos, Richard Neutra, and Gerrit Rietveld. The exhibition formed part of Vienna’s “Rotes Wien” public housing programme.

Alongside his large-scale housing projects, Frank also undertook work for more affluent families. Perhaps his most important and best-known work is Villa Beer in Vienna, built between 1929 and 1931. In Sweden, Frank is known as the originator of some of the first functionalist architecture in the country – five holiday homes in Falsterbo, designed between 1924 and 1936.

However, most of his time in Sweden came to be taken up with interior design and furniture projects. As early as 1934 he was taken on as a designer for Svenskt Tenn by Estrid Erikson. The exhibition shows several unique, original sketches for some of his best-known patterns.

Against design

Although Josef Frank was one of the leading Austrian Modernists, over the years he became increasingly critical of Modernism’s severity. He was critical of the attitude of the designer to the notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘total work of art’: the super-designed environment, standardised furniture and the invention of new forms for their own sake. Neither a personalised, artistically-inspired design nor a standardised, machine-made product – as in Bauhaus style – were meaningful in his eyes. He spoke out against both functionalism and formalism and his own creations were inspired more by the classical tradition. It is his criticism that prompts the title of our exhibition: Josef Frank – Against Design.

Instead, he developed a softer, less restrictive approach, articulated in a philosophy of architecture and interior design he called “Accidentism”.

“All the places where we are comfortable – rooms, streets and cities – have arisen through coincidences”, wrote Frank in 1958 in the magazine Form, where the concept was first launched. However, Frank did not believe chance should be allowed to dictate; he welcomed a less restrictive philosophy of architecture and interior design that accommodated both the high-brow and the low-brow – good and poor taste. This approach was put into practice in the “fantasy houses:” thirteen sketches for houses that Frank designed for his friend Dagmar Grill.

The exhibition features several of the original watercolours from the ArkDes collections. The houses are far removed from the austere design idiom of Modernism in terms of both style and expression.

Frank summarised his new, inclusive philosophy in an unpublished manuscript:

“Every great work of art must border on kitsch”.

About the exhibition

Josef Frank – Against Designis on display at ArkDes from 10 March to 27 August 2017. The exhibition was produced in 2016 by MAK, the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art in Vienna. The ArkDes exhibition is a reworking of the MAK exhibition.

Curators: Hermann Czech and Sebastian Hackenschmidt

Producer: Lena Landerberg, ArkDes

ScenographerCamilla Ed

Graphic design: Le Bureau


With an emphasis on learning, sharing and provoking debate about the practical and theoretical role of design and architecture in contemporary life, the Centre exists to illustrate and offer an active platform for architecture, design and sustainable urban development, as well as to care for, list, scientifically process and enhance, through new acquisitions, the collections entrusted to it.

About ArkDes (The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design)

ArkDes is Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design. It is a museum, a study centre and an arena for debate and discussion about the future of architecture, design and citizenship.