SK 2 / PC 3-SV

Braun + Eichler/ Rams + Wagenfeld + Muller

1955 / 1959

Braun SK 2 / PC3 - SV

The principle of modularity dominates the early period of Braun audio design. Between the years 1955 – 1970 its application moved through three distinct phases. Of these, the PC 3-SV phonograph shown on this page belongs to the second.

1) 1955 – 1959
The modular principle was itself an element within a more extensive 'system' received by Braun design from the Ulm HfG. The company had been transformed by its encounter with the Ulm school, gaining a structured consistency that encompassed every aspect of what today we would call its 'visual' or ‘corporate' identity. From exhibition stands and display systems, product form, the distribution and labelling of operational controls, down to graphic and typographic forms, colours and packaging, every constituent related to every other as interlocked parts of a thoroughgoing unity. The standards governing this comprehensive and systematic coherence were set down by Ulm lecturer Otl Aicher between 1954 and1956. During the same period and as part of the same thinking, Aicher’s colleague at the HfG, Hans Gugelot, applied the modular principle to his foundational audio designs for Braun – the G 11 radio, G 12 record player and PKG radio-phonograph.

Gugelot’s approach to modularity had two aspects. The first was to elevate to a principle of form the logic of substitution that is the underlying technological condition of mass-produced electronic circuitry. In this way, the constructive principle of the standardized component found outward expression in the clarity of relation between the new enclosures and the standardised receiver-amplifier modules that they housed. To a certain extent, it must be said, this was a strategic compromise, a means of reconciling the modernist imperative to assert the facts of industrial manufacture with a brief that in essence called for modernist forms for existing Braun technology, in other words, the counter-modernist practice of styling. Not confined to Gugelot's work, all of the early designs followed this scheme of expressed modular insertion: Gugelot and Lindinger’s Studio 1, Gugelot and Ram’s SK 4 and all of Hirche’s numerous furniture oriented designs. The result was that Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s PC 3 record player element of 1956 featured in all of the early designs that had a phono function (i.e. Studio 1, SK 4, PKG series, Atelier 1, G12, etc.).

More particular to Gugelot, the second aspect of early modularity consisted in the cellular relation of parts in the structural formation of integral wholes. Primarily this was worked out through the production of devices in standardized proportions. Such that, resting open on its stay, the leading edge of G 12 record player lid aligned with the top leading edge of the G 11 radio, whilst stacked vertically the two units combined to produce a unitary form. The height of this combination, in turn, corresponded to that of the FS G television set. Thus, functional units became systematically related elements of an integrated unity. The same logic of regulated aggregation, the ‘building block’ principle, applied not only to the combination of separate devices but also to many of these units’ internal composition. Gugelot’s FS G television set and PKG designs, for example, were horizontally bisected between supporting plinths and functional elements, allowing the separation of singular units into constituent parts as use required. A clear line of connection therefore runs between Gugelot's work for Braun and his M 125 furniture system designs, the refinement of which circa 1955 for production through Bofinger coincided directly with his engagement by Braun.

2) 1959 - 1963
The distinctive character of this earliest form of modularity consisted in a very clear relation of parts to pre-given wholes - internally with regards to the product form, externally with regards to the product set. Thus, the modularity of the G 11 consisted in its possible status as an element within of a G 11 / G 12 combination and as an element within the totality of the G series: systematically related parts formed wholes, themselves parts systematically related to a whole. 

Dieter Ram’s hand in the development of the modular principle is to have expanded the scope of the whole to which the particular module might relate. With Rams and Müller's 1959 contribution to Wagenfeld’s PC 3 design, the module, released from its subordinate relation to a pre-given whole, was free to operate as a module on its own account. This promiscuous unit  was now available, in principle, to engage with any number of amplifying devices. Corresponding to the emancipation of the part was an enlargement of the whole. It developed from the aggregative formation of a single device, or a number devices within a particular product range, to become a systematically structured universe of functionally integrated and aesthetically consistent parts. In short, the Braun audio programm.

What were the immediate material conditions of this development? Terms of employment in the first years of Braun design must be counted as an inhibiting factor. In thinking through the implications of a systematic approach to design, the Ulm freelancers were confined by the limits to the specific designs assigned to them. Despite a common understanding of industrial design, this work pattern tended towards the development of stylistically distinct personal idioms. This led to a peculiar contradiction within the early designs undertaken by the Ulmers for Braun. They strove for systematicity and objectivity in a personal and subjective mode.

However, around 1959, the services of the Ulm working group and other external contributors were gradually dispensed with and work transferred to the company’s newly formed design department. And the initial constraint on the modular principle’s application arising from such aesthetic plurality fell away. At the same time, as a result of the division of labour within the newly formed design department, stylistic and functional consistency between the parts of audio range as a whole increased as the work in this segment increasingly fell to one person, an extraordinarily talented and energetic young man - Dieter Rams. Very quickly an overriding unity began to assert itself throughout the range, which for the first time assumed fully systematic form. The institution of Braun's own design department, and the allocation of the entire field of audio design to a single person established the conditions for the full development of the modular principle. The irony of systems design at Braun in its relation to the Ulm HfG is this: the HfG propagated an ideal of systems design at Braun, realised only by breaking with the HfG

It is surely no coincidence that in 1959, the same year that Rams collaborated in the design of the PC 3-SV, the first fully modular rendering of PC 3 turntable chassis, he also produced one of the most succinct statements of the enlarged concept of modularity - the portable TP 1 radio-phonograph. In the years immediately following, this functional universe expanded exponentially. The PC 3 – SV module was rapidly developed in a close series of similar devices: the PCS 4, PCS 45 and PS 2. All of which were to be attached as systematic modular elements to a variety of amplifying units – the RT 20 and T 50 radio sets, as well as the new standalone amplifying units such as the CSV 10. At the same time, turntable chassis modules of this series found their way into integrated music systems from the SK phono super and Atelier series, through to the TC 45 and Audio 1. In this way the turntable constituent of a substantial integrated system could also be found in barely different form linked up to a battery operated transistor radio.

3) 1963 – 1970
Lasting only three to four years, the period of fully interchangeable light modules, of connecting small turntables to battery operated radios, was rather brief. Developments in the field of high fidelity sound reproduction finally put pay to this comprehensive approach to modularity. The PC 5 of 1962 was the first Braun turntable capable of rendering sound quality fully listenable by today’s standards. But its necessary bulk and weight precluded the kinds of flexible use to which the less substantial earlier phono units naturally lent themselves. Prioritising sound reproduction over flexibility of use was also, no doubt, a question of marketing. Whatever the reason, from ‘63 onwards application of the modular principle reduced to the ‘building block’ systems of fixed position audio devices. With regards to use, then, experiments in developing the modular principle came to a halt. With regards to aesthetics, however, the principle received its most rigorously systematic exposition. Throughout the 1960's Dieter Rams produced a series of mutually compatible and aesthetically integrated tuners, amplifiers, turntables and speaker units. In the literature on Rams it has become standard to refer to the ‘harmonious unity of parts’ as characteristic of his designs from this period. Whilst it is absolutely the case that what seems most necessary and rational in this work derives from a typographic mode of control over elements in the formation of a unity, the functional unit itself was not the ultimate object of Rams’ practice. We must look beyond the particular amplifier or tuner to the integrated totality of all amplifier, turntable, speaker, tuner, control and phono-receiver units to grasp the meaning and extent of the ‘harmonious unity’ in question. It is only at this level, at which parts themselves present as self-sufficient and individuated wholes that the implicit utopian content of ‘the whole’ as harmoniously unified totality of all parts within the whole is revealed. This relation was latently present within Gugelot’s Braun G series; under a remarkably fortuitous constellation of conditions, Rams achievement is to have made it explicit.

price: on application