Braun

KF 21 Aromaster

Florian Seiffert + Hartwig Hahlcke

1976

Braun KF 21 Aromaster

The KF 21 is a remarkable column of a coffee filter machine. Its elements are stacked so that it resembles a water tower. Like a water tower, its form is governed by the principle of gravity. Yet the dramatically cantilevered reservoir and filter at the same time seemingly defy gravity. This tension between the stringent formal delineation of function and its simultaneous undercutting is symptomatic of a more general crisis within Braun design of the late '60s and early '70s.

The contradiction between concrete functional self-evidence and a staged presentation of technology in the abstract arises from a fundamental tension within Functionalist design itself. For the latter's goal to root out and eliminate the decorative always held a certain ambivalence. Despite itself, Functionalism tended toward the decorative through its very asceticism, ending up with a semblance of the functional, that is, the  appearance of the prioritisation of truth over appearance. Throughout the '60s this internal tension was exacerbated by increasingly strident demands for technological novelty coming from the unruly world upon which functionalism had once attempted to impose order. As a result, the spartan description of technology as a means reverted instead to an affirmation of technology as an end. 

The full significance of the KF 20/ 21 design becomes apparent only retrospectively from the standpoint of the KF 40 of 1984. Issued in 1972, in many respects the KF 20/ 21 design belonged to the period of Braun design prior to the Gillette acquisition of 1968. For although in its styling the KF 20/ 21 addressed the consumer precisely as a consumer, as opposed to an operator, in quality, price and form it made no such concessions. Foremost, it was expensive. Costly polycarbonate plastic used to produce the crisply moulded casings gave durable and consistent glossed surfaces; the distinctive separation of reservoir and hotplate was made possible by an extravagant duplication of heating elements. It is as if the only constraints bearing upon the design process had been imaginative. There's something beguiling in such refusal of that most basic limiting factor – cost, just as there is something directly utopian in a design process stimulated by the impulse to produce something satisfactory, regardless of any existing need for it. Such a procedure implicitly challenges the existing. One might call this the cryptic politics of bad business. It tends to be subject to correction.

This brings us to the Braun KF 40. Whereas the KF 20 had been oriented towards the consumer only somewhat abstractly through a dramatization of its technological aspect (fittingly, the device appears aboard the Nostromo in Ridely Scott’s 'Alien'), the KF 40 was a design shaped entirely by analysis of the market. The general aim had been to reposition the company in the upper middle segment of the French and German filter coffee maker markets, and to create and opening in the American. To achieve this, production costs of the KF 40 were required to be 60% that of the KF 20. Accordingly, polycarbonate was substituted for polypropylene, soft striations on the body were then called for to compensate for irregularities in the surface, the heating elements were unified and the casing acquired a more lumpen form. By its nature industrial design is constrained at every point. But it is not the degree of compromise that ensured the relative banality of KF 40. Rather it is the design's adaptation to market conditions at the level of its inception that did the job. Despite the almost hysterically heightened positivity of its relation to the abstractly technological, the KF 20 / 21 retains a speculative moment in which it projects itself beyond the already existing. the KF 40, on the other hand, is absolutely subordinate to the empirical world,  marking the point at  which Braun design's utopian impulse was finally extinguished. 

The move from a holistic design program to a global sales strategy at Braun was not, of course, limited to this device. Waxlax, appointed by Gillette as Braun’s company director merely instructed a reorientation in this case that had been generally inevitable since the 1968 acquisition. As the KF 40 was commissioned the photographic lines were terminated. Audio was to follow. Kitchen appliances and personal hygiene lines were expanded, both production and design quality diminished…  It seemed that the condition of successful global sales lay in mediocre design.  Returning to the KF 20/ 21 from the beginning of the demise of Braun design somewhere in the mid-1980’s, we can read in its form both an anticipation of the programm’s fate and its extraordinary refusal.

see also:

phase 1

HL 70 

HLD 1000

condition: fully functional and in excellent order

price: £200