The simple, easily expandable bookshelf combines vertical elements of black lacquered sheet metal with wooden shelves. Wilhelm Kienzle’s (1886–1958) design embodies better than any other Swiss shelving unit the ethos of the Neues Bauen, which encouraged lightweight, portable, and adaptable furniture.
The ingenious designer and teacher Wilhelm Kienzle (1886–1958) described the “first step toward sensible furniture design” as “normalization.” What he meant by this, in 1927, was primarily the move toward standardization, similar to what was occurring at the same time in the clothing industry. He used this idea to differentiate between the principles behind the design and construction of serially produced pieces of furniture and whole interiors created by craftsmen. According to Kienzle, the furnishings in rental housing should be lightweight and versatile, allowing them to be arranged in a variety of different ways. Set up freely in a room, they enter into a direct relationship with the inhabitant and fulfill their practical function wherever they are needed. In 1931, Kienzle designed the easy-to-disassemble bookshelf in accordance with the ethos and in the context of the Neues Bauen, perhaps for the housing exhibition at the Neubühl housing development in Zurich. Manufactured by the Embru-Werke in Rüti, it was one of their best-selling pieces of furniture for years and was produced continuously, with very few interruptions. The rectangular sheet metal shelves with their folded edges are fitted into grooves in the upright sides and in wooden panels at the back for greater stability. The bookshelf can be expanded upward as desired, with a range of shelves and sheet metal elements in different sizes allowing for a multitude of different combinations. The simple construction, economical use of materials, and flexibility of use all make the Kienzle bookshelf a prime example of unpretentious Swiss design. (Renate Menzi)