Ruedi & Vera Baur

What is very beautiful in design, is what we never know. You can plan everything, design everything, and there’s the time when the door opens and either it works, either it doesn't.

Ruedi Baur trained as a graphic designer and has worked with many institutions including the Centre Pompidou, for which he designed the signage and graphic identity in 2000. He and Vera Baur-Kockot, the sociologist who specialises in visual anthropology, have created the Civic City institute and look at the relationships between architecture, urbanism and political territory. 

Updated on 25/05/2021

5 min

Ruedi & Vera Baur
Ruedi & Vera Baur © DR

On 12 April 2020, in the middle of the first lockdown in France, you started a log book. Drawings exhibited at the Institut français in Casablanca as part of the exhibition "Et soudain le monde fut immobilisé” (And suddenly the world stood still). What motivated this project? 

Ruedi Baur: Vera and I have been undertaking a reflection on questions of exodus and resistance. It seemed that this particular moment, this time of mutation, went beyond the pandemic and undeniably put us in a new narration. This log book was an almost Dadaist gesture, a sort of “it’s better to laugh”. The aim was to lead citizens to regain the ability to think and act. How do you restore power, culture, democracy and justice at that precise time?

Vera Baur: It’s also a means of saving yourself at a time of disorientation. Like in War and Peace by Tolstoy, it’s creation that saves, that enables you to take a step back from the situation. 


Why did you choose to use a “log book” format? 

Ruedi: I would say that it is an open letter written every day, a sort of conversation. I wasn’t very active on social media, but on several occasions I felt that the work I was doing was shared by others, who were taking part in a joint reflection. This motivated continuing with my work. I found it necessary to keep a critical eye in relation to this such unusual moment is to forge ahead, even if we don’t know at all what tomorrow will bring. This summer, I asked the question “should I keep going?” and I had a wave of ”yes, you have to keep going!” 


In the context of the health crisis, how has your creative process been working? 

Ruedi: It was a daily ritual for me. Depending on the complexity of the drawing and the message, it could be two or three hours of work each day. 

Vera: For Ruedi, it was also a way to live with this time of extreme violence. 


Has the health crisis influenced the way you design your projects, like that of the Strange night of design, for which you brought together 70 contributors from all over the world?

Ruedi: During these lockdowns we have had to face an absence of local power. Everything that relates to public spaces has been heavily impacted by the ban on moving around. Luckily, this spring we find the urge to live together and be close to each other again.

Vera: In the crisis context, you have to reinvent and re-imagine yourself. You have to do things and at the same time, resist. The Strange night of design took place last October at the Tri Postal in Lille, during the Lille Capitale Mondiale du Design 2020. The event had the format of 24 hours consecutive hours of interviews around the world, broadcast live on social media. The idea was to think about the role of design collectively faced with the future of our society. Designers, artists, and design theoreticians combined their points of view for one night to elaborate critical thought about the role of design.

The aim of this log book was to lead citizens to regain the ability to think and act.

As part of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2017 when France was guest of honour, the Institut français asked you to design the signage and scenography of the French Pavilion. How did you imagine this project?  

Ruedi: The questions of multilingualism and “multiculturality” interests us a lot and has been nourishing our work for a long time. We tried to make a “French language” pavilion of the “French” pavilion by highlighting the relationship between the French and German languages. 

Vera: We imagined a pavilion in which we could take the time to discuss, listen and read, like a celebration of language. The words and their imaginations linked the space, and the signage transmitted the content. 

Ruedi: The challenge was sizeable because the pavilion was in a very rough hangar. One of the first steps for us was to bring 30,000 books on site. Books which were then redistributed in libraries in Africa. Another important point, the whole of the pavilion was made in pine. So there was a smell, which is rare in events like this. Finally, the signs were bilingual. It wasn’t about translation but to have languages and texts meet. Which is what we do each time we try to link the form and its content. 


The questions of language and multilingualism in the public space are at the heart of your research. What interests you in this issues? 

Ruedi: We started working on these questions in Zurich shortly after 2000 after having done certain projects like the Centre Pompidou, where multilingualism was very present. In Zurich, we asked ourselves about pictograms: can the image be an object of linguistic translation? We also worked a lot on the cohabitation between signs, the Chinese language and Latin languages, on linguistic structures and the meeting of multiple languages. In addition the Grand Paris Express project will be constructed in five languages. 


In 2011, you created the European institute Civic City to put design at the service of citizens. Can you tell us about the way you approach design through the projects that you undertake in your association? 

Ruedi: Civic City is a network of international personalities of all disciplines that we give different issues to. For example together we looked at the notion of twin cities and the public space as a space for exchanging. Fifteen colleagues from Civic City launched teaching projects in schools and universities on the subject and the result of the research was presented at the Centre Pompidou in 2018. 

Vera: Civic City is a network of trust. When we launch an appeal, we ask our colleagues to make the theme theirs. The idea is that everyone finds their niche. It’s not really a theme, we don't have an answer in mind, but we need this community. It’s a question of sharing and collective intelligence. 

Ruedi: What is very beautiful in design, is what we never know. You can plan everything, design everything, and there’s the time when the door opens and either it works, either it doesn't. 


What current or future projects do you have?

Ruedi: The Rosa Luxemburg foundation in Geneva has asked us to organise a night of world social rights. We are going to consider how workers’ rights are coordinated, for workers and employers, we all have the same work conditions wherever we are in the world. 

Vera: With unions, militants and legal advisors, we are going to reformulate this challenge by rethinking human rights in a uncolonial logic. The first step will take place next April.

The Institut français and the artists

The Institut français is associated to the Ruedi and Vera Baur's project "Et soudain le monde fut immobilisé”. This project presents a series of filmed dialogues with designers, an exhibition that was presented at the Institut français of Morocco from October 2020 to January 2021 and a night of discussions around design within the framework of Lille Capitale Mondiale du Design 2020. 


L'institut français, LAB