Peer-reviewed articles But we refused to be scared to silence Swedish designers’ Cold War visit to ICSID ‘75 Moscow

This text gives a glimpse of a hitherto unknown design discourse during the Cold War – from both sides of the Iron Curtain – by exploring the 1975 Congress of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), held in Moscow. Sweden sent a big delegation to Russia. More than forty of the small country’s top designers and influencers participated, which was more than twice as many as usual to these international design congresses. Thanks to reactions published about the events in journals on design in Sweden and in the Soviet Union, archival material, and the author’s own interviews with the delegates from Sweden who participated in Moscow, as well as one-off exclusive backstage witnesses from the local staff of the host organization during the ongoing congress, Moscow 1975 is experienced through the eyes of contemporary witnesses. The essay gives new insights into the world congress in design and illustrates the international atmosphere during the Cold War.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2022:1-2, pp 72-89
Published on on June 22, 2022

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This text gives a glimpse of a hitherto unknown design discourse during the Cold War – from both sides of the Iron Curtain –  by exploring the 1975 Congress of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), held in Moscow. Sweden sent a big delegation to Russia. More than forty of the small country’s top designers and influencers participated, which was more than twice as many as usual to these international design congresses. Thanks to reactions published about the events in journals on design in Sweden and in the Soviet Union, archival material, and the author’s own interviews with the delegates from Sweden who participated in Moscow, as well as one-off exclusive backstage witnesses from the local staff of the host organization during the ongoing congress, Moscow 1975 is experienced through the eyes of contemporary witnesses. The essay gives new insights into the world congress in design and illustrates the international atmosphere during the Cold War.

Key words: ICSID, design, disability, ergonomics, human rights,
VNIITE, Gosplan, KGB, Sakharov, Cold War.

Mister President! Ladies and Gentlemen! Fellow Comrades! On behalf of the Soviet organizing committee, please allow me to welcome the participants and guests of the IX Congress of the International Council of Societies of Artist Construction who have come here from all ends of the planet. It is a great honor for our scientific and technical community that ICSID chose the capital of our Motherland for this congress.

It is 10:07 on Monday morning on October 13, 1975. Dzhermen Gvishiani, government representative for international relations of science and technology and the powerful State Planning Committee Gosplan, taps the microphone as he looks at the auditorium from the stage in the Rossiya Main Concert Hall — rumored to be the best concert hall in the country in the newly built luxury Hotel Rossiya next to Red Square and the Kremlin. We are now in Moscow — the capital of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), at the same time the capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) — the power hub of the entire socialist bloc during the Cold War.

In the previous days, 700 Soviet specialists, 757 guests from 32 countries and 147 accredited journalists had gathered for the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress, October 13 — 17, as the Moscow-based journal Tekhnicheskaia estetika reported in the editorial of the November 1975 issue.

The audience did not want to miss a word from the elegantly dressed man with a well-modulated voice that pronounced the welcoming address to the design world congress of 1975. The tailors here must be excellent, pondered Arthur Hald (1916—1993), alderman of the Swedish delegation. Hald, art historian, former director of Svensk Form [The Swedish Form Association], was also artistic director of plastic and porcelain manufacturer Gustavsberg, manufacturer of the standard bathroom equipment (white porcelain toilet, bathtub, basin) for Miljonprogrammet [The Million Program]. With its one million reasonably priced flats and one-family houses fully equipped with bathrooms and kitchens with stove, sink, refrigerator, and freezer, built from 1965—1975, it was the largest and most controversial housing project ever realized in Swedish history. Miljonprogrammet was successfully crowned with a Palace of Culture (Kulturhuset) in the very city center of Stockholm where all the subway lines and commuter trains meet. By 1975 the Palace of Culture at Sergels Torg was a living room open for all, with chess boards, newspaper reading room and music listening on headphones in a comfortable setting.

Now Arthur Hald is in Moscow, eager to learn as much as possible. He does not want to miss a single word and adjusts the earphones that he received tickets for in the congress kit (ICSID ‘75 Moscow registration no. 0929) in exchange for his passport. He needs them for the simultaneous English interpretation. The sound could have been better though.

The Swedish delegation departed from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport on Saturday afternoon on October 11. On Sunday afternoon the group left the Finnish capital of Helsinki in a Soviet aircraft bound for Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. In spite of the geographical proximity — less than an hour by air across the narrow Baltic Sea — this was a rare visit from Sweden to its big neighbor.

Moscow is eager to impress. The place to do it is the new Hotel Rossiya with its 1960s high-end Soviet-style: white marble columns, red carpets and enormous crystal-looking chandeliers in the lounges and vestibules — perfect for the get-together cocktails of the luminaries of the international design world on a brief exotic visit behind the Iron Curtain.

The context in which to understand the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress is as a part of the cultural communication during the Cold War. The world had been divided into two separated competing blocs since Yalta 1945, manifested 1961 by the erection of the Berlin Wall. Ballet performances and ice hockey championships turned into Cold War battlefields. Two superpowers’ every whim was followed by the rest of the world, including Scandinavia — a few sparsely populated countries in the northern periphery of Europe squeezed in between the two blocs, where the “communists” in the “East” and the “capitalists” in the “West” fought for two contrary worldviews.

In 1975, the oil crisis was a fact, the hippie movement preached peace, love and understanding and the Vietnam war fought by proxy by the US and the USSR had at last come to an end, with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. In July 1975, the whole world followed Apollo 18 and Soyuz 19 on TV, watching a moment of fragile détente when Soviet cosmonauts and US astronauts shook hands — far out in space. But the hi-tech varnish was thin. In reality, Soviet industry was obsolete, and the Soviet leadership was aware of this. Industrial design was thus an important arena in which to become updated with international developments. With a world full of problems, ICSID had major plans to solve them and also, at least so it seemed, the right connections to do so. ICSID — International Council of Societies of Industrial Design — was founded in 1957 as an independent, non-profit, non-government organization to promote better design. Although initiated by countries in the rich, highly industrialized world, the aim of ICSID was to be globally inclusive for design and designers in all countries — rich and poor.

The first ICSID World Congress took place in Stockholm in 1959. With industrial designer and member of the Swedish royal family Sigvard Bernadotte (1907—2002) as Chairman, ICSID Stockholm ’59 was a success. Sigvard Bernadotte was elected ICSID President for the period 1961—1963. From then on, biennial congresses with interim workshops and seminars were arranged — ICSID became the perfect arena for the exchange of knowledge of industrial innovations. The networking by the James Bond-like world-improving designer aristocracy soon turned ICSID into an international platform. Successively, the ICSID congresses developed into something of — at least in the designers’ world — similar dignity to the Olympic Games.

In 1963, ICSID was granted special consultative status with UNESCO in order to usedesign for the betterment of the human condition”, to quote the protocols of the ICSID Paris Congress, UNESCO headquarters, June 1963 — a wording which suggests ambitions far beyond the factory workers’ concrete working conditions on the shop floor by the conveyor belt. The expression “human condition” was hardly a coincidence considering the quite impressive reading lists ICSID compiled for the professional designer, that included literature on active life and labor such as that of existentialist philosopher Hannah Arendt. But how was the designer to improve the circumstances for the human condition? ICSID suggests: “The function of an industrial designer is to give such form to objects and services that they render the conduct of human life efficient and satisfying.”

So — what was/is the ICSID, really? Monica Boman (1929—2014) — editor-in-chief of the Swedish language journal Form, spokesperson for design in Sweden under the auspices of Svenska Slöjdföreningen [Swedish Handicraft Association] — puts it somewhat critically: “ICSID started as an exclusive Anglo-Saxon gentlemen’s club and developed into a kind of international United Nations for questions about design.” As a historian interested in design during the Cold War (with my additional a birds-eye perspective, as it were, thanks to the time passed as well as being informed by decades of research made on this topic by hundreds of scholars) I make the interpretation: With the ICSID, design became a platform for professional designers to participate in peace building and détente after the World War II, by way of creating a relaxed setting where the superpowers could talk and interact together with non-bloc countries such as Sweden.

The USSR very much wanted to be a part of this international designers’ jet set. In 1965, the Soviet Union was granted ICSID membership. In ICSID’s own history writing, however, there are surprisingly few traces of the Soviet Union. No mention of it is to be found for instance at the website of ICSID/WDO. Russian sources that I have consulted on the contrary emphasize their presence — and the participants of the Swedish delegation to ICSID ‘75 Moscow confirm that they were there.

Although ICSID ‘75 Moscow was the biggest ICSID congress that had hitherto ever taken place (according to my Russian sources, including VNIITE director Yuri Soloviev and articles in Tekhnicheskaia estetika and Dekorativnoe iskusstvo SSSR), the congress is not mentioned at all in ICSID’s history writing, despite the boast of having “members from all over the world in both capitalist and non-capitalist countries”. I find the absence of the congress in Moscow in the ICSID historiography remarkable. Not only was it important for the communication between the two blocs during the Cold War, it was crucial in the world of design to have an event of this dignity taking place – for the first time behind the Iron Curtain.

The ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress was an event of immense prestige for the Soviets. It was the opportunity to remedy the missed opportunity for the Soviet Union to host the World Fair in 1967 — which would have proudly commemorated the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks’ Party to power. It was Montreal, Canada, however, that won the competition to host Universal Expo -67. Instead, 1975 was the 30-year anniversary of the victory in WWII, with its grandiose mass celebration in the Red Square, where the German Nazis were severely humiliated by being forced to lower their red, black and white flags with the big black swastikas and put them on the ground in front of the Lenin Mausoleum — with the whole world watching. But the victory was not settled. The US boycotted ICSID ‘75 Moscow (which could be the topic of another article.)

The host for the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress was VNIITE, a Moscow-based institute for industrial design, assigned to handle national and international design connections. The Russian acronym VNIITE — Vsesoiuznyi Naucho-Issledovatelskyi Institut Tekhnicheskoi Estetiki — means, in translation, the All-Union Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics (the Soviet-Russian term for industrial design is technical aesthetics). An institute for scientific research and innovation, VNIITE was a think tank of sorts founded in the beginning of the 1960s along with many other new institutes, with the task of upgrading Soviet industry to quality standards that were sufficiently high for export. It was to ignite modernization and reconstruction in industrial production after the World War II, and to do so (and this is crucial) — on a more user-friendly basis — be it for the metal miner in the deep shafts, or the worker by the conveyor belt: the quality of the working conditions was in urgent need of improvement.

VNIITE branches in the major places for heavy industry in the Soviet Union, all connected to Moscow (here with the Russian spelling used during the Soviet era): Leningrad (Russia), Vilnius (Latvia), Minsk (Belarus), Kiev (Ukraine), Kharkov (Ukraine), Tbilisi (Georgia), Erevan (Armenia), Baku (Azerbaijan), Sverdlovsk (Russia), Khabarovsk (Russia).

VNIITE branches in the major places for heavy industry in the Soviet Union, all connected to Moscow (here with the Russian spelling used during the Soviet era): Leningrad (Russia), Vilnius (Latvia), Minsk (Belarus), Kiev (Ukraine), Kharkov (Ukraine), Tbilisi (Georgia), Erevan (Armenia), Baku (Azerbaijan), Sverdlovsk (Russia), Khabarovsk (Russia).

In 1975 VNIITE had existed for more than a decade. From its foundation in 1962 it had expanded with ten branches in the major industrial centers spread over the entire country: Leningrad, Vilnius, Minsk, Kiev, Kharkov, Tbilisi, Erevan, Baku, Sverdlovsk and Khabarovsk. The ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress was the very moment for VNIITE to show the great value and necessity of its work. Now was the time to show that the money spent had served a useful purpose. The institute produced the entire concept for the congress with the headline “Design for Man and Mankind”, and also served as the local host.

The harsh working conditions in the Soviet Union were not unknown in Sweden. The previous year (1974) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918—2008) had at last been able to receive in person the medal of his 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature for his books on the hard and inhuman labor conditions in the Soviet Union. His books were forbidden in his homeland (although read in samizdat among the cultural élite) but smuggled into the West and published in inexpensive paperbacks. There was a large audience for his serious books. So -– was there perhaps another story — not yet told — to be expected in Moscow? A story of respect for the worker? This, combined with a curiosity for what might hide behind the ill-reputed Iron Curtain in the ill-reputed Soviet Union, forty-six of this small country’s top designers and influencers signed up for Moscow. This was the biggest Swedish participation in an ICSID-event — ever.

In 1975, Sweden was at the peak of the rekordåren [Years of Records], as the era after the WWII is called in Swedish history writing. Far removed from the poor, miserable country deserted by more than one million emigrants (more than one fourth of Sweden’s entire population between approx. 1850—1920), the Swedish industrial sector was booming. The surplus was redistributed as welfare according to the societal model called Folkhemmet [Home of the People] which included free education (with a hot meal for school children in grades 1—9 and high school students for 2—3 years) and free health insurance for all.

But the Swedes were also genuinely interested in the Soviet system, which had proven itself to be able to deliver welfare as well. The enormous size of the Soviet Union (the population of Moscow alone exceeded the population of the whole of Sweden with its eight million in 1975), reasons for being awed but also curious were obvious. The Soviet Union had produced an enormous amount of housing in the ruins of the war. There were similarities and differences between the two systems. There was a lot to see and to learn.

The friendly human-oriented congress name “Design for Man and Mankind” pointed to a humanitarian approach different from the technocratic machine world of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. This sympathetic approach was one of the reasons that the Swedes became curious and wanted to make the effort to go to the Soviet Union (despite the enormous amount of paper work demanded to maneuver through the humiliating and controlling bureaucracy to get a Soviet visa).

It was largely thanks to Lennart Lindkvist (1930—), designer and director of Svensk Form (ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress registration no. 0942), who had managed to enthuse an impressive number from the Swedish designers’ community join an adventure to Moscow. He phoned his designer colleagues and convinced them of the worth and importance of showing an effort — this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to look behind the façade. Who knows what achievements the Russians have made? Let’s go there and see for ourselves! For the first time, an exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences was to take place with colleagues on the other side of the Iron Curtain.


The four days of the Moscow ICSID event, October 13—17, coincided with the October week when, by tradition, the Nobel Prizes are announced. On October 14, international media announced that the 1975 Nobel Prize in Economics had been awarded to Soviet mathematician Leonid Kantorovich (1912—1986) for his theory on the “optimum allocation of resources”. Since economics and industrial production are two sides of the same coin, Kantorovich’s prize was good news for the design community. The Transportation Theory presented real solutions to logistical knots. Transportation could be more efficient and the potential to save both money and resources was huge. The Soviet Union was the largest country in the world, stretching across eleven time zones from Japan in the east to Norway in the west, from Arctic permafrost in the north to the south with its subtropical climate in the Crimea, and deserts and mountains on the borders to China and Afghanistan.

Kantorovich’s theory indicated that a centralized economic planning system could serve as a convincing alternative to “chaotic capitalism”, the traditional Soviet term for the economic system in the West. In the Soviet Union, the control of all natural resources, metals, oil, water and endless forests, factories and the entire workforce, was in the hands of a few. The decision-makers in charge of all the resources, the means of all production, and the entire workforce, were so few that they could meet eye to eye around a single table.

If the blocs separated by the Iron Curtain could be unified, this would have a huge impact on the allocation of resources on a global level.

In the tradition of excellent mathematicians, the government representative for opening the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress, Dzhermen Gvishiani (1928—2003), for example, was not only a very important bureaucrat for inaugurating a high-profile international event, but was undoubtedly also a very able theorist in economic management in his own right. Such a bright and highly placed person would for sure be able to push decisions in the right direction, and to execute some power.


On October 12, the Soviet aircraft finally landed at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport. Officials in greyish green uniforms had hours at their disposal to conduct controls. By the time the bus with the Swedish contingent that had registered for the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress was ready to depart from the airport, it was already dark. The warm Indian summer had turned into frost. The smell of cheap cigarettes and Belomorkanal, mothballs and low octane petrol, was the sign they were now behind the Iron Curtain. The journey from the Swedish capital to the capital of Russia and the Soviet Union had taken more than thirty hours.

Arriving at Hotel Rossiya a few minutes before midnight, the tired Swedes saw the Finnish star designer Timo Sarpaneva stepping out from a long black limousine dressed in large wolfskin coat. Sarpaneva was famous as the first foreign designer from the capitalist West ever to have a separate exhibition in the Soviet Union: “an event of course of exceptional significance”. The word about Sarpaneva’s successful show at the Exposition of the Achievements of the People’s Economy (VDNKh), spread like a fire. Many newspapers had written about it long before its opening. Everybody talked about it. The guest book witnesses to visitors from Samarkand to Tula who express their gratitude for the simple and beautiful items. Within two weeks, the exposition had been visited by “tens of thousands Muscovites and visitors to the capital”. Sarpaneva’s “Ilya” and “Kalinka” glasses with a frosted and bark-like surface were made for the Russian market and soon became highly sought-after gifts among high-ranking nomenklatura officials.

With its more than three thousand rooms for 5890 guests, Hotel Rossiya was one of the biggest hotels in the world. The best rooms had a view of view of the nearby Red Square and the golden onion cupolas of the cathedrals in the Kremlin.

For the female participants a little pink folder was found in ICSID’ 75 Moscow congress registration kit.

For the female participants a little pink folder was found in ICSID’ 75 Moscow congress registration kit.

Entering their rooms, selected members of the Swedish delegation (the women) found an extra treat in the form of a little pink folder in their ICSID’ 75 Moscow congress registration kit. Among them were team members of international industrial textile star designer Astrid Sampe (ICSID’ 75 Moscow registration no. 0923): Louise Carling-Fougstedt, textile designer of numerous printed kitchen towels shown at the H55 exhibition in Helsingborg in 1955, who worked with Sampe at the NK Textile Chamber (Moscow registration no. 0960) and Anna Maria Hoke, textile and interior designer responsible for the textiles in most of Gotland’s churches, who cooperated with Astrid Sampe for the 1939 New York World Fair (registration no. 1253). Also in the group were Eva Ralf, responsible for exhibitions from Sweden at the Council of Industrial Design in London, interior designer for the National Board of Public Building, Silja Line flagships and the Swedish Room in the Royal Family’s summer residence, Solliden (no. 0971); Thyra Nordström, scenographer and interior architect, author of many books from 1954 — 1991 for Konsumentverket (the Swedish Consumer Agency) including the book Bosättningsråd [Advice for settling in to your first home] reprinted in eleven revised editions (no. 0940); Jane Bark (1931— ) fashion illustrator for Damernas Värld and Femina (no. 0938); and Monica Boman, editor-in-chief of design journal Form, author and editor of the standard book Svenska möbler, “Swedish Furniture” (no. 0927). These very important designer-influencers sank into the brown synthetic bedspread in their respective rooms, took the bright pink booklet that they had found in their ICSID’ 75 Moscow congress kit, and pondered the following words:

Уважаемые дамы! Dear Ladies! Chère Dames! Sehr geehrte Damen!
We are happy to welcome you to Moscow, the capital of the USSR. The Ladies’ Committee offers you a wide program of sightseeing tours in the city, of acquaintance with historical monuments and the cultural life of our city. We are pleased to invite you to the opening and closing sessions of the Congress, and to the receptions where you will meet Congress delegates. We wish you a very pleasant stay.

Damskii komitet — Ladies’ Committee
IX ICSID Congress’

The very important congress delegates (the men), on the other hand, found other additional treats in their congress kits, such as entrance tickets for the plenary sessions in the Rossiya Concert Hall. These delegates included (selection): Rune Zernell, constructor of the first subway car in Stockholm and the Volvo Amazon (ICSID’ 75 Moscow registration no. 1252); Rolf Häggbom, head teacher for industrial design at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm (Moscow no. 0932), Mike Stott, professor of interaction design, Umeå Institute of Design (no. 0955); John Grieves, graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, team leader for the Swedish design department of IBM (no. 0953); Claes Frössén, SID designer at Husqvarna (no. 0963); Per Olof Wikström, professor of design methodology at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, and chair of Swedish Industrial Designers (SID) 1975–77 (ICSID’ 75 Moscow registration no. 0967).

In everyone’s congress kit: food coupons Lux (which included a big bottle of vodka and a bottle of champanskoe to be shared by three people), tickets to the Bolshoi Theatre, the State Circus and to all the receptions, including an invitation to the grand finale: “The Organizing Committee has the pleasure of inviting you to the Closing Reception in the ‘Rossiya’ Restaurant (western wing, ground floor) on October 16, at 8 p.m.”

Of course, the real bonus of any international conference is the social interaction. The Soviet Union had a population of 246.3 million people comprising more than 130 larger and smaller nationalities living together like “one big family in 15 Socialist Republics”, stated the colorful brochure distributed by the Soviet State Tourist Bureau Intourist to every foreigner visiting the country. The cover depicted smiling women (no men) in traditional folk costumes in bright happy colors ring dancing and holding hands.

At last they were to see the best Soviet-made products and meet with colleagues across political barriers. In the vein of ‘Workers of the world — unite!’, as Jack Ränge (designer of functional chairs and tables for public interiors, ICSID ‘75 Moscow registration no. 0928) wrote in his enthusiastic article ‘Soviet form: We blast into the sky, with ferro-concrete’ in the Swedish journal Form. For a few intense days, the Swedes were to join their Soviet comrades.


While the delegates from the Swedish group tried to orient themselves in the very big hotel, in other parts of the city, staff members of the host organization VNIITE made their final preparations for the upcoming event.

Soviet design and the State Central Planning Committee Gosplan

Few countries have such a heroic past as the USSR when it comes to design. But what had become of the noble beginnings of Russian constructivism’s self-proclaimed “designers for the everyday” since the heyday of the 1920s? In the vein of Marx, Engels and the Arts & Crafts movement with its socialist roots, the aim was to make work more bearable for the industrial proletariat. But what about the fruits of all the efforts made since the dictatorship of the proletariat and the workers’ state was founded as the Soviet Union in 1922? No one knew. The true situation was an official secret. Many millions of prisoners had been in the camps. Every other family had a family member who had either died or returned home but remained silent about what they had experienced.  At least until the story by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about the long working day of the GULAG prisoner Ivan Denisovich was published in 1962 during the short Thaw, with some moderate relaxation from the authoritarian state control. When Solzhenitsyn’s first-hand experience of the forced labor camps were published in Russian, a witness to the cruel conditions at the Gulag Archipelago in the first workers’ state, it was a shock.

What did “Made in the USSR” look like in 1975? No one knew, neither in Sweden (nor anywhere else). And vice versa. In the Soviet Union, very little was known about Swedish design. The only article on Swedish design to appear in the Soviet media for a long time was a brief, dry report in Tekhnicheskaia estetika on devices for home use, compiled by a translator. Not intentionally, perhaps. After all, we are realistic. Not every small country could expect to be acknowledged. The Soviet Union had a lot on its plate.

In the USSR, with its centralized system for planning and (re-)construction, the means to shape the world to become accessible for bodies with various functionalities and (dis-)abilities, was in the hands of a few decision-makers. How bodies physically interact and negotiate with structures in society could be easily changed by the State Central Planning Committee — Gosplan — the designer, so to speak, of the entire means of production. That was the plan. That was the goal. The focus of the five-year plans for 1946–1950 and 1951–1955 was reconstruction after WWII.

The five-year plan launched in 1975 — also called The Five-Year Plan for Quality — was an enormous leap since it focused not only on what should be produced, but also how the production was to be carried out. The quality of working conditions was to become better. For the people of the USSR, this was a promise for a better future — within reach. By 1980, in less than five years, the goals of the Quality Plan were already to be reached.

Gosplan representative Dzhermen Gvishiani’s close involvement in design issues raised hopes for action. His opening address for the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress, “Design in the service of the people”, paved the way. The whole concept and the international presence raised hopes for increased focus on the humanitarian side of the man-machine constellation.

“We count on your active participation in the congress, and are convinced that the forthcoming exchange of ideas will be fruitful for the further development of design”. With these words, Dzhermen Gvishiani officially opened ICSID ‘75 Moscow on Monday morning, October 13, and handed the microphone to Yuri Soloviev (1920—2013), director of VNIITE. Tall, good-looking and well versed, Soloviev was locally known in Moscow as ‘the aristocrat’.

“Strong state control”, declared Soloviev in his plenary speech from the podium in the Rossiya main congress hall, “is the prerequisite to execute operative decisions on questions of such importance and complexity as the welfare of human beings and society”. So — what could possibly go wrong? All the prerequisites for betterment were there: the power in the hands of a few, the good will for implementation in practice, the pragmatic Soviet logistic models to make dreams become reality (that had even been awarded the Nobel Prize). What did this reality look like? How was it in real life?

Organic flaws in the economy

Soviet industry was in a stagnant, constant crisis ever since Stalin had accused consumer and human friendly economists of “sabotaging” the expansion of heavy industry in the 1930s. Thus, there was leeway to make working conditions more friendly. However, a long misanthropic tradition had to be dealt with. In the words of renown Soviet-American sociologist and political scientist Vladimir Shlapentokh (1916—2015): “With their deep contempt for the masses, the Bolsheviks looked upon the people as expendable material and were never seriously concerned about the number of human lives they sacrificed for the achievements of their goals.”

Perestroika leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in a “last attempt to improve economic performance initiated in 1986” is credited by Shlapentokh to be the one “who created the state quality system”. But this attempt also failed, as had earlier efforts — to which the Gosplan-VNIITE-efforts (albeit not mentioned by Shlapentokh) that we describe here — belong.

One contributing factor to the system’s failure was an overload of control, an overload of ineffective bureaucracy, instead of finding the real remedy. Shlapentokh: “The Soviet leaders were aware of the weaknesses in the mechanism of performance”, and sought to remedy them by way of external mechanisms of control: “By 1985, no less than 10 million people, about 10—15 percent of all employees, were enrolled as social auditors.” And “once again these inspectors went into collusion with managers, which aroused the hostility of the party committees”.

On June 2, 1962, the workers at the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Plant finally dared to go on strike. Their modest pleadings were for salaries high enough to occasionally afford some meat for dinner, and some flexibility from the functionaries in charge of public transportation to adjust the timetables to accommodate the needs of the nightshift workers who did not want to have to walk all the way home anymore. The bus timetables did not fit with the work schedule of the factory with 12 000 workers. But instead of meeting these very reasonable demands that one would have thought would not have been too difficult: “They shot into a completely calm crowd”, stated Anatoly Zhmurin in 2017, fifty-five years later, to Meduza correspondent Daniil Turovsky, who documented eye witness accounts of the Novocherkassk massacre, the capital of the Don Cossacks, two hundred kilometers east of Mariupol in the Donbass. Novocherkassk in Russia is near Rostov-on-Don, very close to the Ukrainian border.

Human life counted little, as we saw Shlapentokh noting above. Furthermore, the Don regions were targeted during Holodomor, the famine in the 1930s, and the suffering were immense. The famine was orchestrated at the same time as the five-year plans were launched in the 1920s and 1930s, with Moscow’s hungry eyes on the rich natural resources in what is now Ukraine.

These historical facts were silenced, however: Including the fact that the Soviet authorities had an “explicit anti-Cossack agenda” in order to give more Lebensraum to the Russian ethnicity. Archival documents were declassified only a few years ago, and the article referred to here was published as late as in 2020. Information has thus come to light very recently. The extent and consequences of the Holodomor was not present in the Socialist Realist paintings and novels — that instead gave an impression of happy collective farmers painted in “happy colors”  and workers happily giving their all in the steel factories. The propaganda was focused on those glorified goals, not the costs of life or the suffering to achieve those goals —  if they were ever achieved at all.

It is important to note this gap between the realities as they were, and as they were pretended to be. The 1962 strike, the very same year VNIITE was founded, tells the story about the realities behind the façade, whereas the efforts made during the congress in 1975 in Moscow to show no flaws in the success of the communist system of production talks about how the façade was upheld and created. Actually, in the 1930s the five-year plans were already bringing surpluses to the center in Moscow and its manufacturing factories by suppressing ethnic minorities in remote areas, and taking advantage of the natural resources in the periphery (everything emerged from the center in Moscow).

At the very moment that I write this, in April 2022, Azovstal, the Ukrainian steel plant in Mariupol, one of Europe’s biggest metallurgic plants, established 1930 during the first five-year plan, is all over the world news, described as “a fortress in the city”, now defending Mariupol from falling into Russian hands.

VNIITE’s human-friendly worldview – a challenge to Soviet industry

VNIITE was founded as a part of the post-Stalin reforms initiated in the 1960s to make life more comfortable and to produce higher quality consumer goods in working places of higher quality. VNIITE continually proposed solutions for better working conditions in all spheres of society: For the drivers of combine harvesters on the fields of wheat and corn stretching from horizon to horizon, and the long-distance pilots and drivers of airplanes, trucks, and trains. And numerous war veterans adding to the need for all kinds of empowering tools, including replacement limbs and better prostheses. However, with its inclusive view of a society designed for everybody, the work by VNIITE was rather the exception than the rule.

Ergonomics, defined as the science of labor, was a task that coincided with the UNESCO-ICSID definition of its mission: “design for the betterment of the human condition”, mentioned above. At VNIITE, ergonomics was important. Even key. Vladimir Munipov (1931—2012), head of the Department of Ergonomics, was vice-director of the whole institute. As described in one of his many articles in Tekhnicheskaia estetika, Munipov equated quality with user-friendliness which equaled the science of labor. Science was the foundation of the Soviet state ideology, and in this way Munipov skillfully presented ergonomics as the firm scientific basis for the changes that were so urgently needed for industrial production. But only with the 11th five-year plan from 1975 to 1980 were these requirements at last made explicit, established by General Secretary of the Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev as The Five-year Plan for Quality’. This really seemed to be a promise for a better life. The rulers in Moscow had it all in their hands — and the peoples in the vast Soviet Union had patiently waited for even the most modest improvements in their lives.

The friendly human-oriented congress name “Design for Man and Mankind” was VNIITE’s idea. It clearly shows the worldview of the institute: Human well-being in society at large — through design.

The plenary themes to be presented in the Rossiya Concert Hall were: Design and State Policy, Design and Science, Design and Labor, Design and Leisure, and Design for Children. The parallel sessions included topics such as communications, education, developing countries, disaster relief, design promotion and ´design for the handicapped and the ageing’. Design and state policy was the major theme around which everything revolved.

With the extraordinarily important mission to bring creativity to the stagnant industry, to make Soviet products more user-friendly and more appealing, VNIITE director Yuri Soloviev accepted only the very best professionals as members of his staff. Thanks to an excellent library with most recent literature and the latest journals ordered from abroad, Soloviev managed to attract the most innovative designers, architects and artists, the most astute art theorists, historians, and philosophers, the cleverest of engineers, the most skilled film directors, and the deftest prototype constructors. Soon, the institute had become a kind of free zone for an active group of inventive intellectuals, who were ironically enough paid full-time by the state. With free access to information, in a few years VNIITE had turned into a progressive place.

Considering the lack of human-friendliness in practice, VNIITE was an unusual player in Soviet industry, even an anomaly. To formulate suggestions for change in the way in which the industrial production was to be carried out was a great challenge that the large industrial conglomerates did not welcome. The changes interfered too much with the way production was organized and would cause initial dips in productivity which was deemed unacceptable, since the directors received their bonuses only if the pre-formulated plan was over-fulfilled. A catch-22 situation. Absurdly enough, the state financed institute with the duty to propose changes for the betterment of the working conditions turned into a place for dissidence for simply proposing solutions that were uncomfortable for the people in power to act upon. The demands for change were too challenging for the corrupt leadership who instead drowned any suggestions for innovations in tons of documents in the insurmountable bureaucracy.

VNIITE had become an institute of resistance — simply by doing its job. And this really needs to be stressed; therefore I repeat it again: paradoxically enough – VNIITE was a scientific research institute financed by the state.

Ergonomics — key for the self-image of good Swedish design

Ergonomics was (and still is) important for the self-image of Swedish design. Under the motto “Design for all”, Sweden promoted its trademark as an inclusive society, consciously designed for both rich and poor; catering for not only well-functioning bodies — but for everybody. It is no coincidence that the cover of the first book on Swedish Design History shows the hugely successful and best-selling ergonomic coffee pot for Scandinavian Airlines. The “SAS pot” was designed by Maria Benktzon (b. 1946) and Sven-Eric Juhlin (b. 1940).

The cover of Lasse Brunnström's Swedish Design History (Stockholm: Raster 2010) shows the ergonomic coffee pot for Scandinavian Airlines.

The cover of Lasse Brunnström’s Swedish Design History (Stockholm: Raster 2010) shows the ergonomic coffee pot for Scandinavian Airlines.

The ICSID ‘75 Moscow heading “For Man and Mankind” was appealing to the Swedes. The care for the user’s well-being was an interest that the designers from the Swedish group shared with the designers at VNIITE. The theme that the Swedish group had chosen for its participation thus fit very well in the overall concept of ICSID ‘75 Moscow.

The Swedish group had prepared two presentations for ICSID ’75 Moscow, both of them on ergonomics. In practice, ergonomics (human factors, industrial psychology or whatever you want to call it) is about designing tools, devices and equipment that have been adapted to fit human bodies with various needs.

In Moscow, in addition to the key lectures in the main concert hall on state policy, science, labor, leisure and design for children, the parallel sessions (four at a time, running concurrently) included the themes education, developing countries, disaster relief and, last but not least, according to the wording of the official congress program: “Design for the handicapped and the ageing”.

One of the Swedish presentations was by Torsten Dahlin (b. 1936) together with Henrik Wahlforss, and the other by Maria Benktzon and Sven-Eric Juhlin, with Maria Benktzon giving actual presentation, elected to do so by the Swedish group, according to Lennart Lindkvist and Maria Benktzon. In the late 1960s Sven-Eric Juhlin and Maria Benktzon were commissioned by the state financed Handikappinstitutet [The Institute for the Disabled] to elaborate tools for home use. The very important Gustavsberg company was one of the manufacturers of the tools. In Moscow, on Tuesday October 14, Maria Benktzon presented gripping tools for people with weak hands. In the presentation, she described the user participation method she and Sven-Eric Juhlin had applied and showed slides of both the process and the end result: a special knife on its cutting board.

Let us halt the presentation of the program here, and go back to the organizers of the congress in Moscow and particularly the staff members of VNIITE.

Moscow: Reactions from VNIITE staff backstage at Hotel Rossiya

One very distinguished VNIITE staff member was trusted with writing the speeches for the Moscow head representatives. His name was not mentioned officially; instead Dzhermen Gvishiani and Yuri Soloviev were the most visible, in charge of controlling the speeches. The obstacles the real author behind the speeches met were many. Too easy to forget for its incomprehensibility, the Soviet Union was a place where self-sufficiency was not allowed. In the Soviet Union there was no freedom of speech which meant that self-censorship, a kind of self-abuse as I would describe it, had become a disability caused by decades of power abuse. What I find astounding is that the VNIITE staff that I quote below were still healthy enough to react the way they did — in spite of the many years of oppression they had suffered. These very staff members are therefore quite remarkable. Many more examples could be given.  (Luckily enough, I was able to use a small window of opportunity that I saw, to organize and carry out interviews with eyewitnesses from the congress who at the very last moment were able to give some glimpses from behind the front stage.)

From those October days in 1975, Alexei Kozlov (b. 1935), PhD in design theory and architect, head of VNIITE’s theory department, author of the important article “The role of scientific knowledge for the development of design”, and of the congress speeches for Gvishiani and Soloviev (“But after all the washing and censoring, not much more than the usual empty phrases remained”) — recalls:

During the ICSID congress, ordinary staff like myself who were not party members were never allowed to attend the plenary sessions. We sat secluded in the basement, like firemen ready to march out and help the big bosses in case of emergency. This has burnt into my memory, since every time someone needed assistance, we had to run up an escalator that was out of order. It felt awkward, absurd, and humiliating. Try it yourself.

VNIITE housed somewhat more angry voices.

Voices from the VNIITE house journal Tekhnicheskaia estetika

The house periodical Tekhnicheskaia estetika was important for spreading the word about the activities at VNIITE. Tekhnicheskaia estetika had been issued once a month since 1964 with a successively increasing circulation. By 1975, it was almost 30,000. The impression I have from interviews with the editorial staff is that they had relatively big freedom to publish more or less what they wanted there, backed up by VNIITE director Yuri Soloviev himself, who in my interviews with him liked to give the impression that he was quite independent from inference from the authorities. That is, until the ICSID ‘75 Moscow.

The September issue of the VNIITE monthly Tekhnicheskaia estetika was made to be distributed to the congress delegates in addition to the usual audience. It expressed how the VNIITE staff wished the congress to be, with an international readership in mind, on a rare visit in the Soviet capital. In addition to the many lectures presenting the latest news in the design field, the congress delegates — foreign and local — were to discuss and socialize for a few days. That is how the editorial board imagined (and wanted) the congress to be, as is clearly shown by the cover of the 1975/9-issue. Travelling abroad was unthinkable for the average Soviet citizen. The congress was therefore a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet colleagues and like-minded people from other parts of the world.

The cover for the September issue of Tekhnicheskaia estetika shows a photo of a group of people sitting on low chairs around a table, seemingly collaborating to solve a problem. In the green background, the congress topics are printed in Russian and English. With a nod to Frank Gehry’s cardboard chairs, VNIITE designers Alexander Ermolaev, Igor Berezovskii and Yevgenii Bogdanov had made cardboard furniture that was placed in the hotel lobby: As conversation pieces shown on the cover — to sit on.

While the members of the Swedish delegation took a peaceful evening stroll (one incident, however, disturbed the perfect façade. Maria Benktzon: “I saw an old woman without legs outside the hotel on a homemade skateboard”) in the crisp air on the brilliantly illuminated Red Square with the red silk flags moving beautifully in the floodlights lighting up the Lenin Mausoleum, Svetlana Silvestrova, reporter for Tekhnicheskaia estetika, made her final preparations for the interviews she was to conduct with the foreign designers on their brief visit to the capital, in the room she shared with her husband and small daughter in a communal flat (bath, toilet and kitchen co-inhabited with unknown people).

Svetlana Silvestrova (b. 1936) was an adept English-speaking journalist who had recently moved to Moscow with her husband, designer Dmitry Azrikan (b. 1934) who was hired at VNIITE for his innovative ideas on how to effectively re-organize oil and petrol distribution with petrol stations for the private car owner that even look welcoming and pleasant. The couple came from the international petrol and port city of Baku on the Caspian Sea. Recently hired, the erstwhile reporter then became a member of the editorial board of Tekhnicheskaia estetika.

Svetlana Silvestrova wanted to animate the occasionally quite rigid and dull layout of the periodical (page after page without illustrations was not unusual in Tekhnicheskaia estetika) with more personal portraits, interviews, and photos (she was the author of the pages with Timo Sarpaneva mentioned above). She wanted to make contemporary Western designers more present and less alien to the Soviet readership, many of whom lived in far off industrial cities that were closed to visitors — not only foreigners, but also non-authorized Soviet citizens.

Then, late Sunday on October 12 came the surprising news. The content of the program had to be changed. “The material we had prepared for the congress had to be replaced with other material”, according to Svetlana in my interviews with her: “We had not seen it coming. It came as a shock to all of us.” No explanation was given. The day before the opening, without prior notice, the congress was suddenly censored. Without warning. “The telephones ran hot all night for we had to cancel the content and presentations we had prepared for many months”, Yuri Soloviev confirms.

Monday morning on October 13, VNIITE staff reporter Svetlana Silvestrova gets off at the metro station by the KGB prison Lubyanka and the big statue unofficially called “Iron Felix”. From there, it is a short walk, just down the slope, to the Hotel Rossiya. She heads for the lobby, the area intended for congress socializing, but she had only just started the first interview with Italian star designer Ettore Sottsass, during a break between sessions, when she was interrupted.

Suddenly, one of those vapid, expressionless people turns up: Who has given you permission to talk to a foreigner?!! This will have consequences for you.
I was threatened! While only doing my job!

In spite of the almost forty years that had passed since the event, Svetlana Silvestrova still vividly remembered the unpleasant encounter when I first met her in her home in Chicago in 2008. She told me about how ashamed she felt for the international celebrity whom she interviewed, that she, an accomplished professional, was treated like a disobedient child caught in the middle of some dirty, shameful action. So, no more interviews for her. Instead, she was ordered to prepare a short questionnaire which was handed to a selection of delegates by a middleman with official clearance to communicate with foreigners. But that was not all. The censorship continued after the congress as well.

The plan was to fill the Tekhnicheskaia estetika November issue with content from the congress: with the illustrated lectures by the international guests, the interviews with pictures of the designers, and much more. In spite of the obstruction of their work, the VNIITE staff succeeded in collecting an abundance of material from the guests: Photos, typed presentations, and more.

Svetlana Silvestrova:

We had material for many full issues to come. But nothing came to be. We were not allowed to publish any of the lectures from the congress. Nor the full answers to the questionnaire with the two questions that were posed to the international designers. We were only given permission to publish eight edited answers. That was all. Everything was censored… No real meetings or discussions were allowed to take place, and we had so much looked forward to learning from other places. There was no bustling and lively interaction among like-minded professionals taking place that we had all so much looked forward to.

Post-congress reactions from the editorial board refusing to be silenced

The Tekhnicheskaia estetika editorial board wanted to express their feelings about what had happened. All the preparations they had done — they did not want it all to be in vain: All the hopes for interaction with the colleagues from all over the world, and in the larger perspective — hopes for a motherland to become a more decent place to live, with good, empowering design for everyone, even for the weakest. In short: equal rights and a dignified existence for everyone. But how to express this enormous frustration? Their approach was as simple as it was effective: Show but not say was their method. An image telling more than a thousand words:

The message on the cover of Tekhnicheskaia estetika for the 1975 November issue is clear. The cover shows a photo of the stage in the Rossiya Main Concert Hall. Void of people. The only thing to be seen are sixteen screens that repeat “ICSID ‘75 Moscow”. Below, three more screens show the walls and the towers of the Kremlin — the absolute center of Soviet superpower. This is a real photo of how the congress began. However, it should have been followed by an experimental grandiose screen show with moving images on the sixteen screens, accompanied by sound. The VNIITE film crew had spent many months producing this. But as chief artist of the ICSID congress Yuri Reshetnikov (1937—2012) told me when I interviewed him in Moscow in October 2008, it was cancelled without explanation at the last minute and replaced by the standard tourist folklore show. The reaction of the editorial staff was this cover. An empty, silenced stage. As a result, a number of Tekhnicheskaia estetika editorial board members, including the editor-in-chief, were fired.

The Tekhnicheskaia estetika November issue contained a very short interview with Torsten Dahlin (or rather, his shortened answers to a questionnaire). That was the only trace in Soviet media of the Swedish participation in ICSID ‘75 Moscow.

Question 1: What are the most important problems, as you see it, that the artist-constructor should focus on now?

Dahlin: Of importance, I think, is to deepen the know-how for a wider range of measures in the system “man-machine”. In order to become immersed in the production conditions, the designer who works within the field of betterment of working conditions has to be next to the worker, to gain more benefit from the study.

Question 2: What will design in 2000 be like?

Dahlin: I would like to believe that ideas on a more human-oriented world of objects will replace the over-abundance and chaos of today. I also think that future designers will be equipped with some new methods for the design process — scientific research could be helpful.

Sweden: Media reactions — “The Dialogue that Never Came to Be”

Editor-in-chief of bimonthly Swedish design journal Form, Monica Boman, commissioned articles from the Swedish delegation. Her own main article from the congress had the headline “Den uteblivna dialogen” [The Dialogue that Never Came to Be]. Here, some quotes from the January issue from Form 1976: 

The visionary projects of the 1920s constructivists — to work out practical solutions for ordinary people in their everyday lives — were never realized in the poor, backward and war-torn country. Other areas were prioritized.

Maria Benktzon’s project presentation was one of the most well-received at the congress. In the midst of grandiose declarations and abstract design theories, this was a concrete and down-to-earth presentation on how a designer can make everyday life easier for the physically challenged minority.

Design and politics was the main theme of the congress. What design is, we seem to agree upon, no real difference there between East and West. More so when it came to design and politics. The socialist states see design as an instrument for total societal planning and change for society, while the western view is more pragmatic: design is useful for economic growth and export, it increases quality in the growing public sector, etc. In his key-note lecture, ICSID President Auböck (Austria) took the responsibility of the public sector as starting point. According to his estimations, 30—40 % of GNP in West European countries are used for state purchases. This enormous economic power of the public authorities is rarely combined with a responsibility for the quality of the products they buy. A heightened awareness in state policy of what high quality production entails is therefore needed for design products.

The ninth ICSID congress was maybe nothing more than a big theatrical spectacle staged for internal purposes in order to put the spotlight on design issues… What was the conclusion? That the East has a system but no design, and the West has a design but no system.

The goal was to liberate the masses from heavy, physically and mentally degrading work on dark, smoky and dirty shopfloors. Labor was to be lifted to a higher technical level in light, well-ventilated and beautiful industries and laboratories, for a happier cultured life.

You feel at home here. It’s similar to Scandinavian design schools… bustling, full of life… An exchange with our design schools in Scandinavia with students from Stroganoff would be extremely valuable.

Maria Benktzon, who met the audience from the congress stage in Moscow with her presentation “Design for all”, won numerous prestigious red dot design awards and became a professor of ergonomics in Stockholm. In her obituary for Henrik Wahlforss (1949—2016) “who infused ergonomic design in Sweden with energy when he moved to Stockholm from Helsinki”, she recalled his vision for a future “’Norden 2030” published in 1982, in which he “hopes for a human, resilient society built around small-scale communities in the United Nordic Countries.”

From the Swedish reporting on the 9th ICSID congress in Moscow we move to take a helicopter view of an event of international importance with repercussions for the October days in Moscow 1975: the Nobel Peace Prize announcement October 9, 1975.

Only a few days before the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress was to take off, the Nobel Peace Prize for human rights activist Andrei Sakharov was announced. This of course created newspaper headlines worldwide. Sakharov was the nuclear physicist who had developed the most powerful atomic weapon to have ever been detonated, before changing to fight for peace and disarmament. On what levels had this news become known behind the Iron Curtain? In Moscow even? Of course, the top bureaucrats knew. Of course, the Organs of the State Security (KGB) knew. But the rest? Did they know about the goings-on in the world? What sources of information were available to them?

What was known in Moscow about the Peace Prize? Did the man on the street, even in Moscow, the capital, let alone far away in the provinces, know who Andrei Sakharov was? Or was this kept a secret from the citizens who had only access to state-controlled media?

The news had loud international repercussions and the Soviet leaders changed the premises for the Moscow congress entirely at the very last moment. A shock went through the congress before it had even started. Of course, the foreign guests to Moscow knew.

All the staff of the host organization VNIITE that I have interviewed confirm that the content of their congress contributions were severely censored: That they had to change the entire program at the last minute. Already mentioned above, the experimental slide show on sixteen screens, was cancelled. According to VNIITE director Yuri Soloviev “the telephones ran hot all night”. Dmitry Azrikan, one of the few local staff members from VNIITE allowed to make his own public congress presentation, said: “All the visual material we had prepared was cancelled. We were not allowed to show anything, only to talk.”  The impressions this gave the Swedish delegates was that: “It all seemed very improvised.”

Dmitry Azrikan, who has always been very patient answering my never-ending row of questions (we have been in continuous contact since February 2008) last said (when I contacted him per e-mail again in April 12, 2022, for some more details about ICSID ‘75 Moscow): “We are amazed that you still heroically stick to this topic, in spite of the burglary of all your materials. But we do not want to shovel this dirt anymore trying to remember details. Who is interested in this? What happens today is much more scary. We are old now, and we do not want to remember all these Soviet nightmares, from the crushing (razgrom) of the 1975 Congress, to the destruction (razrushenie) of Kiev in 2022. The first havoc of Kiev I experienced in 1941 when I was six years old.”

Dmitry Azrikan, who do not anymore wish to remember life  and oppression in the Soviet Union, was born 1934 in Odessa.

Did the VNIITE staff know why the congress suddenly was censored? Could they have accessed that information? All media was state-controlled, and they were busy trying to make the best of the situation — dignitaries from all the world arriving in Moscow and it was their institute that was responsible for the congress. The newspapers named Truth (Pravda was the official newspaper of the Communist Party) and News Herald (Izvestiya published by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet) — served words, words, and words. Words with no connection with reality. In short — lies. The paper, however, was valuable in Soviet daily life that was characterized by a lack of every day goods. The newspapers were used for rolling homemade cigarettes — and toilet paper. So, the answer I would give is: No — the local staff in Moscow did not know anything about Sakharov’s Nobel Prize. But was this the reason for the censorship of the congress? Was this the reason that made the Soviet authorities censor and change the program at the last minute, preventing the Soviet designers and journalists meeting, interviewing, and discussing with their foreign delegates and guests, etc.? Or was it just business as usual for the State Security (KGB) to interfere where there were foreigners from the capitalist world that could result in cooperation with the West — which was what many of the Socialist block designers wanted. And vice versa. There were many things the Western designers admired in the Socialist bloc. For one, the state planning system that when used for the betterment of human life could have quite rewarding results. To listen and to learn — that is what ICSID ‘75 Moscow was for.

And last but not least: It was at the same time an excellent opportunity for the KGB to assert their power over the ministries and other state organizations formally in charge, using Sakharov’s Nobel Peace Prize as a pretense conveniently handed to them just at the right time.

Moreover — and now it is getting really cynical: In the words of the Nobel peace prize committee, Sakharov won the prize for being “a spokesman for the conscience of mankind”, a formulation that fits well into how I would describe what good design is all about: Good design is an empowering tool for the inclusion of human beings with every kind of bodily variances. BETTERMENT.

And then? What happened in Moscow after the congress?

Epilogue – Moscow

Yurii Reshetnikov: The cancelled slide show that was to open the congress was shown in a closed session to a small, selected audience in January 1976.

Dmitry Azrikan: And yes, of course we were glad to receive Sakharov’s award! Although at VNIITE did not discuss this topic. Too many informers!

Alexei Kozlov, speechwriter to top bureaucrats (who disliked escalators that were out of order), handed in his resignation from VNIITE right after ICSID Moscow. Choosing the saxophone instead, Kozlov became leader of Arsenal, one of the most successful jazz bands in the Soviet era.

For the Soviets, ICSID ‘75 Moscow was greatly rewarding insofar as VNIITE Director Yuri Soloviev was elected ICSID President for 1977—1979 (cooperating with Jan Trädgårdh as Vice President), and the VNIITE institute survived for many years to come.

In September 2013, I called founding director of VNIITE Yuri Soloviev on his Moscow number to ask him about the closing down of VNIITE (that was dissolved at that time along with many other research institutes in Russia, when the premises were to be privatized).

Yuri Borisovich, what is your comment about the final closing down of VNIITE?

“Unfortunately, our country has no industry to speak of. We have no project orders. Management has no insight into the most fundamental issues. That is all I have to say.”

As we spoke, of course I did not know that these would be the last words we would ever exchange. A few weeks later, in October 2013, Yuri Borisovich passed away, 93 years old.

Break with the past: The statue unofficially called “Iron Felix”, (of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, precursor to the KGB) that VNIITE reporter Silvestrova passed on her way from the metro to Hotel Rossiya, was the first in a row of statues to be torn down in August 1991. A few months later, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Svetlana Silvestrova now lives with her family in the US.  She and Dmitry Azrikan emigrated to the US 1992 with their daughter Dasha Azrikan. Exiled Dmitry Azrikan who, almost sixty years old, left his promising design bureau in a prime location in Moscow, to start a new life on a new continent:

It is not impossible that the dumb-assed ill will (tupaia zloba) towards Sakharov did have an influence on the Congress. But hardly. The KGB was just like any other Soviet bureaucratic instance, where the right hand does not know what the left hand does. Main thing was — THE ATMOSPHERE. .. I feel sick recalling this.

Andrei Sakharov studies his Nobel Prize diploma in his Moscow apartment in 1975. Source: Sakharov Archives.

Andrei Sakharov studies his Nobel Prize diploma in his Moscow apartment in 1975. Source: Sakharov Archives.

Andrei Sakharov, human rights activist and 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was arrested and deported to the heavy motor industry city Gorky where foreigners were banned, following his public protests against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979.

On December 14, 2021, Memorial, the oldest and most prominent civil rights group in Russia, established in the late 1980s with Andrei Sakharov as one of its founders, was put on trial by the Russian Supreme Court. The verdict of December 28 was liquidation due to accusations of being a “foreign agent” for its memory work refusing to forget atrocities committed by the state. As a contrast, Memorial is Russia’s conscience for the younger generation. The year 2021, commemorating 30 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union when so many hopes rose for what was thought to be a new beginning, instead became a year of sorrow and despair.

Concluding words

The need to improve living conditions for the majority was urgent in the Soviet Union (1922—1991). The focus of this article is first of all the working conditions in Soviet industry that needed improvement, in the words of ICSID, the international organization that globally strived for design as “the betterment for the human condition”, their definition of design once they became part of UNESCO’s cultural program. Secondly, the article is about human rights and freedom of speech. These two factors coincided in an acute way during the first international congress for design behind the Iron Curtain, and here the author has taken the opportunity to show a few snapshots from that unique event.

This article presents and gives a short analysis of the ICSID ‘75 Moscow design congress, from two perspectives: the Swedish design delegation and VNIITE, State Research Institute for Industrial Design, the local host in Moscow. Primary sources used were interviews with participants and initiators of the event, archival documentation, and articles in journals, in Swedish and in Russian, issued by the participants who were also interviewed by the author as eyewitnesses.

The article tries to show how the “grassroot” delegates and representatives of the local host acted and reacted (the doings of the ICSID representatives higher up in the hierarchy have not been included, which would have been another article).

ICSID ‘75 Moscow was the 30-year anniversary of the victory in WWII. Three decades of reconstruction and rebuilding were to be presented to the world.

For the Soviets, nothing less was at stake than to present the socialist life-style as the most desirable. Under the congress name “Design for Man and Mankind”, designers and influencers came from all over the world to meet and discuss questions of great urgency for the well-being and dignity of people and society.

October 1975: For a whole working week one and a half thousand specialists, including the VIPs from the design world of the day, were congregating in the heart of the socialist world. The few days were meant to be full of opportunities to meet and to discuss, perhaps even to negotiate future transnational co-operations. An amazing opportunity that would probably never come again, at least not for a long time. The congress ICSID ‘75 Moscow was thus a very fragile moment in the midst of the Cold War.

Despite the repressive Soviet authorities, the VNIITE staff had hoped to be given some little space at least this one single time. After all, the very topic of the congress was addressing the very basic conditions that their institute had been founded to solve: VNIITE had been founded with the task to modernize industry (and to improve the working conditions therein). Industry was the economic driving force that entailed the foundation for the potential prosperity and future well-being for everyone, including the very important politburo members sitting around their big table in the Kremlin.

“We were all so disappointed”, was the unison voice of the VNIITE staff that I have talked to. “The party at the end of the congress? None of us were invited.”

Perhaps not much of a loss? Claes Frössén, senior design advisor at the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) with the VIP treatment (same as for the international hard-currency congress guests) of the Swedish delegation: “What I remember from Moscow 1975? Endless corridors. Cigarette-smoke. Alcohol. It all seemed very improvised. From a designer’s point of view it gave very little. I saw no signs of any advanced design.” Be that as it may, his wife, a primary school teacher who participated in the Ladies’ program, made some remarkable observations. What she saw, is however beyond the scope of this article.

This article presents and gives a short analysis of the ICSID ‘75 Moscow design congress, from two perspectives: the Swedish design delegation and VNIITE, State Research Institute for Industrial Design, the local host in Moscow. Primary sources used were interviews with participants and initiators of the event, archival documentation, and articles in journals, in Swedish and in Russian, issued by the participants who were also interviewed by the author as eyewitnesses.

The article tries to show how the “grassroot” delegates and representatives of the local host acted and reacted (I have not included the doings of the ICSID representatives higher up in the hierarchy, which would have been another article).

The short conclusion is that the contact and communication that both sides wished for was obstructed by the authorities who controlled all international contacts. This article reveals one misunderstanding (there were many more) caused by the clumsiness of the VNIITE contingent in charge of all foreign contacts (a compulsory department in any institution under the auspices of the Organs for State Security, better known as the KGB) that apparently did not have even a basic knowledge as to women’s roles as professionals, and also lacked the Fingerspitzengefühl (tact) how to communicate this. Not only was the pink folder with the Ladies’ program a real faux pas: The women in the Swedish delegation were allowed to enter the main congress hall only if accompanied by a male. The real designers were assumed to be men!

ICSID ‘75 Moscow was the 30-year anniversary of the victory in WWII. Three decades of reconstruction and rebuilding were to be presented to the world.

For the Soviets, nothing less was at stake than to present the socialist life-style as the most desirable. Under the congress name “Design for Man and Mankind”, designers and influencers came from all over the world to meet and discuss questions of great urgency for the well-being and dignity of people and society.

The participants of course wanted the meeting to be fruitful and constructive, which was made very difficult due to the unnecessary censorship and other obstacles that were clumsily forced upon the event by the Soviet authorities in control: the KGB.

The lack of faith in the visiting delegates in place for this unique event, in fact even in its own highly educated staff of the local host organization, made the Soviet leadership deprive the congress participants of their agency to create a constructive dialogue, and instead obstructed any opportunity of contact, and by humiliating the delegates and the local staff in this way clumsily destroyed the event. The reaction among the congress delegates on both sides of the Iron Curtain was of course that of great disappointment. For the transnational collaborations that took place after 1975, despite all, more research needs to be done.

The recollections presented here show that not even the VNIITE staff who had authored the speeches for the dignitaries was treated with any dignity, or even in accordance with basic human rights — freedom of speech — the foundation for democracy.

The urgent needs for improvement were at last acknowledged by the Party. The five-year plan for 1975—1980 was loudly proclaimed as The Five-Year Plan for Quality. The goals of the plans were to be realized by 1980. They were not. The ways to improve working conditions for the industrial worker at the conveyor belt, the women with extraordinary heavy workloads in the communal kitchens, and the drivers sitting on the tractor on the enormous wheat fields in the “breadbasket” — the Ukraine: The suggestions VNIITE made meant empowerment. They were intended for the weak to become stronger. This was dangerous of course.

The suggestions for improvement remained as grandiose promises from glamorous podiums with the world watching. But they were not carried out in real life. Instead, the authorities used a standard mechanism to make people lose focus on what is really important for them by creating a crisis with chaos and confusion, effective in its way. For an aggressor such as the Moscow Empire, an attack on other peoples was the modus operandi. In 1979 Afghanistan was invaded.

How come the power in the Kremlin got (get) away with this again and again? The hunger for the people to be happy — to live in happiness — is enormous. And after many generations of propaganda showing the enormous power of a state that will solve everything, and that individual agency and self-sufficiency were made criminal during the Soviet dictatorship, the tools for action have become difficult to access: Like a muscle weakened because it has not been used for so long.

Self-censorship — I would call it self-abuse — had become a severely handicapping disability. Living in fear every day for decades produced such post-traumatic stress syndromes that many grew silent. The abuse of power in the Soviet Union was massive. What I find astonishing is that the VNIITE staff that serve as witnesses in this article had been able to retain even a grain of health, making them able to react the way they did, in spite of the many years of severe abuse they had suffered. The covers for Tekhnicheskaia estetika shown here are proof as good as any.

Still, good design means a realistic acceptance of differences. The good designer would, I would argue, have to stand up for and empower those in need. The bottom line of good design is simply to respect human dignity and to create products that can make a challenging everyday life less difficult even for those who do not fit into the norm. Correspondingly, respect for human dignity no matter what was what Soviet citizen Andrei Sakharov fought for in a system which was infamous for its disrespect and even cruelty with regard to those who behaved and thought a little differently than the mandatory norm. During the days following the Sakharov Nobel Peace Prize announcement, one and a half thousand specialists on design arrived in the Soviet Union in order to discuss how to design for human dignity, for better and more decent human conditions. Good design, I would argue, is something more than simply a well-functioning artifact with good looks (important, of course, but not always enough). Good design as an empowering tool for body and mind would have to be — in the bigger perspective –a human right. That was the road Moscow unfortunately decided not to take. Again. Novocherkassk 1962 — and sixty years later — Azovstal in Mariupol only a few hours away — both industries in the Donbass-region built as a result of Soviet super-effective five-year plans, that reduced human needs to nil and nothing — needs such as decent working conditions.

By way of showing a few concrete events, the very weakest mechanisms of Moscow power execution are revealed, mechanisms whose consequences made the subordinated peoples wanting to leave that rule; the Soviet Union dissolved. But the same mechanisms still repercuss as of today, shown by the Russian attack on the Ukraine: the institutionalized state contempt for its citizens, its subjects — the systematic lack of respect for human dignity.

VNIITE’s human-friendly worldview was an anomaly and a challenge to Soviet industry. With its inclusive view on a society designed for everybody, the work by VNIITE was rather the exception than the rule. The need for a revision of how humans were treated in Soviet society was enormous, but the distance between visions and reality was very far. Too far? No. The failure was due to the lack of willpower.

The very moment I write this -– Monday April 25 — there seems to be complete darkness at noon. Does that mean we should give up? No. I think not.

Note: All translations from Russian and Swedish into English are made by the author of this text.


I want to dedicate this article to the staff members of VNIITE (as well as the facilitator at GKNT) mentioned here, who struggled for the betterment of the human condition despite severe dictatorship (in alphabetical order): Dmitry Azrikan, Dzhermen Gvishiani, Aleksei Kozlov, Vladimir Munipov, Yuri Reshetnikov, Svetlana Silvestrova, and Yuri Soloviev.

I am indebted to the blind peer reviewers of this article for valuable comments. 


  1. The source for this quote is: D.M. Gvishiani, (1975), “Dizain na sluzhbe cheloveka i obschestva. Vstuplenie D.M. Gvishiani IX kongressa IKSIDa” [Design in the service of the people and society]. Opening address by D.M.Gvishiani for the Ninth ICSID Congress], Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol. 11, no.143 (1975): 2. In the Russian language, the terms used for design during the Soviet period was khoduzhestvennoe konstruirovanie (artist construction) and tekhnicheskaia estetika (technical aesthetics).
  2. “Moskovskii kongress IKSIDa”, Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol. 11, no.143 (1975): 2.
  3. Svenska Slöjdföreningen (SSF), the Swedish Slojd Association, a non-profit organization initiated for the protection and development of craft (in Swedish “slöjd”). Founded in 1845, it was one of the first associations of its kind. On behalf of the Swedish Government, SSF was responsible for all the important art and industrial exhibitions from then on. In 1976, its name was changed to Svensk Form [Swedish Form].
  4. The part of Arthur Hald’s archive which includes his ICSID ’75 Moscow congress registration kit with items, booklets, tickets and invitations, was handed to Arkiv Svensk Form by his wife, design historian Hedvig Hedqvist. Arkiv Svensk Form, Centrum för Näringslivshistoria, Stockholm: F9A vol 2: “ICSID Kongress Moskva 1975”.
  5. In 2015, ICSID changed its name to World Design Organization (WDO), see WDO homepage, accessed December 14, 2021.
  6. Count Sigvard Bernadotte (formerly prince but lost his title due to marriage to a commoner) was the second son of the future King Gustav VI Adolf and Princess Margaret, granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria. Bernadotte learned silversmithing with George Jensen in Copenhagen. In 1950, with Danish architect Acton Bjørn, he started Bernadotte & Bjørn Industrial Design A/S.
  7. “ICSID Paris Congress, UNESCO headquarters, June 1963”, Arkiv Svensk Form, Centrum för Näringslivshistoria, Stockholm: F 9A vol 1.
  8. Noteworthy is that the exact same formulation is still used at the website of WDO (the ICSID changed its name to World Design Organization in 2017). See: Accessed October 10, 2021, and April 23, 2022.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Monica Boman “Vad är ICSID?” [ What does ICSID stand for?], Form no. 1 (1976): 12.
  11. This text emanates from the project “Observer and Observed in Soviet State Design Institutes, 1960s—90”, which I worked on as principal investigator at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) initially founded by them, then by the Swedish Research Council (VR) and then again by MPIWG, 2005—2011. At that stage of my research I focused on the Soviet material, where I found out that the ICSID ‘75 Moscow congress had at all taken place. In my subsequent project (financed by The Bank of Sweden Tercententary Foundation Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ) 2012—2013), I shifted focus on the Cold War design to the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Finland, Sweden and East Germany. My research projects on Cold War design in the USSR were initiated by me and conducted by myself as principal investigator.
  12. There is no mention of the Soviet Union becoming an ICSID member, or of the Moscow congress in 1975, either on the WDO homepage October 10, 2021, and April 23, 2022, or the Wikipedia-page on ICSID Accessed October 10, 2010, and April 23, 2022. Stockholm, Venice, Paris, Montreal. Slovenia, Scotland, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, Kyoto and London are mentioned as hosts for the event, but not Moscow.
  13. Tekhnicheskaia estetika made a special issue celebrating the WWII 30th anniversary with a tank, a “fighting machine” (boevaia mashina), on the cover: “A symbol of the victory over the fascists 30 years ago”, see Tekhnicheskaia estetika 05/137 (1975): cover and page 1. The KV-85 heavy tank, named after Kliment Voroshilov, was made in Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant founded in 1933, during the second five-year plan.
  14. For more on VNIITE, see for example following articles by Margareta Tillberg: “Collaborative Design: The Electric Industry in Soviet Russia 1973—79”, in Focused. Swiss Design Network (SDN), ed. Bern: SDN. (2008): 233—253; “Made in the USSR. Design of electronic/electrical systems in the Soviet Union from Khruschev’s thaw to Gorbachev’s perestroika”, Baltic Worlds, vol 3, no. 2, June (2010): 34—40; “Design institute VNIITE closes its doors”, Baltic Worlds vol. 6, no. 2 (2013): 56; “Die technische Ästhetik und die unerschöpfliche Mensch-Maschine als sowjetisches Designprodukt der 1960er bis 1970er Jahre”, in Helden am Ende. Erschöpfungszustände in der Kunst des Sozialismus. eds. Monica Rüthers and Alexandra Köhring. Campus-Verlag: Frankfurt/M, New York. (2014): 157—181.
  15. In the author’s interviews with VNIITE director Yuri Soloviev (2007—2013), he repeatedly talked about the disagreements he experienced with the powerful representatives from the heavy industry; how he had to “sell” the ideas of a more “modern way” to see the factory laborer. VNIITE vice director Vladimir Munipov confirmed (we met in Moscow for interviews on a regular basis 2007—2012) that to the administrators whose task it was to implement ideas in real life, the “human factor” was nothing but a nuisance, i.e., the workers were simply “moaning” about better conditions, to put it bluntly, when the forced labour of GULAG prisoners had proven that there was a chance to survive even quite harsh conditions. For more details on the gap between VNIITE’s wishful ideas and the quite brutal reality; the ineffective methods and inability for defining the core of the problem thus not being able to find a solution, I show by closely observing and analysing a few images from Tekhnicheskaia estetika, see Margareta Tillberg, “Die technische Ästhetik und die unerschöpfliche Mensch-Maschine als sowjetisches Designprodukt der 1960er bis 1970er Jahre”, in Helden am Ende. Erschöpfungszustände in der Kunst des Sozialismus. eds. Monica Rüthers and Alexandra Köhring. Campus-Verlag: Frankfurt/M, New York. (2014): 157—181.
  16. Thanks to Lennart Lindkvist, for sharing this information (e-mail contact with author April-June 2014).
  17. S.A. Silvestrova, “Personalnaia vystavka Timo Sarpanevy” [Personal exhibition of Timo Sarpaneva], Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol 12, no. 132 (1974): 6—7, and S.A. Silvestrova VNIITE, “Timo Sarpaneva: Tvorcheskii portret” [Timo Sarpaneva: Portrait of the artist] 11/131 (1974): 15—18.
  18. Arkhitektura SSSR 1917—1987. Posviaschaetsia 70-letiiu Velikogo Oktiabria. Eds. V.I. Baldin, V.N. Belousov, Yu. P. Bocharov, et. al. Moskva: Stroyizdat 1987: 270.
  19. Reso travel agency participation list for ICSID ’75 Moscow. Arkiv Svensk Form, Centrum för Näringslivshistoria, Stockholm: F9A vol 2. “ICSID Kongress Moskva 1975.”
  20. For the information of the Swedish delegation to ICSID ‘75 Moscow given here (only a few of all the forty-six who went are mentioned here) numerous internet sources were used, personal interviews as well as telephone interviews made; books and articles on Swedish design consulted; as well as items, booklets, tickets and invitations from ICSID ’75 Moscow congress registration kit from Arkiv Svensk Form, Centrum för Näringslivshistoria, Stockholm: F9A Vol 2: “ICSID Kongress Moskva 1975”.
  21. Jack Ränge, ”Vi spränger mot himlen, med järnbetong” [We blow against the sky, with reinforced concrete], Form no. 1 (1976): 8
  22. Recommended further reading: Anne Applebaum, GULAG: A History of the Soviet Camps, (Doubleday, 2003).
  23. ”Referativnaia informatsiia. Bytovye izdeliia dlia invalidov (Shvetsiia)”, Tekhnicheskaia estetika 10/130 (1974): 30.
  24. D.M. Gvishiani, “Dizain na sluzhbe cheloveka i obschestva. Vstuplenie D.M. Gvishiani IX kongressa IKSIDa” [Design in the service of the people and society. Opening Address by D.M.Gvishiani for the Ninth ICSID Congress], Tekhnicheskaia estetika 11/143 (1975): 2—4.
  25. For the man-machine constellation in Soviet industry from a design history perspective, see Margareta Tillberg, „Die technische Ästhetik und die unerschöpfliche Mensch-Maschine als sowjetisches Designprodukt der 1960er bis 1970er Jahre“, in Helden am Ende. Erschöpfungszustände in der Kunst des Sozialismus. eds. Monica Rüthers and Alexandra Köhring. (Campus-Verlag: Frankfurt/M, New York 2014): 157—181.
  26. D.M. Gvishiani, “Dizain na sluzhbe cheloveka i obschestva.” [Design in the service of the people and society], Tekhnicheskaia estetika 11/143 (1975): 4.
  27. Yu. B. Soloviev, “Dizain na sluzhbe obschestva” [Design in the service of society], Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol. 12 no. 144 (1975): 11.
  28. Vladimir Shlapentokh, A Normal Totalitarian Society: How the Soviet Union Functioned and How It Collapsed. (New York, 2001): 34.
  29. Shlapentokh, A Normal Totalitarian: 106.
  30. Ibid.
  31. The Novocherkassk massacre was kept secret until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, see historian Tatyana P. Bocharova, Novocherkassk: krovavyi polden’ [the Bloody Noon]. (Rostov: Izd. Rostovskii universitet: 2002).
  32. Evgenii Krinko et. al: “The Don and Kuban Regions During Famine: The Authorities, the Cossacks, and the Church in 1921—1922 and 1932—1933”, Nationality Papers vol. 48 no. 3 (2020): 569—584, quote from page 573.
  33. For the ideology of color in USSR painting, see for example Margareta Tillberg Coloured Universe and the Russian-Avantgarde, chapter “Contemporary Voices in the USSR” where the analysis from the Bol’shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopedia [The Large Soviet Encyclopaedia], and marxist literature critic Vladimir Friche’s Sotsiologiia iskusstva [Sociology of art] in three editions (1926, 1929, 1930) boils down to “happy ‘collective’ reds and yellows” as expressions of “praise for the communist masses”, quote from page 251.
  34. See for example V.M. Munipov, “Dizain i nauka” [Design and science], Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol. 10, no.142 (1975): 1—4.
  35. The topic of ergonomics and disability design is one of the major underlying issues for my entire research. The history of disability design is a growing field of interest internationally.
  36. Yu. B. Soloviev Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol. 12 no. 144 (1975): 11; and D. M. Gvishiani Tekhnicheskaia estetika 11/143 (1975): 2—3.
  37. These are the headings as given in the official program. Today, the term “handicapped” is obsolete, the preferred term is “disabled”.
  38. Everyone I interviewed in connection with my VNIITE project, confirm this.

  39. Lasse Brunnström, Svensk designhistoria (Stockholm: Raster, 2010) in English as Lasse Brunnström, Swedish Design History (London: Bloomsbury 2018).
  40. According to author interviews with Maria Benktzon (in person) and Lennart Lindkvist (telephone and e-mail) April to June 2014. In the official, printed programme, however, neither the names of Maria Benktzon, Sven-Eric Juhlin nor Henrik Wahlforss can be found, only that of Torsten Dahlin, as “F. Dalin”.
  41. Handikappinstitutet [the Institute for the Disabled], then changed names to Hjälpmedelsinstitutet [The Institute for Tools and Aid] a state financed institute that was phased out in 2013 and privatised as Hjälpmedelcentrum Sverige (HMC Sweden).
  42. A. S. Kozlov, architect, VNIITE: “Rol’ nauchnogo znaniia v razvitii dizajna”, [The role of scientific knowledge in the development of design] Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol 7, no.139 (1975): 1—3.
  43. Author interview with Alexei Kozlov, Moscow, April-June 2014 (e-mail).
  44. The September issue of Tekhnicheskaia estetika was printed in 29 570 copies, and for October, November and December it was issued in 29 000 copies, according to the journal’s own colophon
  45. Author’s interviews with Maria Benktzon, Stockholm, April-June 2014.
  46. V. I. Puzanov: “Tvorcheskii portret: Dmitrii Azrikan [Portrait of the Artist: Dmitry Azrikan]”, Tekhnicheskaia estetika vol. 9 no. 141 (1975): 10—13. Thanks to his abilities and skills, Azrikan was eventually given the opportunity to make suggestions as to how to rationalize the whole Soviet electricity/electronics industry, see Margareta Tillberg: “Collaborative Design: The Electric Industry in Soviet Russia 1973–79”, in Focused. Swiss Design Network (SDN), ed. Bern: SDN. (2008): 233—253; and Margareta Tillberg “Made in the USSR. Design of electronic/electrical systems in the Soviet Union from Khruschev’s thaw to Gorbachev’s perestroika”, Baltic Worlds, vol 3, no. 2, June (2010): 34—40.
  47. Author’s interviews with Svetlana Silvestrova, Chicago, Ill. US, 24—28 November 2008. That the programme was censored and changed in the very last moment, has been confirmed by all VNIITE staff members I have interviewed (all in person), amongst those included in this article: Dmitry Azrikan, Yuri Soloviev, Yuri Reshetnikov.
  48. Author’s interviews with Yuri Soloviev were conducted between 2007—2013. With the exception of the last phone-call in September 2013, the interviews were carried out in person, in Moscow.
  49. Author interview with Svetlana Silvestrova.
  50. Editorial, ”IKSID-75. Moskovskii kongress IKSIDa”, Tekhnicheskaia estetika 11/143 (1975): 2.
  51. Editorial, ”Na voprosy ’Tekhnicheskoi estetiki’ otvetchaiut: Torsten Dalin” [Torsten Dahlin answers questions from Technical Aesthetics], Tekhnicheskaia estetika 11/143 (1975): 8.
  52. ”Design & politik: ICSID-kongressen i Moskva: Den uteblivna dialogen. [The dialogue that never came to be] Text and photo by Monica Boman, editor-in-chief, Form no. 1 (1976): 9.
  53. Monica Boman, ”Design & politik: Rapport om formgivning i Sovjet” [Design & Politics: Report on formgiving in the Soviet Union], Form 1 (1976): 3—5, quote from page 4.
  54. Monica Boman, “Design & politik: ICSID-kongressen i Moskva: Handikapp och u-landsproblem” [Design & Politics: The ICSID-Congress in Moscow: Disability and poor countries’ problems], Form no. 1 (1976): 11.
  55. Monica Boman, Form nr 1/1976:10.
  56. Monica Boman, ’Design & politik: ICSID-kongressen i Moskva: Den uteblivna dialogen’ [Design & Politics: The ICSID-Congress in Moscow: The dialogue that never came to be], Form no. 1 (1976): 9—11.
  57. Jack Ränge, ”Vi spränger mot himlen, med järnbetong”, [We blow against the sky, with reinforced concrete], Form no. 1 (1976): 8.
  58. Fredrik Wildhagen and Jan Trädgårdh, “Design à la Stroganoff’, Form no. 1 (1976): 6—7.
  59. Maria Benktzon: ”Henrik Wahlforss 1949—2016”, Dagens Nyheter 2016-01-26.
  60. My first contact with Dmitry Azrikan was in February 2008, when I was invited for a keynote lecture with the topic “collaboration design”, and thought that Azrikan’s projects might be interesting for a wider audience to learn more about. I had already read about some of his projects in Tekhnicheskaia estetika, and my investigations on design in the Soviet Union had shown that Azrikan was labelled “Designer No 1” in the Soviet Union. (Nevertheless, he emigrated to the US, when the big design center to be built very centrally in Moscow to stimulate industrial production, signed by the mayor of Moscow, and president of Russia Boris Yeltsin, came to nothing.) I took my courage and contacted Dmitry Azrikan, and we have been in contact ever since: Keynote Margareta Tillberg for Swiss Design Network 4th International Symposium. Bern, May 2008, resulting in the publication “Collaborative Design: The Electric Industry in Soviet Russia 1973–79”, in Focused. Swiss Design Network (SDN), ed.  Bern: SDN. (2008): 233—253.
  61. E-mail correspondence between author (in Stockholm) and Dmitry Azrikan and Svetlana Silvestrova (in Chicago Ill. US), concretely on the topic ICSID ’75 Moscow, April 12—24, 2022.
  62. The author of this article had a break-in to her home a few years ago, where very important research material was stolen, that I collected and preliminary analyzed 2005—2015. Of course, I have realized the importance of seizing the moment and to maintaining momentum for a project like this, in order to be ahead of the Russian authorities. However, since I started to publish on this topic the difficulties that I met have successively increased, with the result that I have gone silent. Until now.

  63. Original message sent via e-mail April 24, 2022, to the author:
    И да, конечно мы были рады награждению Сахарова! Хотя во ВНИИТЭ эта тема не обсуждалась. Слишком много стукачей.
  64. At least until 2013 when it was dissolved along with numerous other research institutes and cultural institutions that lost their premises due to their attractive locations and high market value, see Margareta Tillberg, “Design Institute VNIITE closes its doors”, Baltic Worlds vol. 6, no. 2 (2013): 56.
  65. Author’s telephone interview with Yuri B. Soloviev, September 2013. See further Margareta Tillberg, “Design institute VNIITE closes its doors”, Baltic Worlds vol. 6, no. 2 (2013): 56.
  66. Author’s e-mail correspondence with Dmitry Azrikan, April 24, 2022.
  67. “This is a dream come true for a researcher”, was my feeling as I started research project at CBEES in 2012, see Stina Loman “Högt tryck på forskarskolan”, [High Pressure on the Graduate School] in Moa: en verksamhetsberättelse för Södertörns Högskola, [An Annual Report from Södertörn University] May 2012: 18—19. For English, see additionally CBEES Newsletter Issue 1—2012, for a short presentation of my externally financed project.
  68. A lot of probably even general interest could be said for example about Great Britain, the US, Japan, Mexico and Spain, etc. in relation to the Soviet relations with ICSID, a topic that needs more research, however. I did manage to publish a book chapter on state design and the relations between East Berlin and Moscow, including interviews with the design people as close to the very political top as you can possibly get; Martin Kelm was accountable directly to Erich Honecker, communist leader in East Germany 1971—1989, and Yuri Borisovich Soloviev to the powerful Gosplan and GKNT, see Margareta Tillberg, “Martin Kelm: DDR, Moskau und die Designszene innerhalb des Ostblocks”, in Gutes Design — Martin Kelm und die Designförderung der DDR, eds. Christian Wölfel, Sylvia Wölfel & Jens Krzywinski. Dresden: Verlag Thelem (2014): 218—233. In a coming version, I include the story of how the editors and participants of the publication, tried to change my text to fit their version of past events. My reaction? “With due respect, but my responsibility as a historian is to render the facts and the course of history as truthfully as possible. My absolute priority and responsibility is to the future reader, not to you.” This was one of many peculiar ‘details’ I faced working with interviewees who were used to be obeyed, no matter what.
  69. The international workshops that were planned for Södertörn University within the above-mentioned project never took place since the project was prematurely aborted by Södertörn University.
  70. For example, well-designed land-mines disguised with soft cheerfully colored materials lure little children to pick them up in the belief they are toys or candy. This, and many more different perspectives as to what is “good design”, were discussed at the conference Design for War and Peace, organized by the Design History Society in Oxford 2014. In this case, the opposite of “good” is not “bad” — but evil.

  • by Margareta Tillberg

    Associate Professor in Art History, Uppsala University. Adjunct Professor, Stockholm University. She defended in 2003 her doctorate on Russian art and artists, Coloured Universe and the Russian-Avantgarde. M.V. Matiushin on Colour Vision in Stalin’s Russia 1932. Main research interests concern art in the widest sense possible (including theory and practice of visual culture, design, architecture, media) in Russia, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe, applying interdisciplinary perspectives.

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