Art Center Europe's Legacy Lives On

Copyright Steven A. Heller / Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, Calif.)

This year, it is twenty years since Art Center Europe closed its doors after ten years of creative exuberance at Le Château de Sully by Vevey, Switzerland. Just as Bauhaus added rationality to design, Art Center Europe injected sunny passion. Its alumni are now spread across the globe, creating desirable products at design-centric organizations such as BMW (Adrian van Hooydonk), Aston Martin (Henrik Fisker), HP (Andre deSalis) and Deere (Tom Ward). What was it like to study there and how did this experience mold its alumni's' lives?

Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with some of my fellow students who all started Art Center Europe in 1991 and have now been practicing design for more than twenty-five years with all but one ending up in sunny California.

Petra Wennberg Cesario, from Sweden, is a partner in a boutique User Experience design studio in Pasadena (called Interactivism).

Tonia Gieray, from Germany, worked in a couple of companies in the States before returning to Germany, where she now works in a design agency in Stuttgart.

Andre Frey, from Switzerland, has worked as an automotive designer at Daimler Benz's advanced concept studio in Irvine, California since he graduated.

Joe Tan, from Germany, stayed on and worked in California after graduating. He has been part of this past decades entrepreneurial wave and now runs his own product design consultancy in San Francisco, together with Markus, his friend from Art Center Europe.

Wilhelm Oehl, from Germany, is a partner at a global experience design consultancy, residing in San Francisco.

And I hail from Denmark and have a design science research consultancy in South Pasadena that is now developing processes, methods and tools for increasing Creatives design performance.

All of us had the good fortune to study at Art Center Europe, and the Pasadena campus of Art Center College of Design. However, when thinking back on our time together at the campus in Switzerland, there is a feeling of being one big multi-national family. Our class had students from Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Russia, Yugoslavia, Iran and Ethiopia and within a day, one would hear spoken English, German, French and a range of the Scandinavian languages. Everyone, from cleaning staff and shopkeepers to the president, knew each other and would gather together on the terrace overlooking Geneva Lake during coffee breaks.

The European campus of Art Center was located in the heart of Europe, so top business professionals from places like Amsterdam, Stuttgart and Turin, would come in on Saturdays and teach classes. Students would hop on the high speed TGV train and visit Paris for a long weekend or go to Italy and see FIAT's wind tunnel or attend the Geneva Auto Show on field trips.

All were drawn to the school by its excellent international reputation, accelerated curriculum and the chance to be part of a creative melting pot. After a long day on campus, the restaurants and bars along Geneva Lake became our spot to unwind and exchange insights. In the summer, the Montreux Jazz Festival sizzled and, in the winter, the ski slopes were but a short distance up the mountain.

Although we didn't know it at the time, Art Center Europe acted as our bridge to Southern California since the thought of traveling to California for many of us, would have been inconceivable except for the opportunity to do a term at the campus in Pasadena. The Swiss campus provided the knowledge, skills and confidence to venture outside of Europe and our lives, careers and outlook expanded in ways we could never have imagined when first we attended that magical place that was Art Center Europe.