Max Bill

Max Bill (* 22. Dezember 1908 in Winterthur; † 9. Dezember 1994 in Berlin) war ein Schweizer Architekt, vielseitiger Künstler mit Schwerpunkten in bildender und angewandter Kunst – einschliesslich Bildhauerei, Grafik, industrieller Formgestaltung, Malerei (Vertreter der Zürcher Schule der Konkreten) und Typografie –, Hochschullehrer und Nationalrat der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft.

Max Bill
Max Bill

Professional training, studies and artistic work

Max Bill completed an apprenticeship as a silversmith at the Zurich School of Applied Arts from 1924 to 1927. In 1925, at the age of 17, he was invited to the Exposition internationale des Arts Décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris with his student works, where he was particularly impressed by the works of Le Corbusier, Konstantin Stepanowitsch Melnikow and Josef Hoffmann. In 1927-1928 he studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau, where Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer were teaching at the time.

From 1929 Bill was active both practically and theoretically as an architect, and from 1932 also as a sculptor, graphic artist and painter. From 1932 to 1937 he was a member of the artists' movement Abstraction-Création in Paris. In 1936 he defined his idea of "concrete art" in an exhibition catalogue of the Kunsthaus Zurich and became one of its most important representatives in the Zurich School of Concrete Art - a painting art movement originating from the Zurich School of Applied Arts - as well as the Association of Modern Swiss Artists - Allianz, which was inspired by it and founded in 1937. From 1936 he was also active as a publicist and founded the Allianz publishing house in 1941. In 1938 he became a member of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne.

Bill created numerous sculptures and exhibited widely in galleries and museums. He participated in documenta 1 (1955), documenta II (1959) and documenta III (1964) in Kassel. His first exhibition in the USA took place in 1963 at George William Staempfli's gallery in Manhattan, New York, retrospectives 1968-1969 at the Kunsthaus Zürich, 1974 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and 1988 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

As head of the "Forming and Design" department, he was architect for Expo64 - the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne from 1961 to 1964.

Teaching and lecturing activities, book author

In 1944/1945 Bill received his first teaching assignment at the Zurich School of Applied Arts. During this time he became friends with Georges Vantongerloo and František Kupka. From 1951 to 1953, he co-founded the Ulm School of Design (HfG) with Otl Aicher and Inge Aicher-Scholl and designed its school building. From 1953 to 1956 he was its first rector. He returned to Zurich in 1957. Between 1967 and 1974, Bill held the chair of environmental design at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg. In 1973 he became an associate member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Sciences and Arts of Belgium in Brussels and in 1976 a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin.

In addition to his teaching activities, he has written numerous books, lectured on art, architecture, design and appeared at conferences around the world. His books include in particular those on Le Corbusier, Wassily Kandinsky, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Theory of Art.

Political life

In his younger years, Bill - like his colleague Richard Paul Lohse - was a committed anti-fascist, protested against the Cold War, nuclear armament, the Vietnam War and, as early as the 1950s, campaigned for environmental protection. Max Bill sympathised with Silvio Gesell's theory of free enterprise. He became acquainted with it through his architect colleague Hans Bernoulli. Together with Gesell and others, Bernoulli had founded the Swiss Free Economic League. In the free economic anarchist journal letzte politik, edited by Hans Timm, there is also an advertisement in which Max Bill offers his services. The text reads:

"dessau: Max Bill, formgestalter bauhaus, dessau. designs for architecture, advertising, graphics, interior design (metal, painting, wood, textiles) only completely modern" - last politics, "wära" supplement, berlin, april 1929

He was under surveillance by the Swiss State Security for half a century, beginning in October 1936, after he hid the journalist Alfred Thomas, who was persecuted in Nazi Germany, in his home. Thomas was expelled from the country in May 1936; his further fate is unknown. Bill was fined for harbouring him because he had not registered the fugitive with the residents' registration office. Other prominent political refugees from fascist Italy and Germany first came to stay with him after fleeing to Switzerland.

Bill was a member of the Zurich municipal council from 1961 to 1968 and of the Swiss National Council from 1967 to 1971. Ported by the National Ring of Independents, he was politically active as a non-party member.

Private life

Bill was the nephew of the painter Ernst Samuel Geiger and often stayed at his estate in Ligerz. Bill met the Mulhouse-born actress and vaudeville artist Maria Benz in 1929, and she lived with him for a short time at Stadelhoferstrasse 27 in Zurich. Bill gave her the name "Nusch", and she also worked for him as an assistant. The foreign police wanted to deport Nusch, and the planned marriage to Nusch failed due to the resistance of his father Erwin Bill. 7] Max Bill then married the cellist and photographer Binia Spoerri ( 1904) in 1931, who died in 1988. Jakob Bill ( 1942) was the only child of his first marriage. The latter's son David Bill, (1976-2018) was also active as an artist.

Max Bill's son, Jakob Bill, founded the Swiss max, binia + jakob bill foundation in 1996, thus realising his father's idea after the death of his first wife. The purpose of the foundation is to collect and maintain the works of the Bill family, to promote scientific research, and to disseminate and publish them for interested parties.

Bill had been in a relationship with the art historian Angela Thomas since 1974, who had accompanied him on many trips for twenty years and was the most important interlocutor for his work during this time. He had been married to her in his second marriage since 1991.

On 9 December 1994, while waiting for a flight to Zurich at Berlin-Tegel airport, Max Bill collapsed as a result of a heart attack and died during transport to hospital. His widow wanted to bury the urn, in accordance with one of Bill's wishes, in the pavilion sculpture he had designed in Zurich. When the city refused, she had it exhumed and scattered the ashes at the sculpture.

Since Bill had rejected his son's foundation proposals, according to his will the estate was divided between the son and the widow, Angela Thomas. She founded the Max Bill georges vantongerloo foundation on 3 March 1997 and today lives with the filmmaker Erich Schmid, to whom she has been married since 1998, in Bill's home and studio in Zumikon.

Honours and awards

Max Bill was awarded numerous prizes and honours for his works:

  • 1964: Honorary Membership/Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects, AIA.
  • 1968: Art Prize of the City of Zurich
  • 1979: Culture Prize of the City of Winterthur
  • 1982: Kaiserring of the City of Goslar
  • 1988: Premio Marconi per Arte e Scienzia, Bologna
  • 1988: Piepenbrock Prize for Sculpture, Osnabrück
  • 1990: Helmut Kraft Prize for Fine Arts, Stuttgart
  • 1993: Praemium Imperiale of the Japanese Emperor, Tokyo
  • 2004: Max Bill Square in the district of Oerlikon, Zurich (completed 2007), with Max Bill House
  • 2008: Max Bill Square in his home municipality of Moosseedorf.
  • 2011: Max-Bill-Strasse in Schwabing-Freimann in Munich.
  • 2017: Max-Bill-Weg at the Kunsthaus in the town of Rehau.



  • Building of the Ulm School of Design (HfG) (1953-1955)
  • Max Bill residential and studio building in Zurich (1932-1933)
  • Swiss Pavilion at the 6th Triennale di Milano in Milan (1936)
  • Swiss Pavilion at the 9th Triennale di Milano (1951)
  • School building of the Ulm School of Design (HfG) (1953-1955)
  • Pavilion of the City of Ulm at the Baden-Württemberg State Exhibition in Stuttgart (1955)
  • Buildings for Expo 64 in Lausanne (1961-1964): Expo Theatre
  • Max Bill residential and studio building in Zumikon, Canton of Zurich (1967-1968)

Graphic Series

  1. quinze variations sur un même thème / fifteen variations on an own theme (1935-1938), 250 copies
  2. trilogie (1957), 33 copies
  3. 7 scarions (1967), 100 copies
  4. 11 x 4 : 4 (1963-1970), 133 copies
  5. five quantum squares (1972), 80 copies
  6. transcoloration in five squares (1974), 100 copies
  7. 16 constallations (1974), 150 copies
  8. 8 (24 / 4) = 8 (1974), 100 copies
  9. 7 twins (1977), 80 copies
  10. 7 shifts in the same system (1979), 165 copies
  11. 3 equal colour quanta (square, triangle, circle) (1983), 150 copies
  12. eight transcolorations (1986), 150 copies
  13. four equal quantum variations "from blue and yellow wrid green and red" (1989), 110 copies
  14. without title (1992-1994), 166 copies

All 14 series are illustrated in: Max Bill, die grafischen reihen, Stuttgart: Hatje 1995


  • The Ulmer Stool is one of Max Bill's most famous works. It can be used as a seat, side table, lectern, part of a shelf, tray and carrying aid. Today, the furniture is produced in a licensed re-edition by the Zurich-based company WB Form analogous to the original, the spruce and beech wood comes from Switzerland.
  • Another well-known design work are the emphatically simple dials for Junghans wrist, kitchen and wall clocks, which are available again as a re-edition.


  • Infinite Loop. Plaster on steel framework with surface aluminium spraying, 1935-1937, destroyed on Lake Zurich in 1948.
  • Rhythm in Space. Granite, at the Kennedy Bridge of the Hamburg Außenalster, 1947-1948
  • Family of five half spheres. White artificial stone, Mathematical Institute of the University of Karlsruhe, 1965-1966
  • Lavoitobel Bridge, Tamins, 1966-1967
  • Radiation from penetration, 1966-1969, Museo cantonale d'arte di Lugano.
  • Rotation around expanding white. Zurich, 1981
  • Einstein Monument. Ulm, 1982
  • Pavilion sculpture. Zurich, 1983
  • Continuity. Rosa Sardo granite, Deutsche Bank AG Frankfurt am Main, 1986, moved to the park next to the Deutsche Bank in 2011.
  • sculptural group of three. DaimlerChrysler Group headquarters in Stuttgart-Möhringen, 1989, since 2006 Mercedes-Benz Center at Mercedes-Benz Welt in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt.
  • Endless staircase in Ludwigshafen am Rhein (1991) and on Seminarplatz in Dessau
  • Rhythm in space. European Patent Office, Munich, 1994
  • Space sculpture - Berlin thanks France. Berlin Mitte district, 1994
  • Twin from a quarter sphere. African granite, 1982, Trier Theatre forecourt.


  • Max Bill, Kunsthaus Zurich, 1968/69 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill retrospective, Academy of Arts, West Berlin, 1976
  • Max Bill retrospective, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main, 1987 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, 1990 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill, Pinacoteca comunale Locarno, 1991 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill, Edward Totah Gallery, London, 1991
  • Max Bill, Fondation Saner Studen, 1993 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill, the graphic series, District Office Esslingen near Stuttgart, 1995 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill. Eine Retrospektive, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, 10 September 2005 - 8 January 2006 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill, Palazzo reale, Milano, 2006 (with catalogue, taken over from the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart)
  • Max Bill: without beginning, without end. Museum Marta Herford, 2008 (with catalogue)
  • Max Bill 100, Pinacoteca communale Locarno
  • Max Bill. five decades, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, 2011 (with catalogue)


  • Max Bill: Function and Functionalism. Writings 1945-1988. Benteli, Bern 2008, ISBN 978-3-7165-1522-8.
  • Max Bill, Retrospective. Sculptures Paintings Graphics 1928-1987. (Texts Christoph Vitali, Eduard Hüttinger, Max Bill.) Catalogue Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt/Zurich/Stuttgart 1987, ISBN 3-922608-79-5.
  • Annemarie Bucher: Max Bill. In: Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. 10 August 2004.
  • Thomas Buchsteiner, Otto Lotze:Max Bill, painter, sculptor, architect, designer. Ostfildern-Ruit 2005, ISBN 3-7757-1641-6.
  • Luciano Caramel, Angela Thomas: Max Bill. Pinacoteca Communale Casa Rusca, Locarno / Fidia Edizione d'Arte, Lugano 1991, ISBN 88-7269-011-0.
  • Jürgen Claus: The Energy Field of Colour: Max Bill. In: Jürgen Claus: Art Today. Rowohlt Verlag, 1965.
  • Bernd Grönwald: Max Bill in Weimar. In: Bildende Kunst, 8. Berlin 1987, pp. 349-351.
  • Gerd Fischer: The Colossus of Frankfurt: The "Continuity" of Max Bill. In: Mitteilungen der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, issue 4/1999, pp. 22-23.
  • Eduard Hüttinger: Max Bill. abc Verlag, Zurich 1977, ISBN 3-85504-043-5.
  • Eduard Hüttinger: Max Bill. Edition Cantz, Stuttgart 1987 (extended edition) ISBN 3-922608-79-5.
  • Gregor Nickel, Michael Rottmann: Mathematical Art: Max Bill in Stuttgart. In: Mitteilungen der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, Volume 14, Issue 3/2006, pp. 150-159.
  • Arturo Carlo Quintavalle: Max Bill. Università Commune Provincia di Parma, Quaderni 38, 1977.
  • Frank Raberg: Biographisches Lexikon für Ulm und Neu-Ulm 1802-2009. Süddeutsche Verlagsgesellschaft im Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Ostfildern 2010, ISBN 978-3-7995-8040-3, p. 43.
  • Thomas Reinke, Gordon Shrigley: Max Bill: HfG Ulm: Drawing and Redrawing: Studio Apartments, Student Housing Tower. marmalade, 2006, ISBN 978-0-9546597-1-4.
  • Thorsten Scheer: The Questioning of the Work Character in Architecture. On a building by Max Bill with a broader intention. In: "InSitu". Zeitschrift für Architekturgeschichte, Worms 01/2010.
  • Emil Schwarz: Im Wissen der Zeit oder Der Sinn, den die Schönheit erzeugt, Hommage à Max Bill. A poetic re-enactment with the essay Wirklichkeit oder Realität. NAP Verlag, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-9523615-4-2.
  • Werner Spies: Continuity. Granite monolith by Max Bill. Busche, Dortmund 1986, ISBN 3-925086-01-3.
  • René Spitz: hfg ulm. der blick hinter den vordergrund. die politische geschichte der hochschule für gestaltung ulm 1953-1968. Stuttgart/London 2002, ISBN 3-932565-16-9. (On the history of the HfG Ulm from its foundation in 1953 to its closure in 1968.)
  • Angela Thomas: Max Bill and his time. 2 volumes. Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich.
  • Volume 1: With subversive brilliance (1908-1939). 2008, ISBN 978-3-85881-227-8.
  • Volume 2: Only Little Minds Keep Order (1939-1994). 2012, ISBN 978-3-85881-228-5.
  • Jakob Bill: Max Bill at the Bauhaus. Benteli, Bern 2008, ISBN 978-3-7165-1554-9.
  • Udo Weilacher: Continuity (Max Bill). In: Udo Weilacher: Visionary Gardens. The Modern Landscapes of Ernst Cramer. Basel/Berlin/Boston 2001, ISBN 3-7643-6568-4.
  • Roberto Fabbri: Max Bill in Italia. Lo spazio logico dell'architettura. Bruno Mondadori Editore, Milan 2011, ISBN 978-88-6159-606-1.
  • Roberto Fabbri: Max Bill. Espaces. Infolio Éditions, Gollion - Paris 2017, ISBN 978-2-8847-4463-8.
  • Da Silva Paiva, Rodrigo Otávio: Max Bill no Brasil. 2011, ISBN 978-3-943347-13-5.
  • Hans Rudolf Bosshard: Max Bill kontra Jan Tschichold. The Typographical Dispute of Modernism. Niggli, Sulgen [et al.] 2012, ISBN 978-3-7212-0833-7.
  • Ina Busch, Simon Spierer, Ina Boike, Lutz Fichtner, Valentina Anker, Ernst Wegener, Wolfgang Fuhrmannek: A Forest of Sculptures. The Simon Spierer Collection. Catalogue for the exhibition at the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt. Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-7757-1609-2.
  • Daniel P. Meister, Dagmar Meister-Klaiber: einfach komplex - Max Bill und die architektur der hfg Ulm. Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2018, ISBN 978-3-85881-613-9.


  • Max Bill - the absolute measure of the eye. Feature film by Erich Schmid, 93 min., 35mm + DVD, Ariadnefilm, Zumikon 2008.
  • Max Bill. Written and directed by Klaus Peter Dencker. (TV feature, 12 min.) Saarländischer Rundfunk, 1976. 22 Questions for Max Bill. Film by Georg Radanowicz, 16mm, 1969.


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