Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Apr 25, 2017
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Designs on a new museum

IN THE LAST issue of ArtWork, we reported on the new design and craft galleries in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where the history of both has been treated chronologically from the end of the 18th century to the present day.

In London, where the Design Museum has just moved from its relatively small site to the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, a much larger space has enabled the museum to triple its size. And, instead of adopting a chronological approach to its subject, the museum concentrates on displays dedicated to particular aspects.

The new use has also saved a 1960s building which was facing demolition, enabling OMA, Allies & Morrison and Arup to restore its spectacular concrete roof and modernist facade, and John Pawson to remodel its 10,000sqm interior. The conversion has cost £ 83m.

Entering the Design Museum, one experiences a central atrium that provides views of the hyperbolic paraboloid roof, with a grand staircase leading directly to the main gallery on the top floor. There are small galleries, learning spaces, a café , shop and events spaces on the ground floor and, on the floor below, a gallery devoted to special exhibitions.

That running at the moment is called Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution (until June 4), while another on California opens on May 24.

If the design and craft galleries in Edinburgh aim to give the visitor an idea of how both subjects have evolved across two hundred years, the displays in London are intended to show how designers have tried to solve certain problems and the way in which materials and technologies have been employed in doing so.

Thus, for example, a display of radios, radiograms, early computers, laptops and cameras illustrate what the museum describes as Evolution & Technology, and includes an early colour tv by Keracolor of 1968 and the wonderful Brionvega radiogram of 1966.

There is also a comparison between Bauhausinspired radios, radiograms and tvs by Braun that date from the 1970s to the much more recent products by Sony, and another display raises the question of What Is Good Taste?

How do you rate furniture designed by the Dutch de Stijl movement, the Bauhaus or Aalto in the inter-war years with that designed by the Italian avant garde group, Memphis, in the 1980s? The display also looks at specific products such as the Anglepoise lamp designed by George Carwadine in 1927 and its variants to the redesign by Kenneth Grange of some 20 years ago, in which – despite the changes – the lamp has remained faithful to the original concept.

But another display – on Olivetti's Valentine typewriter – shows how Ettore Sottsass and Perry King tried to revolutionise typewriter design in the early 1970s by an extensive use of plastics in bright red for both the typewriter and its box-like case that could be stood on end and used as a wastepaper basket or a place to keep your bottle of whisky!

Originally planned to cost £ 10 and be the equivalent of the ballpoint to the fountain pen, the rising cost of oil (and therefore plastics) increased the cost threefold and so destroyed the original idea.

Going back in time, there is a display of the design of chairs from early bentwood models by Thonet to post-Second World War designs by Ponti and Ray and Charles Eames, as well as an examination of particular products, including Philippe Starck's Juicy Salif citrious squeezer of 1990 and the Olympic Torch designed by Barber & Osgerby for the London Games of 2012.

The Design Museum also looks at interior design in the form of the fitted kitchens that were first designed by Margarete Schutte-Likotsky for houses in Frankfurt from 1926-30. Her ideas quickly spread to America but, in Britain, fitted kitchens did not become widely available until the 1960s. And, in environmental design, there is the analysis of Britain's road signs by Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert from 1957-67 that (although the museum doesn't mention this) inspired Jens Nielsen's signage used by Denmark's railway system of the 1970s.

Also included as environmental design are Maggie's Centres which, for the past 20 years and more, have transformed the facilities available for people dying from cancer in Britain and Hong Kong. In this case, not only do they fulfill the wishes of Maggie Keswick Jencks, who was appalled at the way she and others were treated as they entered the terminal stage of the disease, but they have also provided an opportunity to employ architects of international renown such as Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid.

The top floor of the museum also contains a restaurant, the Sackler Library & Archive, and a member's room.

What is interesting is that the Design Museum has been given a new home at the moment when Theresa May has issued her Green Paper aimed at rejuvenating Britain's businesses. This includes increased Government spending on broadband, energy and transport, and encouraging growth in sectors such as life sciences, pharmaceuticals and technology. The Green Paper echoes the establishment of the Council of Industrial Design in 1944, which was given a similar brief and led to Britain's post-war world's leadership in nuclear energy, radio astronomy, aircraft and cars, and a host of scientific and domestic products, many of which were designed by people represented in the Design Museum's displays. Let us hope the museum's new home leads to a similar rejuvenation of Britain's design-led industries.


An extensive new preface by the Ross Herald of Arms, Charles Bunnett, Chamberlain of Duff House
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