Thursday, 26 April 2012

British Design 1948-2012

My daughter Lotte, who works at the V&A in London, took me to the great new exhibition there today - British Design from 1948, etc. I loved it for a number of reasons. First, it covers my lifetime, give or take a year or two and it reminded me of many of the design trends, movements, products, fashion, art and music that have been the context for my lifelong interest in place and how it works or does not as the case may be. Second, it reminded me just how talented Brits were at design and how we seem to have lost a little bit of the design style and verve that we used to have in spades, save a few exceptions such as Zaha Hadid and Will Alsop, and the ever prolific Jonathon Ive. 

My first gasp was reserved for the curator's take on the 1951 Festival of Britain, which I had faint memories of as a child watching a very grainy early BBC transmission.

Amazing to be reminded that some in the Establishment thought that we Brits were not ready for or interested in these new forms of architecture and that it was not a proper use for the South Bank. I've always thought that it was a crime that the Conservative government of the Fifties deliberately demolished a lot of the exhibition spaces and pavilions but thank goodness that some sense prevailed and some elements were left as a faint reminder of the departed glory.

I was also struck by the examples of great design that emanated from government stimuli and intervention, for example the creation of design courses in Art Schools in the late 1960's and the new cultural and health buildings that flowed from increased investment in city regeneration in the late 1990's and the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A wealth of fifties  and sixties designs for wallpaper, ceramics and furniture reminded me of the places I used to goggle at as a child - duplex flats fitted out with strange wallpaper, like the "Calyx" wallpaper of Lucienne Day, shown below, that I remember thinking looked like cocktail glasses (unusual for a Glaswegian, I know), and the "Homemaker" tableware of Enid Sweeney whose designs featured images of in vogue chairs, tables and lamps.

I've only skimmed the surface of the many delights of this exhibition in this blog and I will be going back. I do recommend you to see it if you have an interest in the design of things and the environment in which they are used. Its Fab! to use an expression of my youth.