Archived posts: Architecture

Futuro House

Futuro House 1

Earlier today, on the rooftop of Central Saint Martins, we took a step into the future past.

Since last September, the art school has been playing host to a Futuro House, courtesy of the artist Craig Barnes.

Futuro House 4

Barnes has been hosting tours of the building during its stay at the college, and filled us in on its fascinating history.

The Futuro House was a type of prefabricated home designed by Finnish architect Matti Suoronnen at the tail end of the 1960s. He designed it at the request of a friend who was looking for a ski cabin that would be quick to heat and easy to construct in a tricky mountainside location.

A perfect 2:1 ratio ellipse, the house is made of 16 fiberglass-reinforced polyester plastic segments that are bolted together on site (although it could also be choppered in fully assembled), and mounted on a steel base. About 100 houses were made, of which around 60 still exist, in varying states of repair.

Barnes’ Futuro (#22) comes from Port Alfred in South Africa, where he first saw it as a child while visiting family nearby. He visited it time and time again. Jump cut to April 2013, when Barnes saw that it was in danger of either falling to pieces or being destroyed. Without much forethought, he convinced the owner to sell it.

Now all he had to do was take it to pieces, ship it up to the UK, fully restore it, and put it back to pieces. Simple.

After five days spent carefully deconstructing the house, he shipped the pieces back to Herefordshire, where they took up residence in a former WWII bomb factory, and restoration began. Barnes spoke to the team at the Wee Gee Exhibition Centre in Finland, who had previously restored a Futuro House. They impressed on him the need to remain faithful to the original designs, which he mostly did. His only significant departure was to ditch the internal colour scheme. Instead of a gloomy purple, he created a bright white interior set against just one other colour, a mustard yellow used on the fabric of the seats and bed (a gentle nod to the interstellar interiors of Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey). It’s a monumental achievement to have restored this fantastic building, and it’s fantastic that Barnes is sharing it with other people and institutions.

Futuro House 2

Futuro House 3

Initially installed on the roof at Matt’s Gallery, for the past year the house has been living atop Central Saint Martins, looking for all the world as it it’s just floated in from space. Barnes told us that a ‘certain amount of smoke and mirrors’ was required to hide the supports necessary to secure the building to the roof.

Futuro House 5

Booking is currently closed for tours of the house, but it is expected to continue its stay at Central St Martins for another year, so that may change.

The only Futuro house in the UK, it’s still looking for its own future home. Which got us to thinking about where it could go. We can picture it sitting happily alongside the new Design Museum in Kensington. Or perhaps setting up camp at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Or it would look incredible on the lawn of a National Trust property as part of their contemporary art programme.

Find out more about the Futuro House.

Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today


Yesterday we popped over to the wonderful South London Gallery in Camberwell to check out the preview of their latest show: Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today.

The exhibition is the first from the gallery to be shown across two sites: their main building, and their new space just across the road, the former Peckham Road Fire Station.



The show brings together highlights from the Guggenheim’s collection of recently acquired Latin American art, including installation, painting, performance, photography, sculpture and video.

Here are just a few of those:

Over in the Fire Station, Jonathas de Adrade’s piece, Posters for the Museum of the Man of the Northeast (below) features 77 fake posters advertising the real Museum of the Northeastern Man in Recife, Brazil. Viewers are invited to move the posters around – effectively to rehang the room. Go on, unleash your internal curator.


Rivane Neuenschwander’s piece Mapa-Múndi/BR, below, invites viewers to select a postcard and send it to someone. Each of the postcards shows somewhere in Brazil that is named after somewhere not in Brazil: bars, churches and stores with names like Alaska, Baghdad, China and Las Vegas (a motel).


Back in the main gallery, Amalia Pica’s piece A ∩ B ∩ C features large primary coloured acrylic shapes stacked against the gallery walls, which are presented in a performance piece each week (Saturdays at 1pm).



The catalogue blurb for the piece says that the shapes: “refer to 1970s Argentina. During this period, set theory was forbidden from being taught in elementary classes, in response to a concern that it might ultimately prompt citizens to conspire against the military junta. In A ∩ B ∩ C, Pica invites performers to manipulate translucent colored shapes, producing new configurations that, emancipated from the historical anecdote, use abstraction and intersection as an invitation to reimagine forms of collaboration and community.”

So essentially these are rebellious Venn diagrams made real.

The show was previously on at the Guggenheim in NYC, and at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City. It’s part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, which supports contemporary art and artists from three regions – South & Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East & North Africa — through acquisitions, curatorial residencies, exhibitions, and educational programmes.

The show alone is worth a visit, but there’s the extra incentive of getting to take a look at the gallery’s new site, the Grade II listed former Peckham Road Fire Station.

It’s just a few doors down from the main gallery, across the road next to the current fire station. Donated to the gallery by an anonymous benefactor, only the ground floor is currently open, and it’s only open for the duration of this show, before a full refit begins ahead of the re-opening in 2018. So it’s worth getting in there for a look while you can.


The show opens tomorrow, and runs until 4 September 2016.

Save Norton Folgate

We wandered over to the beautiful St Leonard’s, Shoreditch (as featured in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons) yesterday evening for a fascinating talk by Dan Cruikshank on behalf of The Spitalfields Trust.

The talk was about the threat of development that currently looms over Norton Folgate, a conservation area that forms the heart of Spitalfields, centred on the stunning Elder Street, most of which dates back to the 18th century.

In the evocative surroundings of St Leonard’s, Cruikshank detailed British Land’s plans (on behalf of the freeholder, the City of London Corporation) to redevelop the area, demolishing or gutting many of the historic buildings, leaving just a few facades intact. Behind those facades they’ll create huge office developments, entirely out of keeping with the architectural history of the area, and fundamentally changing its unique character. Watch the video above to get a sense of what Cruikshank had to say.

Incredibly, British Land tried to demolish portions of Elder Street back in the 70s, and were only stopped by the then newly formed Spitalfields Trust, co-founded by Dan Cruikshank.


A little bit of history repeating it seems.

The new proposal is astonishing in its potential to harm one of the most beautiful parts of London. The Spitalfields Trust is determined to stop the proposal though. They have even commissioned an alternative scheme of their own from architect John Burrell at Burrell, Foley, Fischer, which is far better suited to this wonderful area.

Read more over at the excellent Spitalfields Life, and on the Spitalfields Trust site.

Join in the protest over at the Save Norton Folgate Facebook page.

Carters Steam Fair

A couple of weekends ago we got the chance to visit the fantastic Carters Steam Fair while it was visiting Clapham Common.

Carters is a vintage travelling fun fair, entirely run by the Carter family, after John and Anna Carter bought their first ride, the Jubilee Steam Gallopers (below) in 1977. The ride was originally built by Robert Tidman & Sons of Norwich, in 1895; and the Carters extensively repaired and renovated it to get it looking as fine as it does today.

The other main ride they have that’s run on steam is the glorious Excelsior Steam Yachts ride (top and below), built in 1921.

The whole fair features a staggering wealth of traditional fairground art and signwriting, featuring work by Hall and Fowle:

“The later rides owned by Carters Steam Fair are painted in a style of dramatic three-dimensionality by the masters of fairground painting in the first half of the 20th century: Hall and Fowle. Edwin Hall was a master painter producing some beautifully set out and composed Art Deco designs that still stand out to this day; Fred Fowle joined forces with him later. Fowle’s work is unmistakeable in its design and skill, using gold and aluminium leaf, flamboyant enamels and a lot of guts he made some of the most extraordinary and exuberant artwork that can be seen on the fair to this day, most notably the Skid, the Octopus, and the Hook a Duck hoopla stall which are owned by Carters Steam Fair.”

Everything on the fair is still hand-painted, with incredible skill and style, by the Carter family. Indeed, Joby Carter even runs 5-day signwriting courses – the next one coming up this November.

It’s just an amazing place to visit. They even have a coconut shy, and a fantastic penny arcade, which even has a suitably creepy Jolly Jack:

And of course the rides themselves are brilliant.

The fair will be at Belair Park in West Dulwich for the next two weekends, and travelling all round London through to November (check their full diary here). Do go along if you get a chance.

Designs of the Year 2013

We nipped along to the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year show last weekend.

Self-styled as “the Oscars of the design world”, it’s a curious beast of a show, pulling together “the most innovative and imaginative designs from around the world, over the past year, spanning seven categories: Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Transport and Product”, with a view to crowning a single design as the best of the best.

Which means that you get a skyscraper (Renzo Piano’s Shard) being pitted against a social-media printing gizmo (Berg’s Little Printer).

There’s a lot of great stuff on show, but it was the projects that are demonstrably making people’s lives better that really caught our eye – and the rest of the designs rather suffered when compared against them.

We really loved the Little Sun designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson (the chap who installed the sun in the Tate’s Turbine Hall with The Weather Project) and and engineer Frederik Ottesen. It’s a low-cost solar powered LED lamp that gives up to five hours of light when fully charged. It’s designed to provide a practical, safe and efficient source of light for people living in rural communities off the electricity grid, helping them to work, study or cook at night.

It can be worn, hung or attached to walls, and is much safer and healthier than the kerosene lamp alternative.

And, even more brilliantly, folk in areas of the world with ready supplies of electricity (that’s you, dear reader) can buy them at full price, helping to make it available in off-grid communities at much lower prices.

Go shop.

Also helping kids in the developing world to read are the Child ViSion Glasses from the Centre for Vision in the Developing World, designed by the gents at Goodwin Hartshorn.

Designed to improve the eyesight of kids aged 12-18 (or possibly to create a Wally Olins clone army) these groovy self-adjustable specs use fluid-filled lens technology: a silicone oil is injected into the space between two membranes to adjust the prescription until it’s right for the user (the design is based on something similar for adults, the Adspecs, also developed by the CVDW).

The package includes a simple eye test, and the lenses can be adjusted by any adult. At this stage they’re still undergoing clinical trials, but heck, what a great idea.

Another stunning idea came from the folks at independent non-profit ColaLife, who have developed a novel way of getting life-saving medicines to people in rural areas of Africa – by hitching a ride with Coke.

They realised that soft-drinks giant Coca-Cola has an incredible distribution network: you can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in the developing world – but that in those same places 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from simple, preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea.

ColaLife decided to piggyback on top of Coca-Cola’s distribution network, and developed the Aidpod, a package which can slot into the empty spaces left between soft drinks bottles when they’re stacked in a crate. The pods are designed to carry ‘social products’ – oral rehydration salts, high-dose vitamin A, water purification tablets – to save children’s lives. By using an already established network, medicines can reach communities for little or no cost.

The Kit Yamoyo, nominated for an award, is an Anti-diarrhoea pack which they’re trialling in Zambia at the moment. The original concept was by Simon & Jane Berry (founders of Colalife), with design by Tim Llewellyn for PI Global.

Read more about it all here.

Meanwhile, over in the Architecture category, we loved the renovation of Tour Bois le Prêtre: a 17 storey tower block, on the edge of the 17th Arrondisement in Paris, that was being threatened with demolition.

In 2005 a competition was organised by Paris Habitat, the Paris Office for Public Housing, to renovate the building. Lacaton & Vassal studio put together a retrofitting scheme for the block, using prefabricated balconies, which cost £15 million, around half of the projected demolition and rebuilding cost; and which also meant minimal disruption for the inhabitants of the block.

A pioneering example of how renovated buildings can create great housing. Be good to see some more of that sort of thing going on in the UK. (Read more about the project in this New York Times article.)

Over in the Graphics category, it was the new Australian cigarette packs that caught our eye.

Thanks to the Australian Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, as of 1 December 2012, all cigarettes sold there have to be sold in plain packaging. So there’s no branding to speak of, just warnings, graphic images of the dangers of smoking, and product names.

As the act states, this was done to: “(a)  reduce the appeal of tobacco products to consumers, (b)  increase the effectiveness of health warnings on the retail packaging of tobacco products, (c)  reduce the ability of the retail packaging of tobacco products to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking or using tobacco products.”

It’s design doing the exact opposite of what it normally does. It’s ugly, unpleasant, and uncomfortable, and it’s intentionally trying to dissuade you from making a purchase. The packaging colour has been specified as Pantone 488C, after research by the Australian Department for Health and Ageing discovered it to be the least attractive colour for packaging.

Poor old 488C.

It’s not beautiful, but it may well be very effective.


It did remind us of the Death Cigarettes brand from the 90s, which was equally up front about the dangers of smoking.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Australian packs pick up a similar cachet amongst rebellious youth…

Other than those projects, the Zumbtobel Annual Report, by Brixton design studio Brighten the Corners and Anish Kapoor, is a real stunner, set in two parts, with one part consisting solely of a series of full-bleed chromatic spreads (you really need to have a copy in your hands to experience it properly).

And the Ralph Ellison series of book covers by Cardon Webb are also all kinds of lovely.

And of course, Thomas Heatherwick Studio’s lyrical Olympic Cauldron for the London 2012 is nominated too, and deservedly so. It was the design highpoint of the Olympics, and there was a real sense of awe watching it open and close during the ceremonies.

All in all it’s a fascinating show – but we definitely came away with the feeling that design is at its best when it’s directly helping make the world a better place.

And we were also struck by this bit of text from the permanent collection on the floor above the Designs of the Year show:

“The most successful designs are those that endure and continue to be relevant many years after they are first introduced. These are the icons that define the landscape of design. The bicycle, the ball-point pen and Anglepoise lamp are all examples, where the basic form has remained the same for decades.”

It’ll be really interesting to see if which, if any, of this year’s crop of designs endure for many years to come.

Designing the Extraordinary

We recently made our way over to the V&A to check out their new exhibition of work from the fantastic Heatherwick Studio, Designing the Extraordinary.

Thomas Heatherwick’s studio, established in 1994, creates work across a wide spectrum of disciplines: architecture, furniture, engineering, sculpture, transport and urban planning.

From their Rolling Bridge  (above) at the Grand Union Canal at Paddington Basin, which unfurls like the frond of a fern (you can see it do so at midday each Friday), to the extraordinary UK Pavilion (below) for the Shanghai Expo 2010, all of the studio’s work is informed by a fascination with materials and forms; and by a real joy in experimentation and exploration.

The densely-packed show features a wealth of models, products and test pieces from the studio. The gallery guide is even given the Heatherwick treatment – it’s stored on huge rolls of paper, reminiscent of the rolls used in the web-fed offset printing of newspapers. You turn a crank-handle to spool out your own guide from one of the rolls. It’s an engagingly lo-fi opener to the show, and hints at the playfulness of the work in the rest of the exhibition.

In London we’ll soon have a fleet of Heatherwick’s designs making their way round the city, as eight of the new London buses go into service in the capital. There’s been a whole heap of controversy about the buses – an abhorrently expensive vanity project for the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson; or a dazzling step forward in transport design, depending on who you’re speaking to.

The show, which runs until the end of September, is well worth a visit, and there’s an accompanying hefty tome, Thomas Heatherwick: Making from Thames & Hudson.

For more on Heatherwick, check out the Guardian’s guided tour of the show, and Mike Dempsey’s interview with Heatherwick on the RDI Insights page.

British Design 1948–2012

We nipped along this morning to the big new show at the V&A, British Design 1948-2012, a retrospective of the creative industries in Britain since the end of the Second World War. Timed to make the most of the Olympic hordes who’ll be hitting the capital this summer (the show ends the same day as the Olympic closing ceremony), it’s a clear attempt to grab back some of the glory from the sporting crowd. Which is no bad thing.

This is the first big exhibition of post-war design that the V&A has staged, and it covers fashion, furniture, fine art, graphic design, photography, ceramics, architecture and industrial products. It’s good to have all of that creative output lumped together, even if it does mean that you can only have a few key pieces from each discipline. Pleasingly there’s rather more graphic design than we’d anticipated, particularly from the period just after the war, with work from Abram Games, Edward Bawden, Reginald Mount, and David Gentleman.

The show is grouped into three main areas, Tradition & Modernity; Subversion; and Innovation and Creativity, which run more or less chronologically from 1948 to the present day. The three groupings don’t necessarily help, creating rather forced divisions between periods and styles. But there’s lots of great stuff on display, including four hand-painted maquettes for British road signs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert; and a page from Design Research Unit’s British Rail Design Manual.

The second section, Subversion, deals mainly with the rise of the art school and a more youth oriented period of design – so you get Jamie Reid’s Sex Pistols posters, Vivienne Westwood’s punk clothing designs, some Beatles album covers, and of course Peter Saville, Barney Bubbles and Neville Brody. Which is all well and good, but unfortunately this part of the exhibition is designed with a rather clichéd underground vibe – lots of black walls and industrial fittings, which really cheapens the work on display, making it feel like we’re walking through some sort of gaudy themed tourist attraction.

The third section focuses more on manufacturing industries, technology and architecture. Somehow the curators have managed to use Apple’s iMac as a pioneering example of British technology design (Jonathan Ive, the iMac’s designer is from these shores, sure, but come on…). Elsewhere there’s a model of Concorde, an E-Type Jag, a Topper sailing boat, and Kenneth Grange’s Brownie Vecta camera.

Meanwhile, graphic design in this section is represented by Wolff Olins’ hideous London 2012 logo (it just doesn’t get any better does it?); their Orange logo from 1994, and Alan Fletcher’s lovely V&A logo from 1989 (rather happily referencing Ian Dennis’s National Theatre logo, which is shown earlier in the exhibition).

Our favourite exhibit though was these Globoots from 1969:

They were unique at the time of their production, being double dip-moulded in two different plastics, so that the translucent uppers and opaque soles were made in one piece, without seams. And crikey, don’t they look like a certain coloured computer designed in the USA by a British bloke called Jonny?

Our only real gripe is that it features way too much art. The show is British Design 1948-2012, not British Art & Design 1948-2012, but we’re treated to work from Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Allen Jones, David Hockney and Damien Hirst. Obviously there’s crossover between the disciplines, and many of those artists worked in design as well as art, but the pieces shown are their artworks rather than their design pieces. So for example, we get Hockney’s We Two Boys Together Clinging painting rather than any of his fantastic stage designs. This seems like a real shame, given how much great design has had to be left out to make room for the art.

Overall though, it’s a great show, and anyone interested in design should get along quick smart.

The show opens on Saturday 31 March, and runs until 12 August.

Picture credit for top image: Children crossing sign, by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir for the Ministry of Transport, 1964 © Margaret Calvert

The New Design Museum

So, as you may well know, the Design Museum in London is planning to move from its current home in Shad Thames right across town, and into the former Commonwealth Institute building, at “the wrong end of a Kensington shopping street” as architecture critic Stephen Bayley has previously put it.


The move won’t happen until 2014, but in the meantime, the museum’s latest newsletter has asked the design community to give some feedback on their proposals to the local council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Unfortunately, the planning department has hosted the files in a way that really doesn’t invite much feedback, but it might be worth wading through them.

High Street Kensington does seem like a slightly strange place for the Design Museum to move to – it’s not really a part of town you immediately think of when you think about design – and that’s despite the presence of the Royal College of Art, and slightly further away the V&A. But the building is quite groovy, and they’ve got John Pawson on-board for the remodelling, so there’ll be stacks of clean white spaces to enjoy. And the plans do involve far more exhibition space, as well as lots more education space, which can only be a good thing.

And heck, how great would it be if there was space for a permanent collection of British graphic design?


So the folks over at RIBA have announced Danish architecture, engineering and design studio Bystrup as the winner of their competition to redesign the standard British electricity pylon, with their T-Pylon design.

The design was praised by the judges for managing to reduce both the size and height of the pylons, and consequently the amount of materials used in their construction.

It’s not the most radical of the six shortlisted designs (out of the 250 entries), and it’s interesting to read that National Grid, who also sponsored the competition, are going to talk to the studios behind two of the other entries as well – including New Town Studio with their gorgeous Totem design (below).




Serpentine Pavilion 2011

We nipped over to the Serpentine Gallery over the weekend just in time to check out their latest pavilion (we’re a bit late on this one – it’s been up since the beginning of July, and comes down at the end of this week). It’s the 11th in their series of annual commissions, this time by architect Peter Zumthor.

Sometimes the pavilions can be architecturally audacious, but slightly disappointing as an actual experience. Here, that feeling is reversed – the architecture is restrained to the point of absolute minimalism: a simple black box, which frames a garden designed by Piet Oudolf (the chap behind New York’s brilliant High Line).

The black simplicity of the box feels very sombre, almost funereal – although this is slightly offset as you get closer to it, and realise that it has a rough, organic texture.

You walk into a corridor between two walls, which works to separate the internal garden from the outside world, helping to create a quiet, contemplative space. The light within the corridor was very beautiful in itself, with pools of daylight at the doorways:

We liked the fact that the black box playfully references the classic white box we associate with art galleries, and that inside it you find yourself contemplating the sky* and the other visitors as much as the garden. We were there on a dull autumnal day, and we’d love to see it at different times and in different weather conditions.

*In that resepect, it reminded us a great deal of the artist James Turrell’s work.

If you’ve not been, and can squeeze it in, it’s definitely worth a trip – and this weekend the Serpentine is holding a Garden Marathon, the 6th in their marathon series: a two day event with artists, scientists and thinkers exploring all manner of garden related ideas.

Good stuff.