Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Setting the Brief: Interior Design Students "Design a Hotel" Project

"Your client is an individual who has purchased the building, as well as some neighbouring buildings, that once housed the Silver Studio, a wallpaper and textile design company which was once very influential but closed in the 1960s."

"Your client wants to open a hotel that uses the fact that the Silver Studio existed there as a conceptual starting point. However your client wants the hotel to be modern, not old fashioned and dated."

"Using the work of the Silver Studio (you are asked) to create a contemporary, modern interior concept which is able to drive the philosophy of (your hotel) design."

Design for a trade card, Arthur Silver ,1884, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD 1076)
Sketch for a trade card showing the Brook Green street scene looking towards the Hammersmith Road ,
Arthur Silver  c. 1885, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SE 501)

This was the brief given to 2nd Year Middlesex University Interior Design students last month. It was the starting point for an intense four week collaborative project with MoDA, during which the students were asked not only to get to grips with the idea of using museum objects as a source of inspiration, but also to take in to account all the practical issues involved in designing a hotel. Interior Design tutor Jon Mortimer came up with the brief:

"We in the Interior Design department are always looking out for exciting potential projects which combine an element of real world complications and issues, with the creative freedom that undergraduates thrive on.We researched the Silver Studio and soon decided that students would need a real site in which to locate their project - what better site than the original Silver Studio premises in Brook Green, Hammersmith. We were able to generate plans and sections of the site and its neighbouring properties and soon realised that it would provide an ideal hotel project site...With support from the team at MoDA we created a brief which asked the students to combine the historical resonance of the Silver Studio's heritage and practice, with the needs of a contemporary design hotel - a challenge they quickly rose to."

The students arrived at the MoDA Collections Centre in Beaufort Park full of enthusiasm and curiosity about the collections. I started by introducing the building they were being asked to work on: 84 Brook Green, home to the Silver family and where the Silver Studio operated for several years until growing success prompted a move to larger premises. I felt it was important that the students understood the building's dual function, and was able to show them a series of images of how the interior of the house looked around the turn of the century.

We don't have any photographs of the attic studio space at Brook Green, but we do have some images of the inside of the Studio in different premises. There is a real contrast between the well decorated, formal and  beautifully adorned rooms of the family home, and the practical, cluttered and slightly decaying interior of the Studio space. I hoped that the students would be able to get a sense of the atmosphere of 84 Brook Green when the Silvers had lived and worked there, and an appreciation of the life of the building.

The Drawing Room at 84 Brook Green, c.1900, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 4602.1)

Could the students find a design solution that would allow the buildings history to filter through into the contemporary space they were being asked to create?  Would they be able to reconcile the idea of historical inspiration with the practical requirements of meeting a brief for a hotel design?  Working with students is always fascinating, and we looked forward to seeing what they would come up with. Keep an eye out for future blog entries charting the progress of this project.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Clerkenwell Design Week : Design Exquis

It's that time again: The area around Farringdon station is abuzz with Clerkenwell Design Week. CDW is a three-day showcase of contemporary domestic design and today is the last day it's open. So get there this evening if you can!

One of the best things about CDW is the exhibition venues - all within five minutes distance of each other. The grand old Farmiloe Building is the main site and this year it has a focus on new lighting design. The building itself was erected in 1868 for the glass manufacturer George Farmiloe & Sons and is now regularly hired out as a movie set. Here are the CDW crowds milling outside the entrance and one example of many fabulous lighting displays inside. This one is for Holloways of Ludlow.

Other interesting locations include the House of Detention, the chapel, gardens and crypt of the Order of St John's. Within each, a range of designers showcase their wares and ideas. I recommend taking the time to just wander around the area and see what catches your eye and don't forget to stop and look in at some of the smaller studios.

My favourite thing in this year's displays was hidden to one side of  St John's Gate in the Order of St John's Museum. It was an exhibition titled Design Exquis.

St John's Arch, with the exhibition Design Exquis in the Museum to one side of the arch.

Design Exquis is described as 'a dialogue on one design through design'. It is like a version of the parlor game 'Consequences' and you may have played something like it as a child: draw a head on a bit of paper, fold it so only the neck is visible then pass it on to the next person who draws the torso then folds it, another draws the legs, and another the feet. This exhibition is like a designer's version of that.

Here, the starting object was a stethoscope (fitting for the Order of St John Museum). It was given to the Plant & Moss who created this fascinating lamp inspired by the shape of lungs. This piece was then passed to Dominic Wilcox, his piece to Georg Oehler, and his to Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, each using the others as inspiration for a new piece .Together these objects form the exhibition.

I'll leave it to you to visit and hear the full story behind each piece. Design Exquis is a fun and engaging part of CWD this year, allowing visitors to think more about the process by which designs are conceived. Have you visited Clerkenwell Design Week 2013 and what is your favourite part?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Alice: from floral patterns to Olympic cauldrons...

Over the last few weeks we've been delighted to have student archivist Alice O'Hanlon with us on work placement.  Alice is about to start a great new job, so we thought we'd catch up with her before she left:

Q: Alice, you were here as part of a postgraduate course - can you tell us a bit about what you were studying?
A: I've been studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Archives and Records Management at UCL. The course covers everything from how to store, preserve and conserve different materials (both physical and digital); to the history of archives, theories relating to archival arrangement, freedom of information and data protection, records management systems and the challenges of making archives accessible both physically and on-line. The course is changing to reflect developments in technology and the growing online presence of archives and this year we were able to explore topics such as digitisation, XML and how to make information shareable and interoperable as linked open data. 

Q: What attracted you to work in this field?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by how a story can be told or imagined through an historical object or document and enjoy carrying out research to build up a picture of the past. I worked for a number of years in cultural institutions such as the Museum of London and the Royal Institute of British Architects in administrative roles before deciding to take a new direction and study a Fine Art MA at Camberwell.

It was during this MA that I began to make work around found historical objects such as photograph albums, or items passed down through my family, weaving together fact and fiction to create a narrative about an event or person lost to history. I became very interested in archives – what they hold and what they mean for recording and understanding history and cultural memory - and began to consider a career as an archivist to support my art practice. I went on to volunteer for the V&A Archive of Art and Design, the Natural History Museum, the British Postal Museum and the Swedenborg Society to gain different experiences of working in archives and collections and to secure a place on the Diploma at UCL.

Q: Why did you want to do your placement at MoDA?
A: I have been aware of MoDA for a number of years as I have always been interested in architecture and interior design, especially from the 1930-1950s. I had the wonderful opportunity while at the V&A Archive of Art and Design to work very closely with material from the studio of furniture and textile designers, Robin and Lucienne Day, whose work I have always greatly admired. This was a fascinating experience and I learnt a great deal about the working practice and behind-the-scenes life of these two designers. 

As part of the MA at UCL we are required to do a two-week cataloguing placement and working at the V&A had given me a taste for working with the archives of designers.  I wanted to experience this in a different collection, particularly one comprised of such beautiful examples of domestic design. I also thought the new website, providing such a visual and multi-navigational snapshot of the wonderful collection, was an exciting development.

Q: What have you been working on at MoDA?
A: I have been working with the collection of correspondence between the Silver Studio and its designers, manufacturers, suppliers, clients, personal acquaintances and membership bodies. The collection is arranged according to date, meaning that there are multiple entries for many correspondents since they would have communicated back and forth with the Studio over a number of years, often decades. This is unlike the way an archivist would, traditionally, arrange a collection in a hierarchy, grouping particular people or subjects together. 

This is what I have been tackling with relation to the Silver Studio correspondence: rearranging the structure so that all the correspondence between, for example, Rex Silver and Madeleine Lawrence, are listed together. At present the folders will remain as they are and the hierarchy I have produced will act as an alternative finding aid for researchers, which will hopefully prove very useful as they can see on paper groupings of correspondence with a particular person or business, listed alphabetically, rather than having to look through the whole list of the collection and noting down every time a name appears.

Aside from creating this finding aid I have catalogued to item level, correspondence between Rex Silver and business associate Harry Napper, book dealer Frank Lewis and designers John Churton, Herbert Crofts, Madeleine Lawrence, Winifred Mold and Doreen Whitehead. For each letter I have noted the date and written a brief summary of the contents. In the case of Rex’s letters to designers, particular design numbers are regularly mentioned and these have all been recorded, meaning that these could act as tags in a database, or could even just be searchable in a word document, so that if a researcher would like to see all the correspondence relating to a certain design they can easily collate all the relevant documents.

Q: What's been the best thing about your placement and what have you learnt about the collection?
A: I have found it really interesting cataloguing Rex Silver’s correspondence with his book dealer Frank Lewis and with designers alongside each other as I began to understand connections between Rex’s book collecting activities and the design process. Not being an expert on the Silver Studio or knowing much about Rex’s level of involvement with the design process, at first I was unsure whether he was acquiring books from Frank Lewis for personal or business use, and if the latter, how exactly the books were used. Through cataloguing Rex’s letters to designers such as Doreen Whitehead I was able to see that many of these books, and other cuttings and sketches, were sent out to the Studio’s designers, particularly women such as Whitehead, Mold and Lawrence since they worked from home, to act as guidance and inspiration for specific designs. It has become clear to me that the books collected by Rex played a significant role in his own forming of ideas for future designs and his guiding of studio designers in a particular direction.

I have also found it very interesting to observe the quantity of letters between Rex Silver and designers such as Madeleine Lawrence and Doreen Whitehead which, at periods, would be sent daily, sometimes twice a day. The letters give an impression of the speed at which they would need to react to Rex’s sometimes very specific requests and directions, often being asked to work on several designs at once, and for very little remuneration. One section of correspondence documents the salary negotiation between Rex and Doreen Whitehead in 1935, the two settling on a figure less than that paid on average to a shop assistant at the time. Later that year Miss Whitehead writes that her only hope of affording a holiday that year is by selling her ‘Victorian Bunches’ design to Rex or another buyer for around £8. Rex writes that he is only able to offer her a few shillings. The letters, which capture Rex’s often blunt and critical feedback and high expectations, provide a detailed insight into the demanding working life of the Silver Studio’s female designers.  I know this  story is explored in more detail in MoDA's Petal Power exhibition, which sounds really interesting.

Q: What's next for you now? 
My Diploma is now coming to an end and in a few weeks I will be starting a new job as Archivist for Thomas Heatherwick’s design and architecture practice. This will involve, initially, organising the many architecture models that the studio has accumulated over the years, cataloguing them in detail and considering their long-term preservation needs. After that I will be working on organising the documentation for everything the studio has worked on, from 1994 through to the present, so that the story of each project, from initial idea, through to design process, construction and reception by the public and press is recorded and preserved – in the form of objects, models, sketches, digital design files, paper and email correspondence, photographs, press cuttings, audio and video files and much more.

If you are interested in using the Silver Studio correspondence for your own research please contact Maggie Wood to make an appointment.  We would like to thank Alice for all her hard work and we wish her every success in her new job.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Back into the swing of things...

I've been back at MoDA for around about 3 months now, having been off on maternity leave for most of 2012, and it really is good to be back. Like most mums returning to work after having a baby, I did worry that my 'work brain' was gone for good. Luckily it seems to have survived reasonably intact, having spent the last nine months squashed somewhere in between 'baby brain' and 'functioning on little or no sleep' brain. But how would my work brain cope when required to remember the contents of MoDA's Collections? Well, a bit shaky at first if I'm honest, but I like to think I'm back in the swing of things now. And I've had a fantastic range of diverse research requests to get my teeth in to since I've been back. Here is just a taster:

Middlesex University Fine Art student Ilze Babra wanted to know whether we have any "Latvian traditional (patterns) used in applied arts - tablecloths, as well as traditional costumes... (They) are subject to a grid structure, which makes them easily applicable to embroidery, cross-stitching and weaving." I was pretty sure I knew the answer to the question 'have we got anything Latvian?', but still being a bit unsure of things generally I thought I'd better check! As suspected a quick search of the catalogue didn't reveal anything originating from Latvia, or that we know to be Latvian in origin. Ilze had emailed a couple of photos of the type of patterns she was working with, and when I saw these I felt sure I could find some examples from our textile collection that had a similar pattern and structure. Ilze was interested in geometric patterns in general, and using my knowledge of the collections I was able to pull out a diverse range of objects including original Silver Studio designs from the 1930s, as well as a Linoleum sample book and a Doulton floor tiles pamphlet from the turn of the century, all of which feature examples of geometric patterns in some way, shape or form.

When Ilze asked about Latvian embroidery I could have just said that we didn't have anything Latvian, and suggested she try looking elsewhere. But one of the challenges of this job is to be able to think laterally about our collections, and find material that is both useful and relevant for our researchers, even if it's not exactly what they asked for. And in my experience it is often the unexpected objects which prove the most thought provoking and stimulating for our visitors.  

Woven cotton fabric sample, 1925-1940, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (ST 4169)

Doulton & Co floor tile catalogue, c.1900
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 139)
On an entirely different tack, another recent visitor to the Study Room was Rob Vinall, who is in his first year of an MA in Interior Design at the Royal College of Art. His dissertation topic looks at British social housing in the immediate post-war period, exploring the extent to which the utopian ideals which informed much of the domestic architecture can also be seen in the way the interiors of the dwellings were planned and decorated by their inhabitants.  Rob was initially interested to know whether we had any photographs of relevant interiors from this period. A look through our small photographic collection soon established that this wasn't the case, but I was sure we did have a number of publications relating to housing policy in the post-war period, as well as contemporary publications looking at planning and reconstruction.

'Homes for the People', 1946, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 3401)

Two pages from 'Housing Type Plans: Prepared in the Housing Division of the Architect's Department of the London County Council', 1956, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 2277)

Unlike Ilze, who was primarily looking for visual reference material, the nature of Rob's project means he needs quite specific information relating to a particular point in history. MoDA's In Search of Suburbia exhibition in 2005 focused on how suburban housing, both private and public, has developed from the late nineteenth century through to the 1960s and '70s. Having been involved in  the research for this exhibition I was already aware of the relevant post-war material which we hold, and so I knew where to look in terms of relevant publications. I'm hoping to get an update from Rob in a couple of months time as to how his research is progressing, so watch this space.

Another Middlesex BA Jewellery student Emma Tratt came in to the Study Room for the second time in early April. This time she was focusing on books and magazines about handicrafts for a project concerning making things by hand. Emma had looked on the MoDA website and found an image of a book cover called 'The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Knitting' (BADDA 3266). The book's cover features a simple illustration of a pair of hands knitting. But when we opened the book we found these fabulous endpapers (see below), which proved to be the 'find' of the visit. It's great the way that our website, which is now full of wonderful images from the collections, is proving such a useful 'way in' for people like Emma looking for visual inspiration. If you don't know the collections, how do you explain to someone like me what it is that you're looking for? But if you can find one or two images of things that you find interesting, this helps me to understand what it is you're really looking for, and I can then use my knowledge of the collections to point you towards more relevant material.

Emma is hoping to put together an entry for this year's Arthur Silver Award based on her research at MoDA. The deadline for entries is Friday 17th May, and I'm sure we'll be featuring the work of some of those entering in future blog posts. So good luck to Emma and all other Middlesex second and final year students hoping to enter this year. For further details on the Award see MoDA's website.

End papers from The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Knitting
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA 3266)

There is so much people can gain from accessing MoDA's collections, and the fact that my job is centred around helping people to do this is incredibly satisfying. There is no better feeling than watching someone start to look through a box of designs, or a pile of magazines and start to make connections between this seemingly random collection of objects and their own research or creative practice. The fact that I can help people to navigate this material, and to make these connections, is something I've found I still enjoy immensely, and thankfully my 'work brain' still appears to be up for the challenge!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Remnants of the Great Exhibition, 1851

On this day in 1851 there was quite a scene around Hyde Park in London. With over 25,000 people in attendance,  Queen Victoria had come to open the Crystal Palace. This imposing structure of iron and glass was built at pace over several months to host the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, more commonly known as The Great Exhibition.

Poster advertising the Great Exhibition, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH/5/7/2/3
The iconic building was not the brainchild of a trained architect, but rather that of the head gardener of Chatsworth House, Joseph Paxton. Paxton's greenhouse-inspired design triumphed over 245 other proposals. The grandeur of the structure continued through the interior with over 10 miles of exhibition space displaying over 100,000 objects in celebration of the British Empire and it's manufacturing and trade industry. The exhibition ran over six months with a purported six million visitors from around the globe.

Hand painted lithograph of the interior of the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH/5/7/2/4
Look around London today and you still see remnants of the Great Exhibition. The profit made over the six months (£186,000) was used to purchase the surrounding land for the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria & Albert Museum) and later still the National History Museum. The Crystal Palace itself was moved to South London where it remained until fire destroyed it in 1936. Today, the foundations of the building are preserved within parkland. Finally, the gold and glittering memorial to the champion of the Great Exhibition, Prince Albert, stands just west of the original site of the Crystal Palace. In the Prince's hand is the exhibition's catalogue.

Remnants of the Great Exhibition can also be found in museum collections like MoDA's. As I'm sure you are aware from previous blog posts, we have been undertaking conservation and documentation work on the Charles Hasler Collection to make it available online and to visitors to the study room. It should come as no surprise that Hasler also collected 1851 exhibition-related material. He had a keen interest in it because of the role he played in the centenary event: The 1951 Exhibition on the Southbank. Hasler donated the majority of his Great Exhibition material to the University of Reading in 1966. MoDA received the rest of his archive in the late 1990s, which included some Great Exhibition items like the poster and lithograph shown above and also a few souvenirs such as this jug and envelope set.

Commemorative jug from the Great Exhibition, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH/5/7/2/1

Souvenir envelope set from the Great Exhibition, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH/5/7/2/2
Do you have or know of any other interesting fragments or legacies of the Great Exhibition?  Today would be a good day to consider these, or perhaps if you are in the area, to look again at Crystal Palace Park, the V&A or the Albert Memorial. All act as reminders of a watershed event which profoundly impacted the cultural life of London, and indeed the rest of Britain.