Our first group study trip took us down to London to gain inspiration from the capital’s buildings, urban design and plethora of galleries.
Spending most of the three days on foot navigating the meandering streets from Euston, to the Southbank, via Seven Dials, Theatre-land and across to Hyde Park, provided plenty of inspiration for possible project starting points.
Buildings, ceilings, lights and even umbrella displays, repetitive patterning and arrangements were everywhere. The crisscrossed external framework of Neo Bankside apartments (viewable from the Tate Modern) juxtaposed with the square glass windows and coloured panelling, was especially reminiscent of an exhibition stand and gave the luxury apartment blocks the appearance of having been erected instantaneously.
Likewise the British Museum’s delicate triangular glass panelling gave a heavy, static structure the character of a hand fan being unfurled.
For all the vibrancy and excitement of the City, London’s colour palette is overwhelmingly grey. Jeppe Hein’s Modified Social Benches, outside the Southbank Centre, not only provided a quirky reinvention of the public bench, but also added a bright splash of colour to an otherwise dull concrete paradise.
These contrasting colours particularly inspired me and has started me thinking about how simple changes in design can create a huge impact.
The multicultural nature of London means that the city is a melting pot of global sights, sounds and smells. A cacophony of noise assaults the ears, the bustling traffic, peeling church bells and chatter of humanity, whilst the nostrils are attacked by aromas from every continent, spices from Asia contrasting with the traditional pie and mash shops. Amongst this overcrowded landscape there were some smells and sounds that cut through to create a moment of tranquillity.
Liberty’s floral entrance and scented retail spaces, immediately created a calm shopping environment next to the chaotic retail mecca of Oxford Street, encouraging a prolonged visit. The aromas eradiating from the caramelised nuts sold by street vendors across the city, also provided a moment of warmth in a generally impersonal, sterile environment.
The sounds created by water features such as the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park and the fountains outside Central St Martin’s at Granary Square, provided a moment of tranquillity against the traffic noise.
It is impossible to escape advertising in London, from the neon theatre signage outside the theatres to the posters on the escalators of the underground brand images are everywhere.
Whilst I admire the use of the brash and bold to create interest and engagement, such as the glitter effect billboard for Motown the Musical, it was the subtle use of symbols and imagery that I found more striking and impactful.
I found this particularly striking in the National Portrait gallery where medals, props and fashion were used to great effect. Two portraits in particular stood out, Sir John Lavery’s 1913 portrait of The Royal Family at Buckingham Palace and Dame Christabel Pankhurst, painted in 1909 by Ethel Wright. Both pictures used small symbols to convey political messages through their works.
In the case Sir John Lavery’s work, all four members of the Royal Family are pictured wearing medals, showcasing the British military force, just one year prior to the outbreak of the Great War.
Ethel Wright’s image didn’t use an imposing setting like a palace or drama of a theatre to convey a powerful message, instead she added a three coloured sash (purple, white and green), instantly turning the image of an ordinary middle class lady into one of a campaigner and suffragette.
A hundred years later the subtle use of iconography to create ‘brand’ identity was showcased superbly at the apple store on Oxford Street. The environment was uncluttered and devoid of the standard furniture and signage of modern retail.
A simple white flag with a gold apple logo hung outside the entrance, whilst internally the usual sales counters, queues and obvious price signs were replaced by living walls, curved edges and seating, allowing the products to ‘do the talking’.
All photographs: JHolgate, October 2016