Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Place matters

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2011 at 11:37

Historians write as if the whole of human history happened on the head of a pin.

-Leif Jerram, Streetlife, The Untold History of Europe’s Twentieth Century, 2011.

As a researcher with some very particular goals in mind, much of what I read is concerned with informing the specifics. For example: what have historians said about the role of the Council of Industrial Design? What have they said about the emergence of the professional at the beginning of the 19th century?

I have just finished reading a book that made me think about the fundamentals. Leif Jerram’s book Streetlife  is one of those texts, like Eric Hobsbawm’s The Invention of Tradition or Michel Foucault’s Disicpline and Punish, that made me think about the craft of being an historian, the responsibilities of research and the fundamental direction of my work.

Jerram’s main point of contention is that historians have for too long been too obsessed with the questions of What and Why. Hitting on a very key point, he states that history is often presented as happening ‘halfway between everywhere and nowhere and that is not where humans exist. They live their lives somewhere. Somewhere is tangible, fixed, real, located.’ He argues that in the case of the twentieth century in particular, it was the spaces of cities that mattered and so he examines the ‘scene of the crime’: streets, factories, nightclubs, housing estates, suburbs, offices and living rooms, shops and swimming baths of Europe’s booming cities.

He states ‘While I and all the people I know (academics and civilians alike) are acutely sensitive to where they live and work and invest huge amounts of time, emotion and money in arranging their surroundings ‘just so’, there is a painful silence about ‘where’ history has happened in the the writings of many historians.’

The core idea of my project in ‘mapping the design profession’ is to draw attention to the physical and specific places designers have worked and so it is very exciting for me to think of my project as part of this movement to put the ‘where back in history’.


Erno Goldfinger papers

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2011 at 10:41

Last week, I spent some time in the RIBA archives at the V&A, reading through a collection called the ‘Erno Goldfinger Papers’, series 49. Goldfinger was a key architect of high-rise buildings in many parts of london. He was also a serial member of professional organisations. I was able to use his records to trace correspondence between the following design organisations: Design and Industries Association, ARCUK, Royal Academy Club (1976-86), ACA, The Modular Society (1953-54), The Architects Benevolent Society, Hungarian Architects, Liaison Committee of the Architects of the Common Market, The Concrete society, Royal Society of Arts, The Architecture Club, Cercle D’Etudes Architecturales (1964-1985) and notably, Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, (1962-1971). 

This experience of stepping outside the CSD archive and delving into another, was a very useful way of seeing the society’s place within a much broader context of professional design culture in Britain. It is fascinating to see the SIAD within this web. Among the correspondence and newsletters of the various organisations, it was surprising how many familiar names kept cropping up: Misha Black and FHK Henrion being two strong examples. This really reminded me that many members of the SIAD- even the most prominent ones- were also actively involved in a range of other organisations and were therefore really spreading their influence in quite broad strokes.

Additionally, Goldfinger’s correspondence between Tandy, Halford and Mills Ltd (John Tandy, Lucy Halford, Derek Mills, HE Cooper, J A Channon) gave a fascinating glimpse into opinion and debate circulating about the relevance of the society’s stance on self-promotion and advertising in the design profession. These are the kinds of records I wont find in the society’s archive, but they are the kind of ‘outside’ opinion, the society was regularly responding to within.