Bauhaus: A school for teachers

Didn’t get round to seeing the Barbican’s Bauhaus exhibition until late in its run, after I’d heard from many sources that it was excellent. And I agreed. But since my visit a week or so ago I’ve kept returning to the conundrum that formulated itself as I went round the show: why is it that, although the Bauhaus went on to influence the delivery of arts education around the world, you hear so little of what became of its original students? In this exhibition it is the lives and works of the teachers and founders that are celebrated, with less focus on the educational experience from the students’ perspective.

Got the postcard: group photo of Bauhaus masters (from the Barbican exhibition)

The show made me curious about what type of people enrolled as students at the Bauhaus. Did they have to pay? Or were they selected for talent? Was there a scholarship scheme? What was the reason for the relatively high intake of female students (for the time)?

I shall have to find out.

But in the meantime I left the exhibition with the strong sense that the legacy of the Bauhaus was as a teacher-focused teaching model, and one perhaps made all the more compelling to subsequent generations of arts educators by the fact that it wasn’t around long enough for its effectiveness as an educational system to be evaluated.

How would those Bauhaus students have emerged and what would they have gone on to do, if it Hitler hadn’t put a stop to it all?

GraphicDesign& Literature – Page 1

Last night’s GraphicDesign& event at the Design Museum focused on graphic design and literature, and made use of a brilliant format for getting to the heart of some of the more nebulous aspects of graphic design. The two-part event was a sort of amalgamation of pecha kucha and speed dating, with 18 designers speaking for 2 minutes each (with visuals) about their responses to a brief to design page one of Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, which was first published in serial form in 1860. This was followed by a series of concurrent round-table discussions between the designers and audience members (there were three rotations of 12 minutes each). The diversity in responses to the brief, as well as the rapid-fire delivery of ideas, made for an exhilarating evening.

It is the nature of much graphic design to be virtually invisible to many – in deference to the content it works to communicate. But that doesn’t mean design isn’t there, exerting a strong influence on how people consume and process ideas and information. Graphic Design&’s idea of illuminating graphic design thinking by talking about it in relation to its subject matter is inspired.

We were struck by Swedish designer Moa Parup’s e-book layout with its simple gesture of recording the book’s extent adjacent to the folio – a way of judging the ‘thickness’ of the virtual book as well charting the reader’s progress. We were amused by Tony Chambers, editor-in-chief of Wallpaper*, and his angst about his decision to allow an orphan in his page one, reflecting the status of the novel’s central character. Typographic supremo Fraser Muggeridge went against type, as it were, by eschewing words entirely in his page and making use of pictograms instead. We liked, too, the page layout designed for shared reading by Aaron Merrigan and Fred North, who are currently third-year students at Kingston.

A web-offset produced paperback book, Page 1: Great Expectations, edited and designed by Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright of GraphicDesign&, illustrates the responses of 70 designers and illustrators to the same brief, and their explanations of them. A notable timepiece of attitudes to the printed word around the world. Buy the book here.

Rebecca Wright and Lucienne Roberts of GraphicDesign&

Round table discussions at the Design Museum

The film of the book: the web-offset printing process of Page 1: Great Expectations



Beauty in the Making

Chanced upon an excellent talk today by William Owen from Made by Many while at GF Smith/British Council et al’s Beauty in the Making event at Southampton Row. He spoke about the process of prototyping a news website for ITV news, and about how the development of a realtime product forged a strong influence over the way the news journalists work.

The Beauty in the Making exhibition explores the processes behind paper and paper products and was well worth seeing. Also had an informative chat with a letterpress pro from Downey there.

Richard Hollis at Gallery Libby Sellers

Caught the fantastic Richard Hollis exhibition at Gallery Libby Sellers just in time. Curated by Emily King with exhibition design by Simon Jones, the show is a comprehensive retrospective of the graphic designer’s work from the early 1960s to the present day. Included in displays are spec. sheets for typesetting and hand-drawn mock-ups for letterpress printers as well as printed posters, magazines and books. Gallery guide design by Sara De Bondt.

Looking forward to reading About Graphic Design, a collection of writings by Hollis, published by Occasional Papers, which launches tonight at the Whitechapel.


About Around and About

Around and About Stock Orchard Street, edited by Sarah Wigglesworth, designed by Duffy, (Routledge, 2011) 

What was great about working on the design of this book was that the way it had been conceived by the author was anti-convention in publishing terms, which led to a series of illuminating brushes with the world of 21st Century academic publishing. It might not look radical at first glance but it is. Why? Well, publishing is a formula and architectural publishing is no exception. Unuttered and probably unquestioned assumptions about what a book is and should be like seem to abound in publishing. But strangely there appears to be less interest in what a book does (either well or badly), which is to communicate.

One such assumption was that this book was vainglorious. This was because the author made her own house and office the object through which to explore many facets of making a building – design process, project management, construction, environmental performance  – as well as the related aspects of ethics, theory and  history. Importantly the book also chronicles the experiences of being a client, a job-running architect, a project manager, a critic. The fact that the book’s series of essays unflinchingly scrutinises both building and process and that it offers a kind of account of architecture simply not found elsewhere was overlooked by many.

What better antidote could there be to the real vanity inherent in the conventional architectural monograph?


Block & Spiel

Block & Spiel is an ongoing series of informal talks on architecture that provide a forum to explore further the theme of each issue of Block magazine – allowing dialogue and discussion between contributors, readers and a wider audience. The first, ‘Skin Deep – Facade: Medium or Message?’, took place at the RIBA bookshop on Tuesday 15 November 2011, drawing on the theme of issue no.2. Speakers: Stephen Bates of Sergison Bates, Sam Jacob of FAT and Greg Moss of Hawkins\Brown.


Archizines at the AA

Block is part of the excellent Archizines exhibition of new architectural fanzines, journals and magazines from around the world, curated by Elias Redstone. At the Architectural Association until 14 December and then touring worldwide.


Review of Block in AJ

We were pleased with this from James Pallister’s review of Block in The Architects’ Journal:

‘The production is excellent: square bound, full-colour printed with a rich but restrained colour palette and a clean, lively design from art directors Katya and Ellie Duffy’.


Block Magazine Issue 2: Facade

The second issue of Block took the theme of ‘Facade’, exploring a term in architecture that has been largely usurped by the contemporary preference for ‘skin’ or ‘envelope’. In our graphic design we tried to echo some of the issue’s recurrent preoccupations. Issue 2 was launched in July 2011 at Work Gallery, London WC1.

Block Magazine Issue 2: Facade; the launch and details of cover and spreads


Block Magazine Issue 1: The Modest

We designed the identity for this new magazine that explores architecture in a wider cultural context. This is the first issue – we also do the editorial design.

The identity is a play between the assertive, orthogonal (but slightly skew) box and the fluid, writerly logotype within, with its optimistic – almost comical – upward slant. Together these elements were designed to be able to appear in various locations on the magazine’s cover as an overlay to a full bleed image. Within the box we tried to make the logotype arresting by making something that’s visually the antithesis of an onomatopoeia: hold on, that title does not look how it should!

Working on the project with editors Rob Wilson (ex-RIBA Gallery curator) and Ed Wilson was a great experience, partly because it’s unusual to get a brief that is print-based but as open-ended as this. The content we had to work with was interesting and incredibly varied but most importantly it was themed. All our editorial design needed was to do justice to an unusually thoughtful curation of content – to bring out the unexpected juxtapositions inherent in the editing.

It was also a good experience to think about print in a slightly different light: although Block is a magazine, it’s not intended as a throwaway at all. In many ways Block is also the epitome of the web – it is self-contained, its themes create beneficial boundaries, by nature it is highly selective.

Block Magazine Issue 1: The Modest; cover and spread