Modernism in design and architecture emerged in the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian Revolution – a period when the artistic avant-garde dreamed of a new world free of conflict, greed and social inequality. It was not a style but a loose collection of ideas. Many different styles can be characterised as Modernist, but they shared certain underlying principles: a rejection of history and applied ornament; a preference for abstraction; and a belief that design and technology could transform society.
Room 74: 20th Century, Internationalism & Modernism
This room is divided into three bays. The first includes objects made between 1900 and 1920, a time when appropriate uses for mechanised production were fiercely debated. In the second, internationalism is explored and in the third there are seminal examples of Modernism.
Kitchen Clock, by Max Bill, 1956
This kitchen clock, which incorporates a mechanical timer, was designed by Max Bill whilst director of the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG Ulm), the experimental design school founded in 1953. It is one of the earliest and most notable designs by Bill to be put into production.
Penguin Donkey Bookcase by Egon Riss and Isokon, 1939
This bookcase was was made by Isokon, probably the most forward-thinking British furniture manufacturer of the 1930s. In the late 30s this little bookcase was set to be a best seller, but its success was thwarted by the onset of war. Now it is a rare design.
Designs for Prefabricated House Fronts, by Berthold Lubetkin, 1949
Modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin created these theoretical designs for the 100 Houses Scheme, Thorntree Gill Housing, Peterlee, County Durham, drawing by Peter Yates, to show how different facades could transform a basic prefabricated house. Lubetkin's ideas range from the everyday to the absurd, but they effecitvely demonstrate how easily identical frameworks can be transformed.
Archives of Sir Hugh Casson and Margaret Macdonald Casson
The archives of Sir Hugh Casson (1910–1999) and Margaret Macdonald Casson (1913–1999) are important additions to the Museum’s collection of papers of twentieth-century British designers. The archives, which were generously donated by the Casson’s daughters, contain a wealth of material relating to their careers as architects and designers.
Marcel Breuer and Motley
Marcel Breuer met the designers behind the Motley Theatre Design Group in 1936, during the London Theatre Studio project in Islington, London. When the Motleys ventured into the field of contemporary fashion and decided to open a shop called Motley Couture, they asked Breuer to design the interior of their shop for them.
The period from the end of the Second World War to the mid 1970s was a time of great political tension and exceptional creativity. Art and design were not peripheral symptoms of politics during the Cold War: they played a central role in representing and sometimes challenging the dominant political and social ideas of the age.