Object Trail, architecture
Charles Harrison Townsend, ‘Omar' woven furnishing textile, 1896-1900. Museum no. CIRC. 887-1967. On display in Room 125
‘Omar’ is one of Charles Harrison Townsend’s few large-scale designs for textiles. The elegant repeat pattern in the Arts and Crafts style shows stylised lotus blossoms. The pattern is an adaptation of designs found on 16th- and 17th-century Turkish velvets. The manufacturer, Alexander Morton & Co., bought designs from leading figures like Townsend to produce stylish furnishings for fashionable homes.
Townsend was one of the most original British Arts and Crafts architects. He used large plant motifs to decorate many of his key buildings. He is best known for the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Horniman Museum, both in London. These are two of the most important Arts and Crafts buildings in Britain. Townsend also designed complete Arts and Crafts interiors, including church pews and stalls.
A.W.N. Pugin, cope and hood, 1848-50. Museum no. T.287, 289-1989. On display in Room 122
This cope and hood are garments worn by a priest on church holy days. A.W.N. Pugin designed them in the Gothic Revival style for use in the church he designed and built in the grounds of his house. The shape and form of the cope is based on English medieval work. The material is a textile designed by Pugin and is his most popular pattern. The hood attaches to the back and would have been seen clearly by the congregation when the priest faces the altar. From a distance the hood suggests a medieval stained-glass rose window.
Pugin was one of the key personalities of the 19th-century Gothic Revival. He provided much of the detail for the re-built Palace of Westminster in London, the largest non-religious Gothic Revival building in the world. Pugin saw the revival of the Gothic style as a moral crusade. He argued that the original medieval style was produced by the Roman Catholic faith and was the only style of building for a Christian nation.
Robert Adam, sauce boat, 1773-4. Museum no. T:287, 289-1989. On display in Room 122
This sauce boat is one of a pair that Adam designed as part of a large dinner service. They were included in a contract in which Adam designed the furniture and furnishings as well as the house itself. The sauce boats matched the decoration of the dining room in which they were used. Adam took the form of the sauce boat from ancient Roman lamps. Sauceboats were fairly new as the fashion for sauces only arrived in Britain earlier in the century.
Adam was one of the most important British architects working in the Neo-Classical style. He was a main force in the development of a unified style that extended beyond architecture and interiors to include both the fixed and moveable objects in a room. He incorporated design ideas from ancient Greece and Rome into his forms and decoration. His famous London houses include Kenwood House, Osterley Park and Syon House.
Otto Wagner, armchair, about 1904-5. Museum no. W.17-1982. On display in Room 74
This is part of a set of furniture that Otto Wagner designed for the Postal Savings Bank in Vienna. The pieces come from different rooms, though they all share the same use of simple, standardized forms. The furniture uses aluminium for the fixings as well as for decoration. The chair design was manufactured by a large-scale furniture producer, who was looking to architects and designers like Wagner to update its range with new-look designs.
Wagner was a leading Austrian architect. He believed that architecture should reflect the modern age of the time, rather than look back to the past for ideas. The Postal Savings Bank is one of his most important buildings. It broke with tradition by using standard components such as rivets and nuts to provide decoration. Wagner created a building using up-to-date methods of construction and materials, and also designed the interior. He used aluminium throughout the building, which was unusual for its time.
Charles and Ray Eames, storage unit, about 1949. Museum no. W.5-1991. On display in Room 73
This storage unit is based on a system of standard, interchangeable parts held within a steel frame. Customers chose the overall size and then decided on the panels, drawers, and other elements and how they were to be arranged. Parts were available in a choice of colours, materials and finishes, and the panels could be dimpled or flat. This early version of the unit was shipped flat-packed for home assembly. The system is modular and so could be altered for different spaces. Charles and Ray Eames realised that as living areas were changing, furniture for storage would also have to adapt.
The idea of creating something individual out of a kit of standard parts was central to the Eames’s approach to architecture. One of their most admired buildings is their own house and studio in California, USA, which is based on similar principles to the storage unit: it has a steel frame with colourful wall panels of different materials and finishes. Much of their house was made from readily available industrial parts, assembled using modern construction technology. The Eames also designed chairs for mass-manufacture as well as tables, screens, toys, magazine covers, film sets and exhibitions.
Marcel Breuer, 'Model B32' chair, 1928. Museum no. W.10-1989. On display in Room 74
Marcel Breuer designed this chair before his architectural career really took off. The most striking parts of the chair are the long lengths of chromed tubular steel, which provide both the chair’s structure and much of its look. The cantilever support and use of modern industrial-looking material were revolutionary at the time. Though the hard look of the steel is softened by the cane and beech seat and back, the chair does not borrow from past styles. Versions of Breuer’s chair are still in production.
Breuer was trained and taught at the Bauhaus, the famous design school which promoted clean, simple, functional design and the use of standard, pre-fabricated materials and components. Like the chair, the Modern movement in architecture also eliminated moulding and ornament in favour of emphasising the surface finish of materials.
Breuer also worked on a number of architecture projects during a long career in Europe and America, including the UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France.
Wells Coates, 'ECKO Model AD-65' radio, 1932. Museum no. W.23-1981. On display in Room 74
The AD-65 was a radical design for a radio. Although the working parts of radios were fairly standard, their wooden cabinets had been built by hand, often to look like pieces of furniture. Wells Coates was commissioned by a radio manufacturer to design a case that could be moulded in plastic. The round shape of the AD-65 was startlingly modern and could not have been made easily from wood. The case was easy to mould, economical on materials and cheap to make. The design highlights the speaker and tuning dial, as sound quality and the range of available stations were considered especially important in the radio market.
Coates was a leading designer. He designed textiles, interior fittings, yachts, aircraft interiors, clocks and radios, as well as buildings. He designed the modern interiors for the BBC Broadcasting House, London, a few years before his radio design. His key building of this period is the Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, London, where he applied the ideas of crisp, uncluttered looks to the design of living space. Where possible he used new materials and standardised units.
Nigel Coates, 'Noah' armchair, 1988. Museum no. W.15-1990. On display in Room 71
The Noah chair looks like a distinctive one-off piece, though it is part of a manufactured range of seats. Nigel Coates has made much of the wood’s texture – sandblasting has given it a worn, almost weathered look. The form of the heavy, solid, shaped seat and curved back at first appear quite traditional, but unusually the arms dip underneath the seat, which is joined to the thin steel frame with standard industrial fastenings. The frame’s finish contrasts with the wood, and the welded rods provide a strong rigid supporting structure.
Coates is well known as one of the first foreign architects to be accepted in Japan. His Japanese club and bar interiors use mixed materials, images and objects in imaginative, fantasy settings. He has argued that interiors should be designed so that people respond to them, like reading parts of a story or seeing scenes from a film. In London, Coates designed the Body Zone in the Millennium Dome, as well as fashion stores for Katherine Hamnett and Jasper Conran.