“The smash and grab operation only yielded 250 catalogues.”
In October 2009, a crack architecture and design unit was selected to take part in an exhibition in Cardiff by a panel of industry heavyweights; their submission no one thought they could commit to: a series of stories, entitled ‘Love Stories of Recession’, which explore the theme of ‘work-place in the early 21st century’.
Intrigued by the unique use of narrative to explore architectural challenges, the Cardiff exhibition panel identified aberrant as one of nine young and emerging architectural design practices with ‘the potential to make a significant impact on design standards in our homes, working environments and the quality of places – cities, towns, villages and rural areas – in the decades to come’.
With that in mind, we set out to create a lounge area where visitors to the exhibition could sit down, relax and enjoy reading the short stories about place and working from home as if in the comfort of their own home. To add to the residential milieu, scrolling extracts from the book would be projected on to the lounge area like wallpaper.
For the aberrant team assigned to the Cardiff project: Kev (Hannibal); Dave (Face); Ziya (BA Baracus) and Pete (Murdoch), asking retailers to supply furniture for the lounge area would be too simple. Our very own Hannibal wanted us to make a couch and three plinths out of catalogues from a well-known nationwide store, which is exactly what we did.
The store in question shares its name with a city in Greece and the name of Odysseus’ hunting dog, if you know your Greek mythology, but for legal reasons, our lawyers have told us to refer to it as ‘The Greek Shop’.
We intended The Greek Shop catalogues in our exhibit as a comment on the current design standards in our homes, the central role catalogue furniture plays in our houses – especially during a recession, and what we as designers can do to embrace and invert this.
And in case Al Gore popped into the Howard Gardens Gallery, we planned to use surplus copies of the current catalogue, which we would recycle after the exhibition closed.
We asked The Greek Shop if they would provide us with 500 catalogues. We explained our lofty ambitions to them and our environmentally friendly manifesto. We even said we would pick the catalogues up in our own white van. But The Greek Shop said ‘No’.
Refusing to be beaten, we sprayed the hired white van in metaphorical red and black paint and drove across London staking out branches belonging to The Greek Shop that had street access and front doors favourable for a quick getaway.
The plan was to hit multiple stores in one night, thereby retaining the element of surprise. We disguised ourselves as loyal consumers and carried out a civilised ram-raiding in broad daylight: drive up to the front door, walk into the store, walk out with arms bulging with catalogues, bung the loot into the back of the van and drive off in a haze of smoke, screeching tires and strict adherence to the applicable speed limits.
But the smash and grab operation only yielded 250 catalogues. We needed our Faceman to sweet-talk an employee into handing over the other 250, which he did…in five-minutes. Oh well.
These men promptly escaped from the congestion charge and the maximum-security stockade at the Severn Bridge and entered the South Wales underground with a spray painted white van full of catalogues.
Our early experiments with building furniture out of catalogues proved that customising a drill jig to bore holes through three-inch thick catalogue paper is an entirely futile endeavour. We lost a lot of good catalogues that day, and the rain in Cardiff further depleted our loot when we transferred the catalogues in to the gallery.
Undeterred, the plucky a-team spent a long day constructing furniture out of catalogues, PVC and double-sided sticky tape: a feat worthy of a Blue Peter badge, if not the BA Baracus ‘Crazy Fool’ award for outstanding resourcefulness when confronted by seemingly innocuous everyday products.
Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, the Presiding Officer for the National Welsh Assembly, officially opened the exhibition. Speaking in Welsh, he praised the exhibitors for designing Welsh buildings that secured a sustainable future for Wales as well as considering tradition, community and democracy in their designs.
There was a momentary delay while most of the designers and the opening night audience waited for the translation to come through the headphones handed out by the gallery staff, but his comments were well received…and he soon switched to English. Following the event, The Architects’ Journal highlighted our exhibition for special mention.
Today, still wanted by the Reflecting Wales panel for a follow-up exhibition in North Wales (watch this space) and the security guard at the New Oxford Street branch of The Greek Shop, aberrant survive as architecture residents at the V&A, and the work we debuted at the Reflecting Wales 09:09 exhibition will be coming soon to the V&A (more information to follow).
If you have a design problem, if no one else can help, and if you can follow the signs to Residency Studio No. 2 at the Sackler Centre (from South Kensington tube station, take the underground tunnel entrance to the V&A, get past the bag search, turn left, then follow the signs up the stairs…) maybe you can hire The Aberrant-Team.
We love it when a plan comes together!