Timepiece design sought for Britain’s railways

Proposals are invited for an “inspired design” of a timepiece to be used across the British rail network.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Design Museum, London have launched a design competition in partnership with Network Rail for a new timepiece to be used across the British rail network.

The competition, which closes for entries on Tuesday 13 June 2023, is open internationally to artists, designers, engineers and/or architects. Students from these disciplines are also encouraged to apply, as well as collaborative groups between individuals and organisations “of different size, expertise and experience”, according to the brief.

“Interrogating how time and the passage of time is depicted”

The competition brief was developed in collaboration with industry experts including Margaret Calvert, Crispin Jones and Violetta Boxill, who will form part of an evaluation panel for the competition.

The brief explains that the organisers have opted for term timepiece “to avoid the conventions and connotations associated with referring to such instruments as clocks”.

Instead, the competition is more ambitiously calling on designers to help Network Rail “explore and interrogate how time and the passage of time is best depicted on the UK National railway”.

“The winning entrant will need to be an inspired design, which can be cost-effectively implemented at scale”, says Anthony Dewar, head of buildings and architecture at Network Rail. British rail has never implemented a standard railway clock and Dewar believes “this is a unique opportunity to create a design that could have a highly visible and enduring legacy”.

Justin McGuirk, design museum chief curator and director of Future Observatory, adds: “Instead of everyone being ensconced in their phones, how can we return time to its central presence in stations, with civic purpose and a strong sense of place?”

A legacy of railway design

The competition’s ambitions are perhaps reflective of a wider legacy of design classics across railways, such as Margaret Calvert’s typefaces for Network Rail, with the latest iteration, Rail Alphabet 2 designed in 2020, or Swiss Railway’s clockfaces, designed in 1944 by Hans Hilfiker and later updated with a red second hand, inspired by the train dispatchers’ batons.

The winning proposals will need to be “scalable and adaptable” for future development across “a wide range of different formats, uses, contexts and settings”.

The new timepiece will join other recently updated or planned design elements, such as the new wayfinding system featuring the Rail Alphabet 2 typeface, while planned settings include a “new generation of small to medium-sized modular railways stations”, which were the focus of a previous competition won by 7N Architects. This followed a 2018 competition in association with RIBA for a new generation of accessible footbridges.

According to the brief, “these competition-led initiatives all form part of Network Rail’s re-affirmed commitment to good design”.

Competition format

The Design Ideas competition will be held over two phases. First, the submitted design projects will be judged anonymously by an adjudication panel “on the strength of the proposals and response to the challenges set by the rich and demanding brief”. Five sets of proposals will progress to the second phase.

The second phase will lift anonymity, with shortlisted competitors invited to develop their proposals “in response to general and proposal-specific feedback” and more detailed technical requirements. Each shortlisted competitor will receive an honorarium of £7000.

After the competition, the brief notes that “future development and implementation will be undertaken by Network Rail without further input of the author(s) of the winning submission, with a payment of £35000 to acquire the “existing and future intellectual property rights”.

To view the full brief and for details on how to register visit the competition website here. The closing date for submissions is 12:00hrs (BST) on Tuesday 13 June 2023.

Banner image: illustration by Bjoern Altmann




Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • G May 4, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    Oh the irony.

  • Antonio Maggi May 5, 2023 at 8:07 am

    Is it The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) or the Design Museum website?

  • Sam Barone May 5, 2023 at 9:24 pm

    Hans Hilfiker’s classic clock design for the SBB does this in spades. There’s a time for change, and a time to leave well enough alone. What’s needed here is a means to tell us what time it is, nothing more. “Explore and interrogate the passage of time”, seriously? Please.

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