Ditch Victoriana and create streets with style

Many designers are concerned only with making a living doing what they know best. But fortunately there are others – practitioners and lobbyists – whose mission is to spread the design message to clients and the public at large. The higher ideal is to get an appreciation of good design integrated into our culture; the bottom line being to gain more work and a stronger platform for the industry. Great stuff, however you look at it.

Too often though, this is done behind closed doors, preaching to people already sold on the idea of design though not well-versed in its social and commercial benefits. Surely design’s cause would be more easily won by showing a wider audience the effect it can have – and what better way than to make it a highly visible part of everyday life?

Take street furniture (see feature, page 12): the bollards, bins and lamp posts that punctuate our cities towns and villages. Here is functional “design” that will feature in even the smallest child’s drawing of its environment. But is it any good?

If you ask people which icons spell out Britishness, they’ll trot out the same old list – the Union Jack, the monarchy, warm beer and, if you’re lucky, red phone boxes. All icons of bygone times. We may lead the world in telecoms, medicine and, dare we say, design, but we’re stuck with a self-image of nostalgia.

So on our streets Victoriana rules and contemporary design has little place. We have the talent to design decent street furniture – note the work abroad of architects Sir Norman Foster and Nick Grimshaw. We also have a tradition of civic pride. But even as the millennium approaches we lack the confidence to move on.

A couple of years ago, the Design Council ran a student contest to redesign parliament for the 21st century. Why doesn’t it now stage a real life bid to get design on to our streets? It would increase its street cred within both public and private sectors and the results might show the world how great the UK is at design.

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