Street furniture could put design on the map

It’s great that Westminster City Council has decided on street furniture as a way of marking the new millennium. Whichever of the four “Millennium Post” finalists its illustrious jury selects, central London will join that international star Barcelona and

It’s great that Westminster City Council has decided on street furniture as a way of marking the new millennium (see “News”). Whichever of the four “Millennium Post” finalists its illustrious jury selects, central London will join that international star Barcelona and other forward-thinking European cities in promoting good quality contemporary design on its streets.

That the new furniture will sit alongside older models by past masters like Misha Black is a fitting way to look back over the century. We can only urge Westminster to make sure its hope of developing an entire collection of new street furniture becomes a reality, because the post on its own – however functional – might add to the cacophony of street furniture styles dotted around the capital.

A bit of rigour is called for, and with it an emerging new identity for London. If, as Culture Secretary Chris Smith said at the opening of the city’s latest visitor attraction, Vinopolis, last week, London is expected to pull in 31 million visitors next year and tourism adds an annual £9.2bn to its coffers, it needs a few more symbols for them to remember it by. Forget gestures such as the insipid “skipping kids” logo created for the city by Beresford’s some years ago. It’s the buildings and products that create a lasting image for a city. Just check out the postcards.

London is undergoing a bit of a visual identity crisis. The traditional “black cab” has gone through a couple of transformations and black isn’t the only colour around any more. BT and its telecoms rivals, meanwhile, have put paid to the traditional red phone box in most areas. By the same token, the impact of the red Routemaster bus, designed by Douglas Scott, has been diluted by the number of differing liveries and ad-bearing buses that came with privatisation of some routes.

But the good news is that the John Elson/Fitch-designed bus information unit for London Transport is becoming an icon – to locals at least. Meanwhile, the area adjacent to the South Bank arts complex has been regenerated by Lifshutz Davidson, using elegant, but robust street furniture to build its identity. Westminster’s new collection ought to aim to do just that for the whole of central London.

Projects such as these put good design in front of everyone, weaving into the fabric of everyday life as something that combines beauty with function. Contemporary design becomes as much a part of London’s culture as Sir Christopher Wren’s architecture or John Nash’s Regency terraces. You can’t argue with that.

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