A firm favourite with curious youngsters since its opening in 1986, the Science Museum’s Launchpad was enlarged and redesigned (with 3D elements by Andy Feast, graphics by Pentagram and other work by the museum’s in-house team) at the end of 2007.
The gallery re-opened with characteristic ebullience, mounting a 24-hour party and encasing visitors in a record-breaking giant bubble. It has continued to charm and entertain its enthusiastic visitors throughout 2008.
The new 1200m2 space, the creation of which was overseen by Science Museum creative director Tim Molloy, has increased the gallery’s capacity, and has allowed for more space between exhibits, so that the previous space’s playground atmosphere can be avoided.
Loud, slanting typography covers the walls, which are emblazoned with a series of quirky questions about sound, light and motion. The 50 exhibits, commissioned specifically for the gallery from a number of artists, combine conceptual excellence with strong visual appeal. Pieces such as Shawn Lani’s Icy Bodies, in which pellets of dry ice swirl round a basin of water, continue the gallery’s tradition of expressing complex scientific ideas in a matter of seconds, and captivate children and adults alike.
The redesign was accompanied by a website, the star attraction of which is the addictive Launchball game. The colourful Flash programme, developed by gaming company Preloaded, tests users’ knowledge of physics through a series of problem-solving exercises using mirrors, magnets, fans and batteries
Wayfinding has quietly emerged as a separate design discipline over a number of years.
Early proponents included UK airports authority BAA, which had its work cut out at terminals such as London’s massive Heathrow Airport to help international travellers make sense of an increasingly complex and busy environment.
This work was escalated by the creation of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, housed in an iconic Richard Rogers-designed building, which sought to create a more user- and retailer-friendly environment than previous terminals.
But the discipline’s appearance on city streets is likely to have a more far-reaching effect for most people.
Areas within cities – London’s Theatreland, for example – have consistently used branding and sign design in the past to mark out their territory and capture their personality.
However, over the past few years a project involving design consultancy Applied Information Group, among others, has redefined what urban wayfinding is about.
AIG – then MetaDesign London – was involved in creating the identity for Glasgow in the run up to its reign as City of Architecture and Design in 1999. This involved an element of wayfinding, but the Legible Cities project really started with Bristol in 1998, when AIG and PSD Associates were brought in to look at signs in that city.
Since then, Lacock Gullam has played a part in the Bristol initiative. But the Legible London project, commissioned by Central London Partnership in 2004 and unveiled in pilot form last year, has put the concept on the map, with AIG leading the campaign.
That concept is now being extended across London and beyond as part of the Legible Cities initiative.
Though she had already been made an MBE for her stalwart efforts to promote design, Peta Levi was first honoured in the Hot 50 in 2008 to mark a lifetime’s ceaseless work to promote design, and particularly emerging creative talent. Sadly, that life came to an end last year when Levi lost a long battle against crippling illness.
Very few have championed design as consistently as Levi did. A journalist by background, she was the mastermind behind the New Designers showcase of graduate work, staged annually for more than 20 years by Upper Street Events at London’s Business Design Centre.
She established Eureka, now also held annually as part of the London Design Festival to put designers and retailers together to develop products for sale.
As well as these initiaves, Levi set up enterprises such as One Year On and the Design Trust to help emerging makers and designers establish themselves as businesses.
The Design Trust, established by Levi as a charity in 1994, is an umbrella for many of these concerns. Its interests include Design Nation, which was set up as a membership group for designers in 1999, and is now affiliated to London Metropolitan University, which gives it a base and resources.
We already miss Levi for her energy and doggedness in fighting for what she believed in. Even when she was very ill, she was a regular at design events and a key player in the industry.
Professor Alan Livingston:
Some people in design quietly get on with their jobs, upholding their own high standards while seemingly unconcerned that what they achieve is remarkable, extending way beyond normal expectations.
Professor Alan Livingston is one such person. He trained and practised in graphics and typography before moving into full-time teaching.
For five years Head of the School of Design at the University of Central Lancashire and since 1987 as Rector at University College Falmouth, he is a legendary teacher and educational politician.
Falmouth’s exemplary alumni bear testament to his greatness as a teacher and source of inspiration behind what has become one of the UK’s top colleges, particularly for graphics. And his expertise and enthusiasm has been recognised in his being awarded a CBE.
Livingston’s role extends well beyond the confines of the college, though.
He is, among other things, chairman of the South West Regional Council of the Arts Council of England, chairman of the Combined Universities in Cornwall Steering Group and a member of the Royal Mail Stamp Advisory Committee.
London Festival of Architecture:
The biennial London Festival of Architecture came into its own last year. Billed as ‘a celebration and exploration of the city’s streets and spaces’, it did exactly that over a month straddling June and July.
The brainchild of architectural entrepreneur Peter Murray – also mastermind of the New London Architecture events at London’s Building Centre, among other things – the festival started life as the London Architecture Biennale in deference to the bigger Venice event. Then it was a fairly modest affair, centring on London’s Clerkenwell with London biographer Peter Ackroyd as its chairman.
With an eye to publicity as much as the celebration of architecture, Murray has arranged, over the years, for cows and sheep to be herded towards Smithfield meat market for the festival opening, honouring tradition without harming the beasts involved.
Last year, Murray and his team stepped things up, using the festival as an umbrella for more events than in previous years. Highlights included the focus on each of five zones in turn over the course of the event, from the Brompton Quarter to Bloomsbury. Alongside the usual seminars and parties, streets were closed off, temporary pavilions were commissioned from the likes of Foster & Partners, Tonkin Liu and Carmody Groarke, and architecture became more firmly embedded in public debate.
The LFA may serve a different purpose to the more overtly commercial London Design Festival, but it has set a benchmark in many respects that LDF organisers would do well to acknowledge. We look forward to 2010.