Hot 50: R-S

Talk to anyone at the sharp end of design about what has inspired them most in recent years and you are likely to find it’s the online TedTalks. Probe a little deeper and you’ll be told you just have to listen to the talks by Sir Ken Robinson challenging

Sir Ken Robinson

Talk to anyone at the sharp end of design about what has inspired them most in recent years and you are likely to find it’s the online TedTalks. Probe a little deeper and you’ll be told you just have to listen to the talks by Sir Ken Robinson challenging the way we educate our children.

The TedTalks were born out of the influential annual Ted conference, set up in the US in 1984. Ted is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and the aim was to bring together key players in those three areas. The website,, offers presentations by some of the best speakers at the event, for free.

For creativity expert Robinson, however, the site is merely a vehicle that has put his views in front of a wider audience than he might otherwise have achieved. His listing in the Hot 50 is because of those views, and other activities relating to creativity, innovation and people.

An impressive CV shows him moving from research into drama education, to advising international governments and business. Highlights touching on design include the Government-commissioned Robinson Report of 1998, entitled All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, which set the agenda for businesses as they approached the 21st century.

Robinson is a prolific writer and eloquent speaker, and his controversial views naturally make him a regular on the conference platform.

RSA Academy:

The Royal Society of Arts has strongly supported design since it emerged as a professional discipline in the early 20th century. For more than 250 years, the institution has been a ‘cradle of enlightened thinking and a force of social progress’. Its efforts are recognised in this year’s listing as it sponsored the RSA Academy, opened at Tipton in the West Midlands in September 2008. State-funded, the academy is a relatively new kind of school, as it is run by the Academy Trust, as opposed to a local authority.

The flagship school, located in north west Sandwell, replacing Willingsworth High School, is hoping to become a centre for excellence. The aim of the academy is to encourage educational achievement and develop practical skills in all students. Academies provide an opportunity for businesses, individuals and other organisations to work together with a school.

Tipton is a focus for major social and economic regeneration, so the hope is that the academy will play a major role in reviving the area.

In 2000, the RSA developed the Open Minds Curriculum to give young people the skills and competences that they need for their future lives and careers.

This approach to teaching and learning has been adopted by the academy, which shows the RSA’s continuous hard work in introducing innovative ideas on education.

For now, the academy is in a temporary home, but the construction work is already in motion for the new building, designed and built by Willmott Dixon and set to open in 2010.

Somerset House:

It is rare for a venue to make it into the Hot 50, but as London’s Somerset House is proving to be a major hub for design, as well as other cultural activities, it merits a slot this year.

Famed publicly for its annual ice rink, concerts and open-air movies, the listed 18th century palace was home to the Inland Revenue and the celebrated Gilbert Collection of miniature boxes. But under the enlightened directorship of Gwyn Miles, formerly project director at the Victoria & Albert Museum, it is taking on a new life.

The taxmen are on their way out and there are plans to replace them with more cultural activities. The Gilbert Collection has been rehoused at the V&A and the venue now sports an identity by Neville Brody. Miles is also assembling a team that includes Claire Catterall as sometime curator.

Already the Sorrell Foundation, the educational design charity set up by Sir John and Lady Frances Sorrell, is housed there, bringing school parties regularly into the building, and last September saw UK Trade & Investment’s Design Embassy, a facility to encourage overseas business and political heads to network with UK designers and suppliers, making its debut there during the London Design Festival.

There have also been exhibitions such as Skin and Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, designed by Eva Jiricna Architects, and work by designers such as Martino Gamper, Dunne & Raby and Martí Guixé has been shown.

The diversity of these events gives us a clue as to what to expect in the future.

Sir John and Lady Frances Sorrell:

Sir John and Lady Frances Sorrell have made it into the Hot 50 as separate entities in the past, so powerful is the commitment to creativity of design’s top couple. That commitment earned them a Special Commendation in the prestigious Prince Philip Designers Prize last year.

Since they completed their earn out at Omnicom-owned Interbrand – they ran the group, having done a deal that effectively merged it with their previous consultancy Newell & Sorrell – they have worked ceaselessly to broaden the reach of design, most notably in the public sector.

Sir John set up the London Design Festival in 2005 and remains its chairman, and has served as chairman of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Lady Frances has, meanwhile, done great work with Mencap, using design to let mentally handicapped people communicate their own stories and personalities, among other things. But it is through their charity The Sorrell Foundation that they have achieved the greatest prominence.

The Sorrell Foundation has famously worked with school and college students to make schools better learning environments through its Joinedupdesignforschools initiative and more recent Young Design Programme. It also touched briefly on the health service, empowering staff and patients to make design decisions.

It is embarking on a yet to be unveiled venture – to engage with more young people through design. It promises to be an ambitious project, but one in which the Sorrells will surely succeed.

The Southbank Centre:

The Southbank Centre really has made a conscious effort to be associated with investing in culture and design.

Over the past three years, the walk along the river Thames in London has become an altogether different experience. As mentioned in last year’s Hot 50, the multimillion pound renovation of the Royal Festival Hall, by architect Allies and Morrison, launched officially in June.

The revamp included a new extension, a restoration of the auditorium, riverside cafés, rooftop terraces designed within the framework of Rick Mather’s masterplan, and the new design-led Skylon restaurant within the RFH, which was designed by Conran & Partners.

The RFH was shortlisted for the prestigious Stirling Prize in July 2008, awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects. But many felt it should not have been nominated at all after mixed reviews about the riverside frontage.

Despite this debate, for the second year running the Southbank Centre was eager to host the London Design Festival’s main event. Installations on the South Bank during the LDF included David Adjaye’s Size & Matter undulating tulipwood Sclera pavilion, formed by varying lengths of timber alternating with open air, admitting light and permitting views of the sky and city.

The I-Design conference and Onedotzero festival Adventures in Motion were also held there last year, thus reinforcing the centre’s commitment to design.

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