Design Research Unit 1942-72
7 March – 1 April 2011
This exhibition will be the first of its kind, mapping the history of the Design Research Unit and the currency of their designs. It will identify key examples of their work and document an approach that was shaped by inter-war developments in artistic discourse and post war trends in industry and communication; in particular the accelerated demand for corporate design. A Cubitt Gallery touring exhibition curated by Michelle Cotton.
Formed in London in 1942, the Unit was responsible for some of the most important design produced in post-war Britain. It pioneered a model for group practice, being the first consultancy in the country to bring together expertise in architecture, graphics and industrial design. By the 1970s it was one of the largest and most established design offices in Europe. This exhibition will be the first of its kind, mapping the history of the group and the currency of their designs. It will identify key examples of their work and document an approach that was shaped by inter-war developments in artistic discourse and post war trends in industry and communication; in particular the accelerated demand for corporate design.
Initially under the charge of the poet and art critic Herbert Read and operating from offices shared with Mass Observation, the Design Research Unit was founded by advertising entrepreneur Marcus Brumwell with designers Misha Black and Milner Gray. Following Read’s essay, Art and Industry (1934) and the literature of International Constructivism the group outlined an intent to combine creative intelligence with technical research into materials and markets, seeking to bring ‘artists and designers into productive relation with scientists and technologists.’
This exhibition will span over four decades of their work, focusing on some of their most significant projects and charting their ambition to bring elegant and functional design to all sections of society. It will cover three phases of activity; the group’s early origins and founder members, initial work in exhibition design and the Unit’s role in devising some of the first and most comprehensive corporate design schemes commissioned for British industry.
Highlights of the exhibition include: Documentation of an initiative to commission the sculptor Naum Gabo to design the body and interior of a car for the Bradford-based company, Jowett (1943). Photographs relating to exhibitions for the wartime Ministry of Information, the Council of Industrial Design’s Britain Can Make It (1946) and their major contribution to the Festival of Britain (1951). There will be substantial material relating to experimental work for the Watney Mann brewery that resulted in a total scheme to ‘update’ the traditional English public house (from beer bottles to interior furnishings). Other iconic corporate identities include their work for British Rail (1965), the London Transport network, photographic company Ilford and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). Amongst the architectural content, the exhibition will feature the Piano & Rogers extension for the company’s Aybrook Street offices (1972), that Richard and Su Rogers began working on whilst they were associates of the Design Research Unit (1967–71).
The Design Research Unit became part of the architectural practice, Scott Brownrigg in 2004 and this exhibition and forthcoming publication is realised with their generous support.