The Design Cities exhibition–running at the Design Museum until early January–has been on our list for quite a while and we finally made it along yesterday. The exhibition focussed on seven cities that the curators argued had in turn dominated world design over the past 160 years, and laid out a number of iconic items from each. It seems like almost every exhibition we’ve visited in the past couple of years has been dominated by chairs and this was no exception, but there were also a range of other devices from tableware to consumer electronics.
I had been expecting more exploration of cities themselves rather than a focus purely on the items produced within them. There was a sketch of a proposal (not accepted) for the Chicago Tribune building (interestingly given that Chicago wasn’t one of the featured cities), the obligatory photograph of the Bauhaus, and a quick look at one of the new Olympic facilities being built in East London. But other than that the built environment was ignored and that was a shame. It would have been interesting to have had more depth and an exploration of whether there’s any connection between city planning, architecture and the aspirational consumer goods that actually dominated.
The exhibition started and ended with London, arguing that London is currently the focal point of contemporary design but then leaving a dangling question of whether design has such a focus in our globalised world. It felt like that final section was rather confused as it raised the question but didn’t really grapple with it.
The place of communications was another area that wasn’t really serviced as it could be. The time spent exploring each city’s products in turn was a good introduction, but there wasn’t enough space for looking at the wider ecosystem in which each city enjoyed its moment of glory, how the trends moved on, and so on. Presenting that might have left the visitor better able to assess the questions about whether we have or need a focal point for global design today.
Overall it all felt like the introduction to a great exhibition and a little incomplete, but worth a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood.