A Royal College of Art graduate who has since returned there to teach, Michael Marriott is a designer who’s brilliantly functional work leans toward the enormous potential of a ready made – their uses, misuses, function and disfunction as originals and within his own designs. Covering furniture, product and curatorial design, his practice is also about the conversations that surround his discipline, and so he has written, exhibited and of course, taught the idea of making as a mode for thought. As The London Design Festival wraps up, Marriott has provided five books that go a little further in illuminating his own motivations as a designer…
Models & Constructs: margin notes to a design culture Norman Potter
I discovered Norman Potter too late in life, first through his other excellent book How to Be a Designer. Both are very handsome books published by Hyphen Press and are like guide books for working, thinking and how to combine the two within your life – principles too. On encountering these books, they made me to want to know more about the man. It turned out he had taught quite a bit, setting up a course in Bristol called The Construction School (the title alone is genius and more pertinent now than ever), he also taught at the RCA on an interior design course with Richard Hamilton and Terence Conran. What an amazing group of tutors that must have been! He also spent some time banged up for his political beliefs and died too young on a bicycle. Big respect.
Collected Words Richard Hamilton
Following on nicely from his fellow tutor is another key thinker of the late 20th century who died just a couple of days ago. Richard Hamilton was a great artist, he was also a brilliant, concise and witty writer, which is apparent in the title alone. The content follows through nicely with a collection of different pieces of writing gathered together. Kind of all those odds and ends of thinking and note taking, but assembled into a document with the same care as was apparent in his art. Proper essays on Duchamp and others, thoughts on technology, popular culture, art-making, education, marketing, and other miscellanea like letters and lecture notes.
Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M Persig
I found a battered copy of this book on my brother’s bookshelf many years ago and started reading it one Christmas morning. Great title I always thought but probably a bit too hippy for me? Anyway, I couldn’t put it down; poetic, brilliant summing up of how to live life proper and do things properly. The title again, funnily enough, does what it says on the tin – combining seemingly hum-drum practical stuff with eastern/Buddhist philosophical thinking. Like life itself, the practical and the philosophical intertwined. I read much more recently The Case for Working with Your Hands: or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good after hearing it reviewed on Radio 4. It acknowledges it’s debt to Zen and co. and it’s good and all, but Zen just flows so much better – like warm honey.
A Critic Writes, Essays by Reyner Banham Reyner Banham
Another book of collected writings by a key thinking figure from the late twentieth century, Banham has been referred to as the gonzo journalist of the design and architecture world. Whatever, he was a man of fantastic sharpness and wit who really knew how to put words together, similar to the way he would collide high and low art and culture. An engineering man with very English roots and such terrific enthusiasm. So much so, while working in the USA, he almost became a California cowboy. Otherwise well known as a cyclist, and of the small wheel variety, who only leant to drive to enable him to navigate Los Angeles. Also watch his fantastic 1972 BBC documentary, “Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles”: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1524953392810656786)
De Architecture – James Wines
I discovered this book as a young man working as a technician at Middlesex Poly (it was so good having library at work!) James Wines was one of the founders of SITE, an art/architecture collective famous for designing the supermarkets for American chain Best. Although these stores were really great, James Wines’ book is even better. It talks through the ideas and inspirations behind the Best projects but more importantly sets out a kind of up-beat rallying post-modernist manifesto for thinking and making. There just feels like there is so much potential in the book. It’s a shame there weren’t more Mr. Best’s on their client list. Really engaging, thoughtful and full of such a great breadth of reference points. One of the most readable academic books on architecture I’ve come across. When he was speaking at the Barbican last year, I took a book along which he signed with handwriting so flowery it’s only just readable, and a self portrait thrown in for nothing.