Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Design Museum

The Design Museum
28 Shad Thames SE1 2YD

Thursday 17 December 2015
The Design Museum will be moving to what used to be the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington soon.  It's going to close in June 2016 and reopen about a year later.  So Linda and I thought we would visit it while it is in its convenient location for us both.  Not that we were helped by TfL's idiosyncratic Journey Planner, which suggested it was a 25 minute walk from London Bridge Station when actually you would have to dawdle to take more than 10 minutes.

We began with their special exhibition entitled 'Cycle Revolution' which was very interesting though rather evangelical.  An introductory film of many cycling notables said that the move to city life made cycling the best way to get about, and pointing out that in Copenhagen 45% of journeys to work are by clcyle compared to 5% in London. On the other hand, I don't think Copenhagen is full of HGVs and construction traffic inching through narrow roads.

The exhibition had a section about cargo bikes, including photos of a fine pram cycle and a stretcher from the Second World War, as well as the real things from early 20th century grocers' delivery to modern day carriers for goods or children.

The walls were lined with cycles of all sorts, as well as accessories and what we took to be an air bag for a cyclist's skull. And there was a large section of folding bikes, from the first Bromptons and Bickertons to current more space age and convincing ones. Clearly with bike theft and bike storage being two of London's many problems, these are a part of the future.


Next we came to a side-section about the bespoke cycle makers, with their snappy slogans and obsessive commitment to perfection. Some of these are women, some have witty names like 'Bespoked', but all have in common the wish to design the ideal bicycle.  

So it was worth having another look at the original Raleigh safety bicycle, from the 1880s to remind us that most design changes are really tweaking of the original shape and function.

We moved on then to a section called 'The Thrill Seekers' with film of BMX, mountain biking and (I think, though they were so covered in mud it was hard to tell) cyclo-cross.

The next section had to be about road racing and especially that British speciality, the Tour de France. Linda is not interested in cycling, so I was anyway very grateful for her tolerant willingness to visit the show.  But now she had to put up with a lot of nerdy stuff about the need to put the team logo on the yellow jersey between the finnish and the podium, and why this one was not all sweaty.

There were fascinating infographics (to me!) about the statistics of the race, the contents of the Sky Team cars and the contents of the musettes that feed the riders.  Linda was interested to know that competitors could change bikes or, indeed, get off and push. The person who came last in the 2015 TdeF took 89 hours, 43 minutes and 13 seconds, five hours longer than Froome.  And of the 198 who started, 160 finished/

Oh, yes, and the 2016 route has been published.

We move on to look at track cycles, extraordinary gadgets with no gears and no brakes, anything to reduce the weight.
You can of course learn this arcane skill or simply watch while you have a cup of coffee, at the Olympic Velodrome.

Linda's patience having been tested, we headed downstairs, past a fine sculpture made of frames, and some road signs, including a mobius strip warning triangle, to reach the gallery where the winners of the Designs of the Year 2015 are displayed.

These are voted for and range from fashion items to buildings, with some strange and wonderful things in between.  We noted that socially worthy items had tended to get the most votes, including a system for ridding the oceans of the plastic flotsam which occupies thousands of square miles. Also a programme that prints 3-D prosthetics in South Sudan and an excellent filtering and composting toilet for villages and camps with no running water.

Then there was a gadget to fix to your cows's tail so you know when she is going into labour.

And a wheel chair with the shock absorbers built into the wheels.

We paused briefly by hats, furniture, potential schools, new fonts and typefaces, and then spotted a new take on those dangerous immersion heaters for cups of coffee we used to have as students in the 60s (the 1960s, that is) This one menas you don't use a kettle, but rather a kettle base and whatever container you need to bring your water to the boil.  we thought this rather clever, though we have not had much difficulty in only part-filling our kettles.

There was also a display by the designers in residence at the museum, but we were somewhat 'designed-out' by the time we reached them.  There is a lot to see and we had a good time.  We hope their move to Kensington goes well.

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