Orange strips on the lower edge of the bodywork and a roof emblazoned with fresh green brightened the mood: „üstra“ bus in Hannover designed by James Irvine. Foto © Santi Caleca
They know what they are doing
by Thomas Wagner
First of all: A voice of your own – James Irvine
Not everyone who rides on a bus in Hanover may know his name, but they should: James Irvine. After all, in 1999 the British designer masterminded a very special bus for “üstra”, Hanover’s local transport authorities. In fact, he substantially revamped the massive silver-colored vehicles by Mercedes-Benz that have been doing the rounds of the city since Expo 2000. Orange strips on the lower edge of the bodywork and a roof emblazoned with the fresh green of üstra’s CI brightened the mood from the outside, elongated windows and door sections that culminate in circular segments all serve to give the busses’ box shape a fluid, more organic and more elegant touch.
In fact, the friendly Englishman based in Milan has done a lot to enrich the international design scene. On graduation he signed on with Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi for Olivetti, and then headed for Tokyo, where he did research on industrial design at the Toshiba Design Center. On his return, in 1988 he founded his own studio in Milan while at the same time as working there, from 1993 to 1997, heading the industrial design group at Sottsass Associati Milan.
James Irvine died far too young, namely in 2013. Now Phaidon has dedicated a comprehensive monograph to the designer and his oeuvre, edited by Francesca Picchi and Irvine’s widow Marialaura Rossiello Irvine. It contains not only marvelously illuminating essays, many penned in a strong spirit of friendship, by Deyan Sudjic, Jasper Morrison, Francesca Picchi and Alberto Meda, but also interviews with Michele De Lucchi, George Sowden, Giulio Cappellini, Stefano Giovannoni, Konstantin Grcic, Marc Newson, Naoto Fukasawa, and Thomas Sandell.
Alongside his strange machine-like objects firmly in the lineage of Memphis, alongside phones, pens, vases, poultry shears, carpets, chairs, sofas, tables, clothes horses, and trade-fair booths, and countless other projects for renowned manufacturers one encounters astonishing drawings. Sometimes these are simply draft designs, but on occasion Irvine created colored diagrams and charts, some of which resemble Öyvind Fahlström’s attempts to grasp the world’s complexity by means af artistic cartography.
For example, there is the March 2008 representation of a “Utopian Design Antibody”, meaning a cell that is essentially aggressive and has an appropriately serious demeanor. It is evidently receptive to such properties as “miserliness“ and “materialism”, “egoism” and “fanaticism” – and attacks “health”, “freedom”, “quality”, and “humor”. Irvine’s “Citizen Office Diagram” dating from 1993 is another example, a sheet that describes both an organism and terrain. Another piece from 2007 introduces us to the “Design Dance”, an art that is definitely not easy to master. James Irvine knew exactly how to set design dancing, though.
Second: a book full of things – Jasper Morrison
For all of you who didn’t manage to catch the retrospective that Jasper Morrison held at Grand-Hornu not far from the European cultural capital of Mons, Belgium, can get a little consolation from the volume entitled “A Book of Things” and also familiarize themselves with his conscious approach to design.
Essays that outline his oeuvre – there are none. Instead Morrison himself describes his individual projects with great precision and in an illuminating manner, explaining how they came about, who was involved, and what motivated him. He sheds light on sources of inspiration, ponders different materials, and doesn’t avoid mentioning the difficulties that he was forced to confront. Morrison not only has a strong feel for making things simple, of boiling them down to the essentials. He is forever proving himself to be a sharp analyst and an observer who knows his history, who seeks solutions that first have to prove their worth in the everyday use of the things in question.
In addition to which, there are programmatic interventions such as “The Unimportance of Form”, written in 1991, and projects such as the 2006 “Super Normal”, that insightful homage to anonymous design realized together with Naoto Fukasawa. It seems almost superfluous to mention that Jasper Morrison’s designs are convincingly presented in a very simple manner in the images in the book – sometimes on their own, sometimes in context, here and there supplemented by sketches and technical drawings. “A Book of Things” is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to get to know Jasper Morrison’s way of designing things not just superficially but in a little greater depth.
James Irvine, aged seven with his handmade robot costume in 1965. Photo © Alan Irvine
James Irvine‘s „Utopian Design Antibody“. Photo © Studio Irvine
„Adult plastic chair“ declares the producer Arper: „Juno“ by James Irvine from 2012. Photo © Santi Caleca
Organism or terrain? Irvine’s “Citizen Office Diagram” dating from 1993. Photo © Studio Irvine