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Inspired by design

Architects and movements should be the model for a future generation. With the right help, pupils could bring flat-packs to life, says Paul Bowyer.

Design amp; technology

The great buildings of the world can often be breathtaking and inspiring. How do you translate their influence into flat-pack furniture? This is the quest for my Year 12 pupils studying product design - to investigate the architects and design movements that have influenced the world's most famous buildings and attempt to channel something of this into their work.

We look at buildings such as Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, designed by Richard Rogers.

The results are not necessarily obvious. The Pompidou Centre, for example, has a massive exoskeleton (hard outer structure), with exterior escalators enclosed in a transparent tube. Rather than recreating a number of features of the design in their coursework, pupils focus on one or two for inspiration. They may, for example, design and model ideas for a table with transparent sections in the legs. The influence can be explained but does not have to be obvious to the untrained eye.

Another important piece we explore is the Carlton Cabinet by Ettore Sottsass, a famous work from the Memphis movement that is part cartoon figure, part totem pole and part bookcase, combining ancient cultures with 1980s pop. This is a rejection of the notions of function and good taste. Ettore Sottsass regarded design as ever-changing and seasonal. Outrageous designs were, in his eyes, replaced by new ones just as quickly as they had been introduced.

We consider this and think about "just-in-time manufacture", methods that can be used to create quick, relatively inexpensive products with a short lifespan.

One pupil, for example, took the Memphis design movement as inspiration when designing flat-pack tables, focusing on key Memphis features such as symmetry and bright colours. The result was a white circular table top with brightly-coloured, differently-shaped boards for legs.

The evaluation should take equal account of the product's suitability for its target market and how it is influenced by the pupil's chosen architect or movement. It's a fluid, lively process - some pupils feel they do not really like the design style they are working in and so have to think more about how elements of the style can be evident in their final work.

Paul Bowyer is a design amp; technology teacher at All Hallows Catholic College in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

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