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Profile: Carlos Virgile


Words by Emily Martin

You've most likely heard of Argentinean born Carlos Virgile and you might know that he qualified as an architect in Buenos Aires before moving to the UK in the late Seventies to work at Fitch and then establishing himself as one of the UK's top retail and hotel designers. But did you know he studied law for two years before transferring to an architecture course?

'I realised it wasn't quite what I wanted to do,' says Virgile as we sit in the London office of creative agency Imagination. Smiling, he adds: 'There were family pressures because my uncle was a lawyer.'

Retail interiors by Virgile + Partners at Imagination for Harrods’ Luxury Rooms
Retail interiors by Virgile + Partners at Imagination for Harrods' Luxury Rooms

He laughs as he reminisces, and I imagine that the scenario presented itself differently then, particularly as I see his enthusiasm when he talks about architecture and his decision to study it. 'All the wrong reasons inspired me, I'm sure!' he says. 'Doing architecture was something much closer to the things I like; South America is quite European in many ways and culture is an important part of our daily lives. So design, art, cinema and theatre were my forces and I was always well informed, even though geographically Argentina is quite out there.'

He doesn't tell me, but I have it on good account, that his Mastermind specialist subject would be neorealism in Italian cinema, so I am interested to know about his many cultural influences. He describes a particular turning point arriving after he saw a Bauhaus exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, in the Seventies. 'It was an amazing exhibition, and the move to architecture, in a way, was a natural thing for my way of seeing things,' says Virgile. 'What I wanted to be, it was something that developed into other interests.' And one of these developments was setting up and running a shop during his student days.

Retail interiors by Virgile + Partners at Imagination for Harrods’ Luxury Rooms
Retail interiors by Virgile + Partners at Imagination for Harrods' Luxury Rooms

Selling furniture, design, antiques and products, Virgile's shop in Buenos Aires included items from Biba and Habitat and did business for five years until he qualified as an architect.

'It was very successful actually,' he says. It was obviously influenced by his ultimate choice of career, yet it was his move to the UK that opened up a number of possibilities to combine architecture and his interest in shops and retail.

'Argentina was a complete political mess and it was difficult,' explains Virgile. 'I had a brain, I suppose, so a lot of my friends and people in my generation emigrated to Europe or to the USA.' Virgile left Fitch in 1990 to set up Virgile + Stone, then a subsidiary of The Imagination Group, with Nigel Stone as his then business partner. Working on hotel, leisure and luxury retail design projects, Virgile says London presented more design opportunities: 'It was the Eighties and there was a boom, and I ended up in a place where a lot was happening. I was doing a lot of commercial design - or design and marketing applied to retail - which was completely new then.'

For John Lewis Home Visions at Westfield Stratford, now rolled out to all other JLP stores
For John Lewis Home Visions at Westfield Stratford, now rolled out to all other JLP stores

At a time when many companies were experiencing economic growth in the UK, Virgile describes it as a 'learning curve', with designers having to visualise selling spaces and design retail spaces for the first time. 'It was linked to the financial boom of the Eighties, and only when there is a real explosion of activity and financial back-up that these things can happen,' he says.

Now Virgile + Partners, the business is an integrated offer within The Imagination Group with a number of top-end clients including Burberry, Patek Philippe and Yves St Laurent. With its core business in retail design, in particular the luxury end of the market, Virgile and Partners has expanded its portfolio to include overseas projects as clients explored markets in countries including India, Russia and the USA.

For John Lewis Home Visions at Westfield Stratford, now rolled out to all other JLP stores
For John Lewis Home Visions at Westfield Stratford, now rolled out to all other JLP stores

Working with department store Harvey Nichols at its Birmingham location (due to open next month), I ask Virgile how is retail design changing - and in particular the role of technology. 'Technology has created a huge amount of panic for retailers and designers. That panic had led to a lot of bad use of digital incorporation - or not really knowing how to incorporate it into a retail space,' he says.

Virgile's approach to integrating digital into a retail scheme is by examining the practical side of shopping. 'Is it really useful? Is there a purpose that will ultimately help make that purchase easier? I think there is a lot of visual noise in stores that is distracting and not conducive to shopping,' he says.

It's difficult to think of new ways to provide that service, and technology can easily introduce a gimmicky dimension to an experience, which can be seductive at first and then die quickly as a fading fad. Virgile believes the solution lies in a personal service. Well, with the luxury markets I suppose it always has been so, and as we approach the much-anticipated reopening of Harvey Nichols in Birmingham it'll be interesting to see how its design has achieved this. 'I can't say much, but there will be the test of many ideas,' he says. 'The concept of luxury is changing, as is the approach to the idea of luxury. There is a more cutting-edge and stylish approach, which many fashion brands are doing, but certainly not stores to the scale of Harvey Nichols.'


Springtime in Milan means Milan Furniture Week


Salone del Mobile Milan 2015
14-19 April
Rho Milan Fairgrounds

Words by Emily Martin

The 54th edition of the Milan Furniture Fair opens this month - one of the year's biggest events, with more than 200,000 sq m of exhibition space for the 2,000-plus exhibitors attending this year's show. And with thousands of products making their market debut, the week-long event is further acknowledged as an international benchmark event, expecting to attract some 300,000 visitors from more than 160 countries.

Split into three style categories of Classic, Modern, and Design, the Furniture Fair and SaloneSatellite will be flanked by the biennial Euroluce/International Lighting Exhibition (in pavilions 9-11 and 13-15) and Workplace3.0/ SaloneUfficio, an exhibition dedicated to the workspace (in pavilions 22-24).

An exhibition devoted to excellence in lighting, Euroluce will showcase the latest in outdoor, indoor, industrial, special use and hospital lighting solutions among others.

To mark the 2015 International Year of Light proclaimed by UNESCO, an installation/event telling the story of and exploring the essence of light has been conceived. Created by architect Attilio Stocchi, it is called 'FAVILLA. To every light a voice'.

The Workplace3.0 show is devoted to design and technology for the planning of workspaces. It will bring together the top proponents in the furnishings world for general offices, banks, Post Offices and other public spaces, seating for offices and public spaces, acoustics, flooring and coverings, lighting and office accessories as well as audio-video technologies and communications.

A huge installation/exhibit called 'The Walk' within Workplace3.0 will feature pavilions, conceived by Italian architect Michele De Lucchi, as an area for showcasing ideas and design triggers for planning workspaces in many different contemporary interpretations. Another event - IN ITALY - has been created by the architecture practice Four in the Morning to a design by architect Dario Curatolo. It will feature 64 Italian manufacturers and a select group of designers, planners and architects, who together will address issue surrounding products, design and planning.

Seymour Powell will be presenting its research on this year's product design from Milan in London on 30 April to a VIP audience. If you'd like to be invited, email rsvp@, with 'Milan Party' in the subject title line.


Space make not space plan: how the office is being radicalized


Words by Barry Jenkins

I am frequently advised that the office today is less about repetitive manual tasks and more about creative collaboration. This is widely accepted as the way that smart, attractive companies work, and that the spaces they occupy express creativity, their core values and their success.

The impact of information technology and mobile communications has enabled considerable change in the workplace. In addition socio-economic changes have altered workers' expectation of what an ideal workplace is. Practices such as agile and remote working has led to a recognition that a diverse range of settings works best, thereby challenging the traditional approach of standardisation. Today there are options, so that rows of identical desks are not always necessary, viable or productive.

One high-profile example of this trend is Google that, as a relatively new breed of company, represents a break with conventional ideas and as a result creates 'cool' workplaces. Clearly its offices with beach huts and telephone kiosks must contribute to its brand identity, and in turn may also resonate with potential employees and customers alike. But while employing theatrics in the design of a workspace creates a variety of distinctive 'settings', is it becoming as emblematic of tech companies as the walnut-panelled boardroom is of more traditional organisations? That said, thinking beyond conventional space planning, which is more like a functional head-count, does reflect a desire to nurture unique cultural values - no matter how formulaic the physical realisation may be.

Until about 20 years ago the aim of creating workplaces was about housing a task-specific workforce in a space-efficient way. The office was organised like a factory: in departments, with furniture designed to support process and hierarchal organisation. Corporate culture was reflected through exclusive corporate statements rather than inclusive social cultures. But thanks to recessions, social change and, of course, the advance of information technology and mobile communications, the office of today has the potential to be a very different place for those organisations that understand the value of culture.

To that end, I think it is entirely correct that the design of a workplace should be about how the workforce will use it and connect to it. It is also about how the environment will enable the workforce to work effectively and contribute to the inherent culture by merging environment and activity with purpose or meaning.

But this shift from the earlier one-size-fits-all approach has left some aspects of the office furniture industry displaced, evident at the most recent Orgatec in Cologne last October. Until recently desk systems used to be the dominant component in the workplace and would have been the star of any office trade fair.

The desk system used to drive the design of the office, the dynamics between co-workers, and integrate the IT of the day. But in the early Nineties an economic downturn saw the price of the typical workstation fall dramatically, leading to simplification that gave rise to the bench. This shift was aided by the emergence of the PC, and as workforces shrank part of the budget once spent on desks went towards IT. This increased productivity, while reducing labour costs, ushered in a new era of workplace development. This forms the basis of much of what we see now, leaving the desk system looking for a new direction and conspicuous by its absence at Orgatec 2014.

The financial collapse of 2008 triggered another period of change and was the wake-up-call corporations needed. It led to a reduction of waste by questioning the need to provide a workstation for each worker - that might in reality only be occupied for a fraction of the day. What has developed, amid the growth of 'agile working' and 'free address', is a new office landscape in which pods and high-back sofas have replaced or supplemented rows of fixed desks. So does this suggest desk-based office systems are dead?

And if they are, is it entirely appropriate to expect workers to be comfortable, content and productive without access to a safe and stable workstation?

While we may accept that workspaces today need to offer a diverse range of settings and that workers may be more nomadic, we must also acknowledge that at some point in the working week they will need to sit or increasingly stand and undertake process work. They will also require privacy in addition to using those convivial 'creative' spaces we see as emblems of new ways of working.

But I expect that behind the hammocks and pinball tables seen in 'cool' offices seeking to promote a unique sense of place, there are places where people work more conventionally.

But due to how, when and where we now work, I think the workspace is free to define an individual sense of place, which in urban design parlance brings together location or physical character, activity and meaning in a process known as 'place making'. This approach is entirely about expressing and nurturing culture. Apply this to the workplace and reflect the shift away from 'space planning', and the activity today for shaping a workplace based on change (that also reflects inherent and shared values) is no longer about space planning, but more about 'place making'.


School of thought

Words + Photography by Gareth Gardner

Designer Terence Woodgate ponders the minimalist lines of his Sax coffee table, designed for furniture retailer/manufacturer SCP. The glass and steel table was one of more than 70 pieces of furniture, machinery, photographs and other archive material that formed an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the London College of Furniture, held at LCF successor the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design. Featured in the show were pieces by notable LCF alumni including Woodgate (who completed his diploma in furniture in 1984) as well as Michael Marriott and Ercol founder Lucian Ercolani.


One to watch: Michelle Henry


Words by Emily Martin

Birmingham-based sign writer Michelle Henry graduated in law and business from Keele University in 2006 but, being a fourth-generation sign writer, decided to join her grandparents' former company, Hazlehurst Nameplates and Signs, where she managed a contract with Birmingham Children's Hospital. When she learned that the company was going into administration she decided to set up her own, as HNS Signs (a reference to her grandparents' former company). Henry's first commission was to complete hospital's contract.

The HNS Selfie - ‘We primarily sell to businesses, but a piece of wall art that we did for ourselves has got the domestic market excited,’ says Henry. Using traditional sign writing techniques combined with ‘Banksy’ style spraypainting to create a company ‘selfie’, led to orders to produce family portraits for customers after it was posted on the company’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
The HNS Selfie - 'We primarily sell to businesses, but a piece of wall art that we did for ourselves has got the domestic market excited,' says Henry. Using traditional sign writing techniques combined with 'Banksy' style spraypainting to create a company 'selfie', led to orders to produce family portraits for customers after it was posted on the company's Twitter and Facebook pages.


Birmingham Children’s Hospital - HNS’s first project, working alongside interior design firm Newman Gauge, consisted of a traditionally sign-written wall with an aeroplane, clouds and typography. The design features balloons, laser-cut from 5mm red Perspex, that show the names of those who have donated to the cause. ‘We have since done many displays like this throughout the hospital,’ says Henry
Birmingham Children's Hospital - HNS's first project, working alongside interior design firm Newman Gauge, consisted of a traditionally sign-written wall with an aeroplane, clouds and typography. The design features balloons, laser-cut from 5mm red Perspex, that show the names of those who have donated to the cause. 'We have since done many displays like this throughout the hospital,' says Henry

With a business loan from the Prince's Trust, Henry set up within a month, employing two others in a 139 sq m unit in Sandpitts, Birmingham. In August 2013 they moved to a 465 sq m unit and went from three to 10. The company manufactures 95 per cent of signs and graphics in-house, to provide more control over quality and time management. 'You are only as good as your last job and we can offer manufacture warranties on materials,' says Henry. HNS buys its materials either locally or from UK suppliers.

Penny Blacks - Working once again with Newman Gauge HNS completed a project for Penny Blacks bar, located in the Mailbox development in Birmingham, in May 2014. ‘This project involved everything from sign to neon to wall art,’ says Henry. Several ‘distressed and Banks-style’ pieces were produced along with a one-off 4.5m x 1m neon illuminated sign containing 240 LEDs.
Penny Blacks - Working once again with Newman Gauge HNS completed a project for Penny Blacks bar, located in the Mailbox development in Birmingham, in May 2014. 'This project involved everything from sign to neon to wall art,' says Henry. Several 'distressed and Banks-style' pieces were produced along with a one-off 4.5m x 1m neon illuminated sign containing 240 LEDs.

Last year HNS won the Scoot Headline Awards for businesses and a National Business Leaders award. 'We have also been nominated for two categories for the Venus Awards (Small Business of the Year award and Customer Service Award) and we hope to pick up a few in the British Sign Association Awards later this year,' says Henry.



Statement brands: how designers create personality


Premium brands are investing in design to ensure that their physical stores encourage a deeper interaction with the brand by immersing the customer in the brand personality.

This is particularly the case at Victoria Beckham's new London flagship, designed by Farshid Moussavi Architecture, where the three-storey space is conceived as a gallery for the brand.

Smart premium brands are stressing the story and personality behind their products, as demonstrated at Hunter's lively new flagship. They also see the value in designing a store that showcases the staff's expert knowledge in an accessible manner.

At Berry Bros & Rudd, one of the country's longest established wine merchants, Urban Salon's new store demystifies wine terminology, while Dunhill's of London's new flagship. designed by Household, caters for the cigar aficianado's every needs.

Case Study

Victoria Beckham
Where: Dover Street, London
Designer: Farshid Moussavi Architecture

Victoria Beckham's new 560 sq m flagship store is conceived more like a gallery than a traditional retail space. According to the designer, Farshid Moussavi Architecture, with online shopping able to focus on providing choice the store can instead focus on display while conveying a sense of the transience and exploration that underpins fashion itself.

The store is arranged over three floors, and is dominated by a grand, wide concrete staircase conceived as a space of its own for use when the store hosts various events, talks and displays.

Mirrored stainless-steel ceilings on the ground and lower floors and the distinctive, concrete coffered ceiling on the upper floor (pictured above) convey the impression of expansion, the latter also serving to conceal services and house lighting systems.
Conventional hanging display solutions are eschewed for a system of tracks within the coffers, from which chains are suspended to hang the clothes. Flexibility was important. The chains can be repositioned, as can retractable, long shelving used to display handbags on the ground floor. The triangular bench seating can also be moved and reconfigured as necessary.

Case Study

Where: Regent Street, London
Designer: Checkland Kindleysides

Hunter has long been known as the pre-eminent premium brand for wellies. Its first global flagship store - designed by Checkland Kindleysides in Regent Street, London - shows off not only its iconic footwear with aplomb but also its new ranges of outerwear and accessories developed under the auspices of new creative director Alasdhair Willis.

The brief was to celebrate the brand's long heritage in tandem with a fresh new attitude. While not alienating its traditional audience, the store needed to appeal to younger, more urban customers looking perhaps for something to wear to a muddy festival or around town in the rain. Checkland Kindleysides took inspiration from the brand's roots in the age of Victorian explorers and plant hunters, the British countryside and the weather.

'The weather is massively part of the product,' says Checkland Kindleysides' creative director Joe Evans, who conceived the store as a journey through the countryside and the elements, conveying a sense of the outdoors. In doing so, he adds, the store harks back to a youthful, contemporary spirit of adventure and innovation that doesn't take itself too seriously and isn't afraid to be slightly eccentric.

Inside the ground-floor ‘barn’ at the Hunter store in Regent Street, London
Inside the ground-floor 'barn' at the Hunter store in Regent Street, London

The 492 sq m store is arranged over three floors, each encompassing very different store experiences. The ground floor space is designed as a contemporary barn with Douglas fir rafters and rubberised barn doors. The floor is inset with a herringbone pattern that replicates the sole of a Hunter boot. Designers sought to convey a sense of sunlight after rain, with organic-shaped 'puddle' tables with a black-mirrored finish designed to evoke the quality of water. Above these, merchandise is displayed as if hung up to dry. At the rear is more product displayed against a gabion wall, and also in an 'infinity forest' display of fir trees.

The staircase uses materials familiar to agricultural buildings, with grey mesh and rubber treads. Customers pass a 5m-high media screen displaying brand events and weather updates with suitable soundscape throughout the store. On the first floor, Checkland Kindleysides created a surreal take on an enclosed English garden with product displayed against a background of fake topiary hedges inspired by the Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire. More puddle tables stand on a 'lawn' of green ceramic floor tiles.

A concrete cash desk incorporates the Hunter seal depicting a pair of scales and the date of its founding, 1856, which is used as a detail throughout the store. Both the ground and first floors feature 'boot room' seating areas and sound tracks relevant to the brand. A rural soundscape plays in the grass-lined lift. In the basement, the retail space has a colour scheme of Hunter red and white. Hunter boxes are stacked like a dry stone wall, making a visual feature of practical storage.

The Hunter company is currently looking at new sites worldwide for further flagship stores.

Case Study

Dunhill Tobacco of London Limited
Where St James's, London
Designer Household

Dunhill's long-established London store has been reinvented as an experiential space that celebrates the tradition and rituals of smoking in a contemporary and comfortable way.

Household's concept was to appeal to 'bon vivant, aficionado characters' who want to enjoy the product and learn about it as well, according to Household founder and customer experience director Michelle Du-Prât.

Previously the shop was purely used for displaying product. Now it has been expanded and has four key areas geared to creating sociable and immersive experience around the brand. Customers enter through the premium retail area, followed on by the sampling lounge: a comfortable, sociable space where customers can sample cigars brought to them on bespoke trays. This area is also doubles as an events space. Beyond is the humidor room, where 56 copper-fronted mini humidors keep cigars in optimum conditions. More can be found out about the products in the master blender's room.

The transformation of the Dunhill retail space has had a positive impact on sales
The transformation of the Dunhill retail space has had a positive impact on sales.Dunhill Photography: Gareth Gardner

The new approach encourages a deeper relationship between the customer and the premium brand. Customers now stay on twice as long as previously. As well as benefiting from the expert knowledge of staff, customers can hire their own humidor or even rent the whole space out for an event.

Household's design has been hugely successful at a time when marketing tobacco has become more and more challenging. Sales are up by more than 390 per cent since the store was transformed, with 82 per cent of visitors buying.

Case Study

Berry Bros & Rudd
Where Basingstoke
Designer Urban Salon

This wine merChant is something of an institution, having operated from the same central London premises in St James's since 1698, selling wine from £۵ to £۵,۰۰۰ a bottle.

Urban Salon worked on a light restoration of the original shop last year and have now completed a revamp of Berry Bros & Rudd's warehouse shop in Basingstoke.

The challenge was to present a premium brand with all its associated knowledge and service in a suitably highquality setting, but one that was nonetheless appropriate to the discounted nature of the merchandise and its setting on an industrial estate in Basingstoke.

Wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd has had its warehouse store revamped.
Wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd has had its warehouse store revamped.

The 325 sq m space consists of the main sales area and a semi-private space which can be used for tastings or as a waiting area. The design of the display components refers to warehouse language, with merchandise displayed on perimeter storage and in pine units incorporating wine boxes and set on pallets. This allows flexibility to reconfigure the space as necessary. Some of these units incorporate tabletops for wine glasses for tastings; others are used to store and display stock.

An array of 54 enamel lights run down the central spine of the shop, illuminating the tasting units where customers can try before they buy. Navigation was particularly important since the shop is at least triple the size of most supermarket wine departments. Urban Salon worked with Pentagram on the graphics to ensure that specialist terminology was properly demystified and that areas were appropriately signed.

'We didn't want it to feel like a supermarket so we used the columns and rhythm of the old warehouse to mark smaller sections dedicated to different types of wine,' says Urban Salon creative director Alex Mowat.


When ancient and imagination meet: the creative approach to exhibiting


Words by Pamela Buxton

Nick Sainton-Clark is head of design at the Natural History Museum. He joined the museum in 2009 and initially headed up the production services department before taking on the design role as well a year ago. Previously, he worked at the BBC for 16 years managing both the special and visual-effects departments including prop making, animation and digital effects for programmes such as Doctor Who, Alien Worlds and Robot Wars.

What does your role at Natural History Museum entail?
I oversee 40 people including a small design team of 3D, graphic and digital designers, as well as production services that encompass conservationists, mount makers, engineers, painters and joiners, AV and media specialists, and could be dealing with anything from exhibition sets to typography for print to organising a loan certificate.

We have nearly 25,000 sq m of gallery space and the aspiration is to get even more by re-jigging how the site works. We're currently setting out our permanent gallery development programme for the next 20-30 years. We're also looking at how we can get the most out of the grounds while being mindful of the listed Waterhouse building and consultation with our neighbours - there's huge potential there.

Nick Sainton-Clark. Portrait: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2014.
Nick Sainton-Clark. Portrait: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2014.

How many different design projects do you generally commission a year, and what sort of work is this?
We have 10 to12 major design projects a year, from architectural work in the grounds to our temporary exhibition programme. Most are commissioned externally but increasingly we are selecting temporary and permanent exhibits to design ourselves in-house. By 2016, we hope to stage a minimum of five temporary exhibitions (up from four) a year. Our key audience are 'Learned Liberals and Contemporary Cultured', and exhibition briefs are developed with this in mind.

Are you approached by design teams?
We do get some approaches made and I would like us to be better at identifying and engaging new and interesting designers.

Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story was designed by Nissen Richards. Human story image: Nick Rochowski.
Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story was designed by Nissen Richards. Image: Nick Rochowski.

How do you go about commissioning designers and architects?
We did have a framework of companies but recently we have just been tendering per job. We're currently looking at how we can be more agile in how we procure design. My view is that we need the right balance between external design companies and their fresh perspectives and the in-house design team, which has lots of experience of working with our collection. They feed off each other, and the museum gets the best of both worlds.

Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story was designed by Nissen Richards. Neanderthal model close up: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2014.
Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story was designed by Nissen Richards. Neanderthal model close up: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2014.

What qualities do you look for?
Flair and imagination, and a clear engagement with the collection - that's a deal breaker. Design companies should be receptive to feedback and input from us - the design does have to earn its keep so we do sometimes play devil's advocate. But we wouldn't want to crush their creative spirit. Hopefully everyone gains from the process.

What makes for a good gallery environment, and what roles can interactive and audiovisual design play within this?
We have to be really clear about what we want to convey. Our goal is to make exhibitions specimen-rich by putting our collections to the fore and creating strong narratives around them. The design should be imaginative and engaging without overpowering the exhibits.

We don't want to just jump on the bandwagon for current display fashions - whether augmented reality or touch-screen. It's about finding the best approach to interactives and design to make the exhibition work. I'm also a fan of mechanical exhibits and objects you can touch - people often respond well to a mechanical way of relating to the subject.

Often we take a black-box route to temporary shows. When we don't we're mindful of being sympathetic to the incredible architecture and detail of the building.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes was by DesignMap. Image: Designmap
Earthquakes and Volcanoes was by DesignMap. Image: Designmap

What aspects of exhibition design are the hardest to get right?
Making visitors feel it's a natural movement through the exhibition design. We've moved away from the strong narrative sausage factory route to providing an overall steer that gently guides people around without making it feel too prescriptive.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Plate-spinning! When you're working across such a wide remit it's very easy to get too sucked into one particular area. I am recruiting some design management staff, which will help. Another challenge is value engineering that isn't at the cost of the concept.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The fun bit is near the beginning when we have the concept and blue-sky scenario and are exploring how we can make it interesting and dynamic.

What projects do you feel have turned out particularly successfully?
The recent Volcanoes and Earthquakes galleries project, which moved from a light touch content improvement to practically a new gallery. The design for Britain One Million Years of the Human Story was also very successful.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes was by DesignMap. Image: Designmap
Earthquakes and Volcanoes was by DesignMap. Image: Designmap

What future design projects are in the pipeline?
We're rethinking the Hintze (formerly Central) Hall area to better showcase all the collections, including new displays on the balconies. The idea is to provide a striking glimpse of our specimens and science, as well as making the most of the amazing architecture. That will complete in 2017.

We've the Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea temporary exhibition opening this month. This has a really strong visual style and story and includes an aquarium with live coral. One of the challenges here is capturing the wonder and immersive feel of the ocean without becoming too theatrical. We've also got the 50th anniversary NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year show (until 30 August) and an ambitious exhibition under development on whales, which will open in spring next year.

Do you have any favourite museums/ galleries that you take inspiration from?
I love the Victoria and Albert Museum. Its shows are very classy and manage to get some real wow factor. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is a lovely museum with an eclectic mix of display cases that you just roam around. I quite like that quirky character.

One of my goals is to get out and about more to look at other museums and get some international trips in - the last thing I need is to become too insular.


Going public with lighting


Words by Jill Entwistle

The association of darkness with crime and/or a disproportionate preoccuption with health and safety has resulted in a tendency to overlight public spaces. However, cranking up light levels in one place means they have to be raised in the adjacent area if that is not to appear murky by contrast, and so begins an arms race that does nothing for the carbon count or the conduciveness of the space.

But lighting designers are beginning to exert a restraining influence over those who are concerned to tick whatever light level box has been deemed appropriate by the latest standard. Common sense is starting to prevail as a few proof-inthe- pudding schemes demonstrate that carefully layered and orchestrated lighting can produce both a safe and aesthetically pleasing space.

Light is also being used more playfully, from the now quite widespread use of gobo projectors to produce dappling and patterning to the full-on use of an interactive colour installation to transform a formerly intimidating dark street.

Kings Cross square,
Lighting design: Studiofractal

The regeneration of the King's Cross area has been radical and ambitious, the largest area of urban redevelopment in Europe. Its gateway is King's Cross Square, London's busiest transport interchange that deals with 140,000 people a day.

The all-LED lighting scheme, shortlisted for a Lighting Design Award, was key to providing a strong visual identity, helping with orientation and creating an environment to encourage commuters to linger. With thousands of people hurrying through the space, safe and functional lighting was crucial but that had to be balanced with creating a pleasant lit experience.

Bearing in mind that the clients were Network Rail, London Underground, Camden City Council, Islington City Council, TfL and English Heritage, each of them with a different set of lighting standards - all with varying criteria for luminance, illuminance, permissible colour appearance and colour rendering - and the scale of the lighting task becomes clear.


The essence of the scheme lies in integration and, by layering the lighting from a number of directions, creating the illusion that light levels are higher than they are. 'This is deliberate and ensures the vertical and horizontal lighting is as even as possible - and yet the appearance is that it varies greatly,' says Studiofractal's Tim Downey. 'This is a good trick - in the darker areas there is more light than you would think, but in the brighter areas it is not as high as you would imagine. Much has been written about horizontal illumination levels, but the key here is vertical illumination and how bright the space feels.'

It's a beast of a space to light so there had to be a primary fitting that would provide the basic layer of illumination. The majority of light comes from three 20m stainless steel columns specially made by iGuzzini. Each houses an array of individually focused LED spotlights strategically positioned to align with the historic station frontage. There are dual sources: one gives focused, controlled downward illumination and the other provides a backlighting element to reduce contrast and even out the appearance.

'The arrays were carefully designed to provide a low glare, crisply functional appearance against the warmly glowing facade,' says Downey. 'Great effort went into placing and scaling them correctly, and then conducting an exhaustive detailed design process to ensure they had the right feeling of permanence, solidity and elegance. The aim was to create a very soft field of illumination across the square - without the glare often associated with these types of exterior lighting installations.'

The Big Picture
Part of the £۵۵۰m redevelopment of King's Cross, King's Cross Square has had major structural changes. The scheme now reveals the brick facade of Lewis Cubitt's 1852 railway station behind a 7,000 sq m plaza. Architecture practice Stanton Williams replanned the station entries and exits to ease movement, and incorporated three large London Underground services structures. These are clad in the same granite as the plaza and incorporate a variety of service functions and retail activities. The lighting remit included the main square, new entrances, and exits and colonnades from King's Cross platforms.

Architect: Stanton Williams
Station architect: John McAslan and Partners
Engineer: Arup
Contractor: Murphy and Sons


Richard-Wagner-Platz, Leipzig, Germany
Lighting design: Licht Kunst Licht

The winner of the 2014 city.people.lights award, Richard-Wagner-Platz is the historic site of a 10th-century market settlement from which the city developed.

The lighting concept involved the traffic lighting system of the nearby streets, the actual plaza, including skatepark and fountains, and the private facade of the Höfe am Brühl shopping centre.

The central aim of the scheme was to keep clutter to a minimum so that cyclist and pedestrian pathways could be kept clear and the square used for markets and events, so pole-top fittings were avoided where possible. Illuminance had to be between eight and 18 lux.

The plaza and walkways around the entire section of Höfe am Brühl are lit by simple pillar luminaires, which provide general illumination for the pedestrian walkways but also have extra modules to light exterior facades from the public space. These were also used for the skatepark and parts of the open plaza. Warm white LEDs are used for the buildings, sculptural fountains and the skatepark.

Richard-Wagner-Platz, Leipzig, Germany

The projecting entrance of the shopping centre allowed the incorporation of overhead lighting, which illuminates the public space directly in front and avoids the need for pole-top luminaires that would have cluttered the facade. The existing historic light columns along the classic facade of the Grosser Blumberg building were preserved and updated with LED modules.

The scheme was unusually democratic in the degree to which the local citizenry were consulted. A public competition was launched to redesign the lighting through a democratic decision process. 'The project is an excellent example of how to involve citizens and other stakeholders in the preparation of an urban regeneration project,' said Rainer Barth, representative of the city.

Place Du Château, Strasbourg, France
Lighting design: L'Acte Lumiere

A primary aim of the lighting was to knit together the historical buildings and the contemporary square that form the Place du Chateau, part of the Grande-Île, a Unesco World Heritage site. The highly integrated scheme, third-prize winner in the city.

people.light awards, was created by L'Acte Lumiere with the city's public lighting department over a six-year period, and involved extensive public consultation.

Place Du Château, Strasbourg, France

The scheme makes bold use of light and shadow. The vertical lighting around the square reflects off the light-coloured ground surface allowing general lighting levels to be reduced, and creating large areas of attractive shadowing. White light is used in various degrees of intensity to emphasise the architectural styles of the buildings and rich variety of stonework, and create areas of shadow and contrasting light effects.

The square itself is lit by four bespoke masts, with a hexagonal design inspired by the stairways running up the cathedral steeple. The incorporated floodlights also project subtle graphic elements on to the ground features, reflecting the contrasting patterns used in highlighting the facades.

Opera House Lane, Wellington, New Zealand
Lighting design: Stephenson and Turner

A runner-up in the city.people.light awards, this interactive lighting scheme by architecture and engineering practice Stephenson and Turner was designed to make a dark, narrow street safer and more attractive for pedestrians. Presence detectors are used to trigger the RGB LED lighting installation, animating the space with dynamic patterns and muted colours.

Opera House Lane, Wellington, New Zealand

The scheme also features a chandelier - constructed from Kaynemaile, a lightweight chainmail created for The Lord of the Rings films - which creates 'dreamlike' projected effects.


Supermarkets in the bag


Words by Pamela Buxton

The supermarket sector is experiencing huge change. Not only are the traditional big players in the market continuing to be challenged by the rise in popularity of discount chains such as Aldi and Lidl, but the growth of online grocery shopping (20 per cent of adults now do their grocery shopping online, according to Mintel) has led supermarkets to question the nature of their physical stores, both in terms of size and customer experience.

Sainsbury's describes the market as 'incredibly dynamic and competitive'. One major consequence has been the swing towards new, smaller convenience concepts - Sainsbury's and Tesco for example both now have more of the latter than their conventional supermarket formats, and Tesco has recently scaled back developing its larger stores.

Waitrose is expanding its Little Waitrose brand, which opened in 20 locations last year mainly in London, outside the M25 and into the Home Counties, and Morrisons has developed its M Local brand. To add to the complexity, Sainsbury's has formed a joint venture with Danish discount chain Netto, which entered the UK market last year, and Tesco recently collaborated with new sandwich bar brand Fred in a number of its London Tesco Express outlets.

Morrison’s Ilkley M Local, created by Fitch
Morrison's Ilkley M Local, created by Fitch

All this is fuelled by huge changes in how people shop. It's not just a matter of online versus in-store; the new picture is of a combination of different types of shopping transactions. The traditional weekly shop, for example, is increasingly a thing of the past, according to Siân Novakovi, insights strategist of Household, which has recently worked with Little Waitrose and Tesco. Instead, she says, this might be replaced with several 'big-basket' shops a week, or even daily visits to a convenience-style supermarket to supplement a less frequent online and/or discount chain stock-up.

Another major factor, says Household's Novakovi, is a polarisation of shopping needs. 'One of the things we've seen is a massive change in how people are shopping in terms of lifestyle needs,' she says. Not only do customers want convenience, they want a considered food offer, she adds, with a greater level of inspiration and emotive connection, for example through the use of produce that is local, fresh, healthy and with an appealing provenance.

'The product and the environment and the communication should come together hand in's not just about the product on the shelf but about how you bring that to life,' she says.

And that's where the opportunities for design come in. Although traditionally the sector is not the most glamorous of areas, the recent seismic changes there have provided new opportunities for designers, as the big supermarket players respond to changing dynamics and seek to connect with changing consumer priorities. Instead of concentrating on the most convenient formats to build and operate, the focus is increasingly on a range of offers to meet diverse and changing customer needs. 'Design isn't just how the store looks and feels, but is the journey the store takes the customer on - the product flow, the layout, the adjacencies,' says Household creative director Sarah Page, adding that design expression and choice of materials can help create a deeper connection with the consumer who is after far more than just convenience. 'People are looking for an authentic expression - they...want a more tactile, authentic and authoritative experience, and that's where design is leading the way,' she says.

Coop at Old Street, London, by Fitch
Coop at Old Street, London, by Fitch

Fitch design director Nathan Watts considers supermarket design to be a particularly interesting area to work in because of the scope for impacting on customers' lives on such a regular basis. The design company worked with Morrisons on its M Local convenience brand and more recently with Co-operative Food. Above all, he says, supermarkets should ensure that customers feel emotionally connected to the store environments through the 'soft' power of customer experience via the use of language, change of pace, ambience, tactility and storytelling. They should also explore how they can deliver a more personalised shopping experience using digital means.

'The big story is that everyone is interested in convenience and nervous about larger format stores because everyone wants to get closer to the customer. Convenience stores are all exploring ways to become more 'heart of community', for example as pick-up points for other retailers or accommodating community groups, he says. With convenience-store formats it's essential, he says, for retailers to be able to present regularly changing ideas to customers and for customers to be able to pick up what they want quickly and easily. 'Some of the convenience stores have become quite mechanical with high shelving as they are under pressure to be high density,' he said. 'At M Local, we lowered the height in the first third of the store and created more of a compelling fresh food experience.'

Sainsbury has also been adapting to the growing trend for customers to shop more frequently - whether for lunch or top-ups rather than just doing a big weekly or monthly shop. This has led to an emphasis on decluttering and an increased focus, especially in smaller convenience stores, on its growing hot food and food-to-go. In larger stores, general merchandise and clothing has become increasingly important and there is more emphasis, says the retailer, on displaying these in a way that customers might see in specialist high-street stores to reflect their quality.

Tesco, by Household
Tesco, by Household

Waitrose is also extending its offer. The retailer recently opened its first station store at King's Cross in London catering for 'transumers' with an emphasis on travel accessories, and twice as much space dedicated to foodto- go as in its regular convenience stores. Hospitality has become more important across the Waitrose estate, with the supermarket introducing eat-in areas at several branches and trialling new concepts for a bakery, a juice and smoothie bar, and a wine and beer bar.

Looking ahead, it's clear that more change is afoot as discount retailers continue to make inroads into the sector, and supermarkets respond by creating a more customer-focused environment. Fitch's Nathan Watt thinks there is more opportunity for all supermarket retailers to consider how they can create multiple formats within the convenience sector, for example for a store in a travel, work, or neighbourhood environment, that are better suited to particular requirements. Household expects supermarkets to explore the potential for greater use of technology in the shopping experience, such as linking to apps and location awareness technology. But above all, the customer is king, as supermarket environments work far harder to give, and communicate, what the shopper wants, than ever before.


Drawing a Line – Alexander McQueen’s drawings


Words Abraham Thomas

Alexander McQueen's drawings provoke a particularly intriguing set of questions, given that the designer was so well known for his skill at working directly with materials. How does one interpret the distilled qualities of a flat drawing when considered alongside the textural and sculptural possibilities of fabrics?

Very few of these drawings, whether from his student days or from his professional career, have been published or researched before. Therefore, they offer a rare glimpse into McQueen's design process. Acting both as private musings and as tools of communication within the studio, the drawings performed a number of functions. They indicated McQueen's initial thoughts; facilitated conversations between members of the design team; and, at the outset, established the tone, atmosphere and creative direction of a particular collection.

Sketch, Irere, Spring/Summer 2003. Pencil on paper, London 2002
Sketch, Irere, Spring/Summer 2003. Pencil on paper, London 2002. All drawings courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Sarah Burton, who joined McQueen in 1996, recalled how incredibly fast McQueen was able to sketch, and described how she would run after him desperately trying to make notes on the drawings as he went along. Indeed, many of the annotations on the drawings are in Burton's hand rather than McQueen's, reflecting their close collaborative relationship during these early design stages. Selected sketches were also copied and transmitted to the studio's textile partners in Italy in order to convey vital instructions for fabrication, as confirmed by the scattering of annotated faxes that exist amongst original drawings.

McQueen's drawings provide an important opportunity to understand how ideas were expressed at a stage prior to any cutting or tailoring using fabric on a mannequin. Highly accomplished and supremely confident, the boldness of these sketches creates a sense of equivalence to the bravery that was evident in his method of working with textiles and three-dimensional forms.

Sketch, Scanners, Autumn/Winter 2003. Pencil on paper, London 2003
Sketch, Scanners, Autumn/Winter 2003. Pencil on paper, London 2003

The drawings that relate to his Central Saint Martins MA graduation portfolio are especially interesting in that they seem to provide a direct line of evolution from his early career as an apprenticed tailor on Savile Row. Many exude a refined, almost clinical, quality. Others demonstrate how his drawing skills were able to adapt to a variety of contexts and scales with a deftness and clarity of approach.

Sketch, Pantheon ad Lucem, Autumn/Winter 2004. Pencil on paper, London 2004
Sketch, Pantheon ad Lucem, Autumn/Winter 2004. Pencil on paper, London 2004

A fellow student, print designer Simon Ungless, recalls seeing McQueen's drawings in those early days:'I remember the drawings. I just thought, they are so chicken-feet scratchy. Chicken-claws turning into ink. Really scratchy, feathery, girls with really pointy noses, bald heads, turtlenecks that covered their faces. A really different vibe to all the other students ... A not very cool kind of thing. He really stood out tome. Here is someone with a point of view.'

Sketch, Pantheon ad Lucem, Autumn/Winter 2004. Pencil on paper, London 2004
Sketch, Pantheon ad Lucem, Autumn/Winter 2004. Pencil on paper, London 2004

In many design disciplines, sketch drawings often acquire a quasi-sacred status due to their representations of the initial moments of conception. Although it is true that early drawings can play a crucial role in articulating future design thoughts, such a simplistic analysis runs the risk of belying the true situation. For example, within architecture, designers often choose to explore initial design ideas through more physical material processes such as model-making, describing spatial concepts that later will be expressed more explicitly through formal drawings.

Sketch, Pantheon ad Lucem, Autumn/Winter 2004. Pencil on paper, London 2004
Sketch, Pantheon ad Lucem, Autumn/Winter 2004. Pencil on paper, London 2004

One of McQueen's drawings for his Scanners collection (Autumn/Winter 2003) exhibits a particularly architectural aesthetic, with the fabric articulated as a series of interconnected flat planes, and the inclusion of notes indicating a 'fully embroidered fabric ... all engineered, no flat parts'. This interest in the volumetric qualities of a drawing might be compared to McQueen's deep engagement with textile fabrics, and his preference for directly manipulating tactile materials so as to express ideas in a way that might have been frustratingly difficult if relying exclusively on the mediated process of drawing on a flat page. Indeed, from some accounts it appears that McQueen drew less and less towards the end of his career, deciding instead to focus on working directly with fabrics, which offered him an outlet for creative expression that drawing never did.

Sketch, The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, Autumn/ Winter 2008. Pencil on paper, London 2008
Sketch, The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, Autumn/ Winter 2008. Pencil on paper, London 2008

However, in an interview with the photographer, Nick Knight, McQueen revealed that his earliest memory of wanting to design clothes expressed itself through the process of drawing. At the age of three, at a time when his family was living in a council house, he recalled outlining a sketch for a dress on an area of bare wall that had become exposed through the gradual peeling of wallpaper.

This sense of immediacy and gestural flourish permeates a number of McQueen's design drawings. Some are compelling for their minimalism and reduction, as exemplified in one example that provides the subtlest indication of an outlined silhouette.

Others are memorable for suggesting an approach towards abstraction, where the drawing seems to exist simply as a statement of pure materiality. Throughout all the sketches, though, there is a deft use of the medium to describe the various qualities of different fabrics. Subtle shifts in texture and weight are articulated through the delicate and precise application of smudging techniques.

Sketch, Irere, Spring/ Summer 2003. Pencil on paper, London 2002
Sketch, Irere, Spring/ Summer 2003. Pencil on paper, London 2002

Laborious contour lines and crosshatching are employed to indicate the quality of workmanship required for detailed embellishments and other surface details, for example, becoming intently focused on the details of a frock coat. Perhaps most impressive is the way in which McQueen manages to suggest a sense of movement within the fabric, giving the gentlest hint as to how these textiles would behave once they were on a human body -- breathing life into what might have been a rather more static image in anyone else's hands.

Much of this was possible due to McQueen's profound sense of instinct when it came to working with fabric, and his ability to faithfully communicate his designs through his drawing techniques. He clearly strived to ensure that the emotional content of his designs would never be lost through the explicit articulation of the drawn line. These unique drawings are invaluable as records of a creative vision, capturing as they do a series of conceptual thoughts at a particular moment in time.

They are also crucial to an understanding of McQueen's creative process because of their ability to maintain a sense of poignant inference and poetic ambiguity.


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Architect Mahmood Fallahian

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