As part of the 2018 London Design Festival, one of the landmark exhibits was our colourful urban playground, Alphabet, created by Old Street-based graphic-design studio, Kellenberger-White.
One of the installation’s main aims was to create something that would make use of its unique space in Finsbury Avenue Square while inspiring Broadgate’s huge range of visitors to engage, connect and interact with the art.
"Alphabet is an experiment in construction and colour that tests and connects many things," explain the design duo. "It's a playground, but also an alphabet; it's public furniture, but it can talk."
The enduring influence of Bruno Munari
It’s also a project that builds on the pair’s fascination with typography as well as other areas of influence including branding, books, magazines, wayfinding, exhibition design and furniture. (Their 3D design for Elizabeth Price BERLINWAL in 2018 was almost a precursor to Alphabet.)
The pair cite one of their biggest inspirations as the Italian futurist Bruno Munari, whose Design As Art book is a seminal exploration of how everyday objects can be both beautiful and accessible. (In-keeping with Alphabet’s theme, his children’s ABC book captures young readers’ imaginations while remaining a design classic.)
Munari’s photo series Seeking Comfort In An Uncomfortable Chair from 1944 is also one of the duo’s biggest influences as Sebastian White says: “You want to make something that can encourage interaction but also something that can maybe prompt conversations about the way we design and the way we make things.”
There’s also a cheeky nod to artist Bruce McLean’s 1971 Pose Work For Plinths; a fitting tribute as his Eye-I (1993) is just across Broadgate on Bishopsgate pavement.
The design of Exchange House
It was also the ground-breaking architecture of Broadgate itself which lent ideas to Alphabet’s inspiration. Exchange House, around the corner from Finsbury Avenue Square, is one of architecture’s most celebrated designs thanks to its marriage of form and function as both bridge and building over Liverpool Street Station’s train tracks.
Exchange House’s four parabolic arches bear the load of its structure, transferring it down on to foundations either side of the tracks with only 5% of its footprint touching the ground. In 2015, the enduring elegance of Exchange House was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ 25-Year Award for “[a] simple yet ingenious structural system that unifies design and function in the mid-century Modernist tradition”.
The bridge motif also infiltrates Alphabet as each of the 26 chairs are coloured with industrial paint colours from bridges around the world – from the International Orange of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Cornflower Blue of Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge. “What’s interesting in branding is making a logo or a typeface that becomes such an important ingredient for how that place can communicate,” comments White.
Read more about Alphabet by Kellenberger-White and its inspirations at Dezeen and Icon Eye
Photos by Dan Weill and Mark Cocksedge