Fit for purpose: The Design Museum celebrates global style of the past 150 years

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A Le Corbusier villa, David Chipperfield coffee cups, 1931 Citroën 2CV... in writing, the best works of design are just names and numbers. But assemble the objects in a room, and allow people to walk around them, and their timeless resonance can be felt immediately.

That was the reasoning, anyway, behind Design Cities 1851-2008. Curated by Deyan Sudjic, director of London's Design Museum, it is set to open there on Friday – an array of design and architecture assembled from across Europe, categorised by the city and year of their creation. "The idea is to see design in the focus of the city," says Sudjic. "We put something on at Istanbul's Design Museum, and after the success of the show we decided it was too strong to leave in one place, so we brought it over."

While the 120 or so exhibits might seem obvious selections to design experts, the average punter will find much to mull over. It proved difficult just to get all the work in one place. "We were negotiating with five major museums within Europe," says the show's project manager, Aravec Clarke. "We also received pieces from independent designers. So, logistically, it was quite complex – though happily we managed to get 80 per cent of what we wanted."

The show begins with London in 1851, the year of the city's Great Exhibition, a celebration of industrial technology and design. "You have to start with London," says Sudjic. "In the 19th century, London was the world's biggest city. It was the capital that produced the Crystal Palace, and the whole idea of design, really."

One of the exhibits centres on that Crystal Palace, the huge glass and iron structure built in Hyde Park that was the venue for the fair (and has since burned down). Sudjic and Clarke have secured from the V&A one of the early sketches for the building by its designer, Joseph Paxton – a rare treat. Sparkling alongside this is a claret jug by Christopher Dresser, regarded as one of the world's first industrial designers. During his career, he acted as a consultant for companies creating swathes of mass-produced products, including textiles, wall coverings, ceramics, glassware and metalware. According to Sudjic, his combination of simple geometric forms and organic patterns gives his work a modern relevance.

Then comes 1908 Vienna, where Otto Wagner's table for the headquarters of the Die Zeit newspaper exemplifies the creative atmosphere in the city at the time, as do the designs of Adolf Loos. Loos had participated in the competition to create a new headquarters building for the Chicago Tribune. Though his proposal, a huge Doric column 20 floors high, did not win, Loos declared that its "beauty would be a beacon for the architecture of the future" – and he was right.

Dessau, in 1928, is included as the birthplace of Bauhaus, one of architecture's most influential strands of modernism, whose Marcel Breuer popularised the use of tubular steel for furniture. Breuer designed the first chair to have a resilient structural frame of continuous bent steel tubing, the B3, dedicated to his fellow Bauhaus master Wassily Kandinsky. "One reason Dessau was included is that it is a city of some 80,000 people, and the fact that this city could tip the way the world looked, then, well it is hard to imagine that now," Sudjic says. "The show does suggest that it has become harder for small cities to be powerful. Movement is so much more viable now. Globalisation means there are fewer places where the gifted go."

Paris 1931 features Le Corbusier's delicate sketches for his seminal chaise longue, as well as the lines of the Citroë*2CV and the work of Robert Mallet-Stevens, particularly his stacking chair and armchair. Los Angeles 1949 is represented by the furniture of Charles Eames, best know for his Eames House, made that year. The Milan of 1957 finds no better calling card than the Vespa 125, still stylish today.

The exhibition does not really come into its own, though, until 1987 Tokyo, where chunky products by Sony (for example, its classic Walkman and Trinitron television) show off a playfulness of chunky keys and steep curves, now seen as retro. "I spent a lot time in Japan during the 1980s and Tokyo is the most distinctively un-European city," says Sudjic.

The show comes full circle with London, 2008. Paul Smith and the tableware of David Chipperfield are given centre stage, alongside the architecture of Future Systems. "I suppose you can value the show by the fact that if there was a fire, so many treasures would be lost," says Sudjic. "It is great to see how we are influenced by things that have the resonance of time, and to see the stories of the people that made these changes possible to the way the world thinks."

Design Cities 1858-2008, Design Museum, London SE1 (020-7403 6933), 5 September to 4 January

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence