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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas