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Joining the Modern World: A Study of Street Furniture in Postwar Britain

Herring, Eleanor;


After the Second World War Britain experienced a period of considerable social, political and cultural transition, in which British people witnessed wider access to education, housing and healthcare. British design culture also felt the impact of these changes, in part because design was brought under government control to a far greater degree than ever before. Through legislation like the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, the establishment of state-funded organizations like the Council of Industrial Design, as well as far greater participation of designers on ministerial committees, the postwar government deliberately sought to introduce ‘good design’ into people’s everyday lives. Street furniture was just one of many categories of design through which Britain’s new social, political and cultural agenda was given physical expression between the early-1950s and the late 1960s. As designed objects within the public realm, street furniture is subject to the input of numerous forces which monitor and regulate that space, and thus give it shape. During this period of transition, government ministries - in consultation with other official organizations, designers and manufacturers - initiated several major street furniture projects. As a result, the design of objects as varied as parking meters, letterboxes, road signage and traffic lights underwent significant change, which altered the face of Britain as a result. But why did the government involve itself with street furniture design at all? Were these projects acts of government-sponsored beautification, or merely part of a wider drive to modernize and upgrade the country’s designed environment? More importantly perhaps, given the changes to postwar British society, who was accountable for this process? Using extensive archival material, government records, contemporary periodicals, newspapers and interviews, this paper will examine these questions and in doing so, expose the complex negotiations that informed the design of street furniture in postwar Britain. It will focus on three examples of street furniture design - the parking meter, road signage and a letterbox – and in doing so, look closely at the British government’s design policies between the 1950s-60s, how they were enacted and the conflicts that surfaced as a consequence. By addressing the process by which these objects were reshaped, the paper will reflect on both the state’s use of design, and the capacity of design as a way to read political power in society.


Palavras-chave: street furniture, postwar Britain, government design policy, modernisation,


DOI: 10.5151/despro-icdhs2014-0079

Referências bibliográficas
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  • [6] John Betjeman, Letters Page, Design, No.55, July 1953;
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Como citar:

Herring, Eleanor; "Joining the Modern World: A Study of Street Furniture in Postwar Britain", p. 551-556 . In: Tradition, Transition, Tragectories: major or minor influences? [=ICDHS 2014 - 9th Conference of the International Committee for Design History and Design Studies]. São Paulo: Blucher, 2014.
ISSN 2318-6968, DOI 10.5151/despro-icdhs2014-0079

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