Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Never Mind the Bollards

A punning title for an exhibition devoted to street furniture: it's no surprise that I was tempted along to the Building Centre on Store Street! Or in fact, outside the Building Centre, since the exhibition makes clever use of the public space outside its doors.

We often don't take much notice of the furniture and materials on our streets unless they get in our way. The uneven paving we stumble on, the lamp that doesn't work, or the unnecessary clutter ruining a photograph - those get our attention. Yet the right things enhance our lives, whether we consciously notice or not: the quirky, historical feature, the bin that's just where we need it, the shelter of a tree on a sunny day. And careful design makes our city navigable: safe, attractive pavement surfaces, dropped kerbs, the information conveyed through texture and signage. 

And suddenly, that sounds like a lot to convey and discuss in one small area - but Never Mind the Bollards does an excellent job. It uses the materials and furniture on the South Crescent of Store Street (and the sheer amount of features in this one area is a reminder of just how much we don't pay attention), enhanced by labels full of history, information and quotations. They are supplemented by some extra features: a mobile library, phone boxes full of information cards, and public seating. 

The result is an interesting space where you can sit and eat lunch, read a book or the exhibition's Bollard Observer, or find out more about the things that surround us. For example, the 'LHP' on this cover stands for London Hydraulic Power - the company that piped hydraulic power for devices such as lifts around London until well into the mid-twentieth century. 

The protective kerbstone on the right of this doorway indicates that it was once an open arch leading to a hotel yard. The stone saved the archway from damage by vehicle wheels. 

Infamously, many of London's railings were donated to the war effort in World War II - but their cast iron couldn't actually be recycled. They were therefore simply dumped in the Thames or at sea. However, there are survivors such as these; the reason they were saved is because for most of their length, they protected passers-by from falling into the basement area. All the more important during the blackout!

The curator Sarah Gaventa is very enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable about all these things, so it was a pleasure to take a curator-led tour with her. She's giving another tour on 10 July, and there are lunchtime 'soapbox' talks throughout the exhibition as well. 

The exhibition is on South Crescent, Store Street, WC1E 7BT and runs until Saturday 11 July. Go during the daytime and you can also visit the exhibitions and London model in the Building Centre - all free! 

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