Modernist Corporate Identities
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Modernist Corporate Identities

Modernism was an anti-historical, supremely rational style that emerged in Europe. The aesthetic was minimalist and the products were functional and up-to-date. Modernism was never fully accepted in Britain, but it was used by enterprising institutions to create new corporate identities.

Modernism was an anti-historical, supremely rational style that emerged in Europe. The aesthetic was minimalist and the products were functional and up-to-date.  Modernism was never fully accepted in Britain, but it was used by enterprising institutions to create new corporate identities.

Frank Pick (1878-1941) was the head of London Transport, the subway system known as the ‘Tube’. He wanted a corporate identity that would ‘belong unmistakably to the 20th century.’ That could only mean Modernism. Under his direction, London Transport achieved a well-developed corporate style based on Modernism.

First of all, he asked for a logo that would be instantly recognisable. The famous red, white and blue roundel was designed by Edward Johnston. It’s based on geometrical forms and uses a very restricted colour range. Edward Johnston was a calligrapher and he developed a typeface specifically for use by London Underground. Johnston Sans consists of plain block letters with no end strokes or serifs. It was designed to optimise legibility for passengers. So this is Modernist in the sense that it’s been simplified in order to make it functional.

One of the best examples of Modernism in Britain is the map of the London underground by Henry Beck. The underground system was a network of subterranean tunnels that were confused and disordered; it was a labyrinth. The original map was very difficult to understand.

Beck realised that the physical location of the stations was irrelevant - only the sequence mattered. So this was a schematic diagram rather than a map. It distorts the actual positions of stations, but represents their sequential relationship with each other.

The map can be interpreted as a Modernist piece: the whole underground system has been rationalised, with everything reduced to its essential form. Beck has brought order out of chaos. This is an example of Modernism at its best. It proves that the idea of ideal solutions to design problems was not entirely misguided.

Frank Pick’s design programme was also extended to architecture. Dozens of new tube stations were built, particularly along the Piccadilly Line, which was extended in 1930. The new stations are Modernist in terms of their massing and composition, but they are executed in traditional materials - brick and stone. This makes them more acceptable to mainstream British tastes.

The other institution that adopted Modernism as its visual language was the British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC. Modernism suited this technological broadcasting network with high social ideals. Broadcasting House (1932) was built as the BBC headquarters in London. It was designed by George Val Myer. This is a clean, white Modernist edifice, but it has some sculptural detail. This was an attempt to meet mainstream British tastes and to fit in with the surrounding architecture. There is a radio mast on the top. This was both functional and symbolic – it’s an example of the machine aesthetic.

Modernism was also used for seaside buildings and hospitals because the pristine, clinical aesthetic was deemed to be suitable for buildings associated with health. This is a particularly good example of British Modernism: the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea (1935). This was designed by Eric Mendelsohn, one of the Jewish architects who fled from Nazi Germany. This is another example of international influence. It has clean lines, sheer white elevations, and no superfluous decoration. The centrepiece is this semi-cylindrical window with cantilevered planes that candidly express their construction.

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Comments (2)

This was fascinating and so educational. Your presentation is exceptional in detail and content.

This is very well put together Michael

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