Defining Cultural Diversity
and National Identity
in 21st Century British Design.
professor Catherine McDermott
I am a Professor of Design at Kingston University in London, which has a well-known
Faculty of Design and several of the designers included in my talk are Kingston
graduates, including Rosario Hurtado of El Ultimo Grito and Jasper Morrison.
Central to my research practice is curating and in 2001 we set up a new Masters
programme called Curating Contemporary Design with Paul Thompson, then Director
of the Design Museum in London and now Director of the Cooper Hewitt in New
York. The MA’s research focus is about widening agendas to explore the
potential of design to build bridges between different worlds and as a tool
to strengthen economies and enrich the quality of people’s experiences.
Much of my personal research however has focused on curating British design
identity. I started my training at Temple Newsam, a country house museum famous
for its collection of Thomas Chippendale and 18th century English decorative
arts - objects that placed Britain at the cutting edge of fashion in 18th century
Europe. In the 21st century British design continues to offer a unique style,
which has helped secure an international profile for the UK creative industries.
The 21st century image of London continues to be a compelling one with a high
cultural status. The young and the rich who come to visit, experience a city
of cutting edge culture and design. The greatest of these cultural projects
- is the Tate Modern, now the most famous re-use of a disused power station
in the world. Tate Modern is more than a gallery of modern art - it is a phenomenon.
It is the success story of Britain’s Millennium projects that has transformed
the geography of the South Bank; it connects the site to St. Pauls Cathedral
and The City, providing the first new bridge across the Thames for over 100
years. In the evening The Tate Bar is the new meeting place for smart city financiers
to enjoy the benefits of culture and commerce.
My talk explores the qualities that define contemporary British design and how
British designers are responding to the world of the present. So what are the
brand values of British design? What is our USP? Well there are some very contradictory
strands, we love tradition, alongside the quirky and the nonconformist. We have
a difficult time admiring drive and powerful ambition, and we are not totally
comfortable with winners.