The London Routmaster: Good Design? The Unanswerable Question

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The London Routmaster: Good Design? The Unanswerable Question

Having officially studied design through school, college & university, and through my work in the industry, one thing is clear – you never stop learning. As Transport For London has learned, detailed in the article below, design is subversive and subjective, making it the perfect theme for discussion, admiration, opinion and conflict. ‘Good’ design is at the mercy of its surroundings, its environment if you like. Fashion plays a big part, and as we all know and understand, fashions come, linger, often out-stay their welcome and leave, in a sad trudge of embarrassment, resenting the new, shiny thing there to take its place.

Sometimes it takes time for ‘good design’ to get its curtain call. Take the mighty Routmaster bus as an example. Some words which spring to mind to describe the vehicle today include ‘iconic’, ‘quintessentially British’, ‘national treasure’ – all qualities – with the aid of a healthy dose of nostalgia – that have secured its recent re-incarnation as a 21srt century London runaround. But this was not always the case.

The first prototype delivered in 1954 designed by London Transport and constructed by Park Royal Vehicles, did not float many design critics’ metaphorical boat. The bus, pitched against the social setting of the dawn of the space age’s streamlined aesthetic, looked and felt like a relic from the start. Vehicles of the day were faster and sexier than ever, the teardrop was in vogue – even the humble pencil sharpener got the streamlined aesthetic treatment thanks to designer Raymond Loewy. The big red brick cut an ugly silhouette against the ‘modern’ London backdrop with calls that its design was severely outdated even before it hit the roads. In fact, like many design classics, it was only taken to the bosom of the establishment when it started to be replaced by a stream of generic double-deckers that could be seen in dozens of other places around the country. This is a case that proves that a timeless design may need just that to be appreciated fully – time.

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