Sunday, 5 June 2011

NTU Art and Design Show

My life is full of serendipity. I seem to have the lucky tendency to find interesting things by chance. I don't plan my days much, which is in stark contrast to my previous life, where I had to have a plan every day; goals to be achieved, and without which I could not be at peace. I never thought that I'd say it, but I much prefer this present life.

I've come across so many interesting things in Nottingham that I hadn't planned to find, and I think that makes them all of the more exciting. Take today for instance. I happened to come across the Nottingham Trent University Student Art and Design Degree Shows for 2011.

They were being held at the Bonington, Waverley, Arkwright and Newton Buildings. I wanted to go to all four, but I spent so much time in the Arkwright and Newton Buildings that I ran out of time.

The Arkwright and Newton Buildings are two of the most iconic buildings in central Nottingham, and ever since moving here, I have wanted to see inside them, particularly the Arkwright Building. Before moving on to the show, it might be interesting to have a brief look at the history of both buildings.

Arkwright Building
This is one of my favourite architectural buildings in the city centre. Standing as it does in Shakespeare Street, it was built between 1877 - 1881 by Nottingham Corporation to house University College, the Natural History Museum and the Central Library. The trade publication 'The Builder' obviously didn't think much of previous Council buildings, for it said that the new building would go far to redeem "the unusual poverty of the town as regards municipal architecture".

Constructed in Gothic style, the front of the building has a series of magnificent carvings, as well as statues of notable figures symbolising literature and science. The four to be seen are of William Shakespeare, John Milton, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton. Two others of James Watt and Georges Cuvier were destroyed in the war.

D.H. Lawrence trained to be a teacher here, having saved up enough money from teaching miners' children in Eastwood to enrol on a full-time degree course. References to the building can be found in his novel, 'The Rainbow'. The Arkwright Building was also the place where Professor Frederick Kipping did work that led to the development of synthetic rubber and silicone-based lubricants.

Newton Building
The Newton Building in Burton Street, named after Sir Isaac Newton was opened in 1958 as a regional Technical College.

While Arkwright is Gothic style, Newton is more art-deco, and is one of the tallest structures in Nottingham. Including the mast and aerial, it stands 225 feet tall.

Through a history of mergers and name changes, the various institutions in 1992 achieved University Status, and became known as Nottingham Trent University.

Both Arkwright and Newton Buildings have Grade 11 listing, and both can be considered as flagship buildings of Nottingham Trent University. 

In 2010 the two buildings were linked with a very impressive piece of work. Hopkins Architects said, "The scheme uses the residual space between the two buildings, which were never designed to work together, to elegantly join these existing buildings and provide a new entrance from Goldsmith Street opening onto a covered central court and link buildings". The whole area is now a mix of Gothic, Art-Deco and Modern styles, but do you know, it works wonderfully well.

Finally a few comments about the work on display.

Out of hundreds of Graphic and Product designs looked at, there were three (there could have been loads more) that caught my attention.

The picture shows the Orbiculight, which is a bespoke design, tailored to meet each client's needs. According to the designer, the finished form of copper and brass was secured to a base of glass pebbles and stones, which reflect the light given off by the LED lit orb.

They also give an overall more decorative feel to the final product. I liked it.

It's a well known fact that many elderly people are prone to falls, which can cause serious damage. When someone falls downstairs, the result can be critical.

I was intrigued by the design opposite to address this problem. As can be seen in the picture, every other stair has a cushion inserted into the back board. Apparently a camera will detect the movement of falling, and the cushions will be automatically inflated.

It's obviously not designed to prevent falls, but it can stop you from being unduly hurt, as you would normally bang head or back on the stairs as you were falling down. The cushions are also robust enough to grab hold of if that were possible. The aim is to minimise the impact of falling, and I think it's a great idea. It can be installed into existing stairs, as well as into new build.

Lastly, something a bit bigger. It's a design for a double decker tram system.

Very topical for Nottingham at the moment I think. The tram itself is on two levels, without any stairs, so that space can be maximised.

Each tram stop will also have two levels, with the suggestion that disabled passengers, and those on short journeys occupy the lower level, while those on a longer journey take the upper floor. Access to the upper level of the tram is via the upper level of the stop (you worked that out didn't you?).

I could see a problem if a tram broke down between stops. With no stairs, how would the upper level passengers get out? Maybe the trams will be designed never to break down.

I like the concept of this though very much, and would be interested to see if any authority, anywhere will take it up. I hope so, because I really think it's cool.

Design seems to be alive and well, and the innovation and creativity shown by NTU students does auger well for the future. Here's hoping for their sake, and that of the country. Another good day in Nottingham.

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