The Duke of Edinburgh’s Prize for Elegant Design
In the wake of the saddening passing of one of the most distinctive and charismatic figures of the British Monarchy, I want to share his extraordinary passion and work in the area of design. The Prince Philip Designers Prize was created in 1959, and chaired and presented every year by the Duke of Edinburgh, until 2011, when he reduced his royal responsibilities.
This interview, to mark the 50th anniversary of what was initially supposed to be entitled The Duke of Edinburgh’s Prize for Elegant Design, gives a glimpse into his down-to-Earth view of this aspect of everyday life. His was not an appetite for the extravagant or the bombastic, for the showy and the unnecessarily clever. Good design, he says, is an elegant solution, but also something that is just a bit better than the ordinary. It’s that simple.
When asked Do you see the importance of design as being something central to our existence, is it that fundamental? The Prince sensibly responds No, but then he goes on to add: But it makes existence a lot better, doesn’t it? It makes it worthwhile, it makes it a positive experience rather than having to struggle through it.
You can watch a great video retrospective or check the full list of recipients of the award over the years. It was offered for a wide range of objects and products, from tableware to a cash dispenser, a cordless shaver, a logo design, a building design, a microscope and many more.
Le Tour d’Eiffel Forgotten ‘Competitors’
Speaking of design, I was reminded of this article I read a while ago about the Eiffel Tower’s forgotten ‘competitors’, in fact an article about the design fairs of ole days that have given us such iconic buildings like Paris’ absolute landmark, but also London’s Crystal Palace, or Seattle’s Space Needle.
The Eiffel Tower was created as the main attraction of the 1889 Exposition Universelle and what you, like me, might not know, is that Gustave Eiffel’s Tower was just one of 300 to 700 submitted pitches (estimates vary) vying to be Paris’ world’s fair centerpiece. I also learned that the Eiffel Tower’s life-span was originally set at 20 years. Scheduled to be demolished in 1909, the spire was saved by its utility as a radiotelegraph post as much as its popular acceptance.
Maybe it shouldn’t seem so strange in our era of instagramable buildings popping up all around the world… but I do find it so to think such important and expensive design projects were imagined as temporary, serving almost as design installations, rather than having a clear purpose or function. I tend to agree with Prince Phillip quoted above, that design should represent a solution, albeit an elegant one, although I am sure that here are some examples that would make me reconsider this position.
This is a Robbery
I recently finished White Collar, which I recommended a few weeks ago and I encourage you to watch alongside this encyclopedia of the artworks mentioned in each episode. Straight after I jumped into this four-part documentary about the biggest art heist in history, a still-unsolved mystery about thirteen works that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. The value is estimated at up to half a billion dollars and you can read more about it here. It is an interesting watch, less art, more mystery.
The documentary introduced me to Isabella Stewart Gardner, a leading American art collector who imagined and built the namesake museum to resemble the palaces of Venice. This short excerpt from a 1965 article in The New York Times makes me keen to get my hands on her out-of-print biography: She was credited with receiving “best Boston” perched on the branches of a ceiling-high potted mimosa tree and with keeping lions in the cellar of Fenway Court, her Venetian “palace” near Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
I am in awe of the museum’s beautiful building, with its luxuriously exotic courtyard reminiscent of an exclusivist hotel. Not one single photo does it justice, do look it up and browse at liberty.
Bonus exquisite find and perhaps the last one on this topic for a while is this article about the most stolen piece of art in history.
The Walking Library
What a beautiful empowering image, don’t you think? I find it exquisite to see two women enjoying books in such a public fashion almost 100 years ago. This was called a walking library in the London of the 1930s. I don’t know how long this lasted for and if it was popular in other places at that time, but it certainly looks like a great idea and it has inspired similar modern versions. Watch the video on the link to learn more, but also to hear some interesting thoughts about walking with a book.
Bonus exquisite find is this round-up of Ten Crazy and Unusual Mobile Libraries From Around the World. I love them all!
Reading while Walking
The above exquisite find got me thinking about reading while walking… something I’ve done in the past but normally for short walks from the tube to my house or similar. Never have I done it for long walks and still I always thought it must be and look strange. But apparently, this is quite common and the people who do it are called bibliopedestrians. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was apparently a bilbiopedestrian and you can read a bit more about the history of reading while walking in this tongue-in-cheek article.
Nowadays I am pretty much always walking with my son, and sometimes I will listen to an audiobook when we are out, but I am looking forward to experimenting with an actual book in the future. Would you give it a try?
The Science of Walking
Source – The Poppy Field near Argenteuil, 1873 by Claude Monet
This seems to be a cascading series of finds, but I’ve had this topic on my list to share for a while and this is the perfect time to do it. Since I’ve started going out for walks as often as I can with my son, I have re-discovered how much I enjoy it and I started looking more into the benefits of walking.
As expected, there are many different and most importantly science-backed ones, from strengthening the heart to burning calories, boosting the immunity, energy levels and one’s mood, it is ultimately supposed to make us more creative and extend our life. Wow! Called the most underrated form of exercise, is there anything walking can’t do? It’s no wonder that the short afternoon walk feels we’re putting too much pressure on it. Please read this very funny fictitious confession!
Still, if you google ‘benefits of walking’ you get almost 300 million results. No need to say more, go on and plan your next walk!
La Scala Infiorata
Italy is a place I always long to return back to and these images only intensity that feeling. Plus, I have never actually been to Sicily and now I am checking the dates for their Flower Festival next year! The installations in the images above are created for this occasion every year using thousands of potted plants and flowers of many colours and species. The stairs are also known as La Scala Illuminata di Caltagirone, because sometimes the 142 steps are adorned with a grand design created with candles.
What a creative way to transform a beautiful historical place into something new time and time again, without losing any of its original irreplicable value and charm!
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