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Pick 'n Fix

Boilerhouse Exhibition, with catalogue

'Robots', Bayley, S and Woudhuysen, ],
Conran Foundation, London, UK (1984)
The stated aim was to show how t hey
will affect product design. In the
words of t he catalogue:
For two hundred years the history of
design has been a list of styles and
ideologies . . . But this is going to
change. A new technology is begin-
ning which is so universal in its scope
and potential that . . . will change
design and many other things besides.
About hal f the word' s robots are
welders. Sprayers and loaders are the
next largest const i t uent s of the robot
population. Assembl y accounts for a
good fifty per cent of manufact uri ng
operations. Recent advances in sen-
sor technology have made very intri-
cate assembly operations feasible by
robot. Assembly robots demand
parts t hat are machi ne recognisable
and, preferably, designed for press-
ing or snapping together.
It is asserted that:
Products will only be built by robot if
they can be made in large volumes
. . The other main industrial sector
is de f e nc e . . . Robots reduce the cost
of detailed machining. More decora-
tion and more variety could well
become a characteristic of products
designed to be manufactured by a
robot. [For designers robots] will
mean that mastery of a whole number
of different areas of knowledge will
become c r uc i a l . . . The designer will
have to keep up with innovations in
computer hardware and with software
technology, of new capabilities in tool
performance and with industrial rela-
tions as well.
The above st at ement s h a v e been
t aken from pp5, 43, 46, 49 and 57
and stitched together.
In the Exhi bi t i on what particular-
ly caught the eye was the collection
of Japanese robot-inspired toys. The
ancient sci-fi film sequences were a
yawn. None of the househol d robots
was cuddl y. The literary references -
Mar y Shelley and all t hat - were the
most profound and scholarly part of
the exercise. Colleagues present
t hought the material to be shallow,
the t reat ment non-interactive, and
the l ayout claustrophobic which is
somet hi ng difficult to avoid in the
Boilerhouse anyway. At the press
viewing it was notable t hat what
appeared to be representatives of
Bunt y, Chick' s Own and the like
were present in hi gh proportion.
The inspiration for the show is
at t ri but ed to the thesis:
The Modern Movement arose out of
the first age of industrialisation when
. . machine production undermined
the traditional notions of ornament
and craftsmanship.
Anne Drogheda
Milton Keynes today
Walker, D 'The architecture and plan-
ning of Milton Keynes"
It is 15 years now since Llewellyn-
Davis first publ i shed his plan, or
rat her his strategy, for Mi l t on
Keynes (1968). Two years later De-
rek Wal ker became chief architect
and pl anner to the devel opment cor-
poration. He got things movi ng on
the ground and now one can see what
ki nd of city is emerging. So it is
appropriate t hat he should write a
(beautifully illustrated) progress re-
port wi t h an i nt roduct i on by Steen
Eiler Rasmussen which put s the
whole t hi ng into context. Wal ker' s
account covers pl anni ng strategies
(based on a grid of motorways),
housi ng, industrial and commercial
buildings, leisure and recreation, the
city cent r e- - such as it i s- - and so on.
Thi s division of the book into
pl anni ng and bui l di ng types reveals
very qui ckl y the nat ure of Mi l t on
Keynes. As a visitor you spend most
of your time driving along the
mot or ways- - wi t h r oundabout s- - i n
the drizzle There are long, low
buildings on the skyline. And when
finally you get to the centre you are
remi nded, inexorably, of Gert rude
Stein' s ' Ther e is no t here, t here. ' For
the central bui l di ng itself is a long,
low glass-faced shopping centre. The
railway station is a long, low glass-
faced shed; there are long, low office
buildings, factories, communi t y
buildings, a sewage works and so on.
But why should the major buildings
for such a wide variety of functions
take this long, low form?
Wal ker describes t hem as ' packag-
ing' and he says: ' We may be better
served by a pride which looks to its
lavatories, planting and the cleanli-
ness of its streets . . . ' t han to
' architectural grandeur'
But whilst he is commi t t ed to such
things he seems less convinced about
the housing. Housi ng he t hi nks has
been in chaos since the collapse of
the high-rise prefabricated flats.
Mass housi ng, in his view, has had
enough of Ministers, now it needs a
Messiah. It is the nat ure of a Messiah
to preach the Gospel, whereas Wal-
ker and his colleagues have provided
a splendid variety in nei ghbourhoods
such as Net herfi el d, Neat h Hill,
Fi shermead, the Village, Langford
Heat h, the Bridge, Pennilands and
so on. There is variety too in the
housing by private architects such as
Ri chard Macormac, Ivor Smi t h,
Mart i n Ri chardson, Ted Cullinan,
Stephen Gardiner, Frost Nicholls,
Ralph Erski ne, Gillespie, Ki dd and
Coia, Evans and Shaler, Spence and
Webst er and others.
Some of this is very good indeed.
Comfortable, pleasant and
humane- - al t hough one of these
architects, to my knowledge, spent
two hours on the motorways of
Mi l t on Keynes looking for the
houses he had designed and never
found t hem. So let us agree wi t h
Derek Wal ker t hat Mi l t on Keynes is
very good in parts, whilst dis-
agreeing as to what those parts are.
But still our trouble is finding them!
Geoffrey Broadbent