Barber and Osgerby

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby

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Profile

Manufacturing Mavericks

In The Making

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby founded their eponymous studio in 1996 after graduating with Master’s degrees in Architecture from The Royal College of Art in London. From their first studio in Trellick Tower in London, Barber and Osgerby designed their first piece, the Loop Table, produced by Isokon in 1997. The table brought them to the attention of Guilio Cappellini and hailed the beginning of a long working relationship with the renowned Italian furniture producer.

Much of Barber and Osgerby’s early work involved the folding and shaping of sheet material, influenced by the white card that they had used frequently in architectural model making. Plywood and perspex were used in the development of the Pilot Table, 1999, and Stencil Screen, 2000. The experimental Hula Stool, 2001, originated from sheet plywood, reassembled to create complex, compound curves. The Shell Table, 2002, (nominated for the Compasso d’Oro) and Shell Chair, were further structural studies in plywood.

In 2002 the pair were asked to design furniture for Portsmouth Cathedral in England and in 2004 were awarded the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize. This led to a commission to design new pieces for the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill On Sea. One of the resulting pieces, a die cast aluminium chair is now in the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

The Zero-In table was produced by British company, Established & Sons, in 2005 as part of their launch collection. The table employed car industry techniques in its construction, never before used in the furniture industry. In 2007 Barber and Osgerby were commissioned to design the furniture for the reception of the Royal Institute of British Architects in Portland Place. They were made Royal Designers for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts in the same year.

The limited edition Iris tables were created in 2008 for the Established & Sons gallery. Known for their use of colour, with Iris Barber and Osgerby developed a new direction, using colour as the starting point for the work. The same year saw the launch of Tab for Flos, a return to the folded form, and in 2009, Barber and Osgerby launched their first major commission for Murano glassmakers, Venini. This resulted in a series of unique, large-scale glass vases, created in limited editions and shown in Milan, Porto Cervo and London.

2010 saw the creation of an investigational installation at the Milan Salone del Mobile Internazionale and an exploration into experimental objects and environments. The installation was an immersive, anechoic space engineered to eliminate ambient sounds and concentrate the senses on the soundscape created by the designers through prototype speaker lights. These objects explored and exploited Sony’s new innovations in sound technology to transform ordinary materials into sound-emitting objects.

The Tip Ton chair and Map table were launched at the Salone del Mobile Internazionale in Milan in 2011 in collaboration with Vitra, Switzerland. The project arose from an investigation into school furniture and how dynamic movement in a chair can aid concentration. The first monograph of the work of Barber and Osgerby was published in May 2011 by Rizzoli New York. Shortly before, Barber and Osgerby were commissioned by The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to design the London 2012 Olympic Torch. This design won the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award in 2012.

From 2 January 2014 – 5 May 2014, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby curated In the Making an exhibition about the secret life of cricket bats, felt hats, shoes, boots, marbles, light bulbs, whistles, pencils, coins, horns, lenses and Olympic torches.

In The Making captured twenty four objects mid-manufacture, putting the aesthetic of the unfinished centre stage. Varying from the £2 coin to a cricket bat, a surprising range of objects were chosen to be exhibited in an incomplete state, celebrating the intriguing beauty of the production process.

The show gave a glimpse of the designers’ ongoing dialogue with the manufacturing process. This perspective is distinctive to their practice: throughout their careers, Edward and Jay have had a curiosity about the way things are made.

‘We curated an exhibition that will provide a platform to capture and reveal a frozen moment in the manufacturing process and unveils an everyday object in its unfinished state. Often the object is as beautiful, if not more so, than the finished product. There is also the chance people will come in and say 'What a load of old crap.' Jay Osgerby.

Barber and Osgerby’s research-led practice has developed collections for Cappellini, Magis, Vitra, Venini, Swarovski, Flos and Established & Sons, whilst also producing edition furniture and one-off works for both private and public commissions. Both professors of design, Barber and Osgerby have lectured internationally and hosted workshops at Ecal, Switzerland and the Vitra Design Museum. Their work is held in permanent collections around the world including the V&A Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Design Museum, London; the Art Institute of Chicago and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Q+A

How did you meet and start working together?

Design Museum

We both studied at the Royal College of Art and our collaboration came through friendship but lead very quickly to real projects. We realised very early on that we had a shared affinity and passion for design.

Edward and Jay

Does each of you play a distinctive role in the design process?

Design Museum

One of us will put forward an idea, the other one will react to the idea, possibly changing the direction completely. The idea goes back and forth, the process starts and this is how we work, a process of tacking, through which the design evolves. The definitive sketches that result from this become models and then prototypes. This dialogue continues even after a product has left the production line. A project is never mentally left alone.

Edward and Jay

How did each of you first become interested in design?

Design Museum

An interest in design grew from a love of drawing and making things as a child. Growing up in Oxford allowed regular visits to the University museums. I found the crafted artefacts there deeply inspiring. I was interested in being a painter, sculptor or architect, I was unaware of ‘design’ as a profession then.

Jay

What was the influence of your design education?

Design Museum

Ravensbourne taught me how to make complex things, about processes and about materials. It made me aware of detail and gave me an appreciation of beautifully manufactured objects. I studied at Les Ateliers in Paris with the Erasmus program in 1991 and was confounded by the French approach to design. I was used to real pace in projects and a huge emphasis on the process of design development. The French students were in love with the big idea - the romance of the concept above all else. It was very useful for me to experience the pragmatic, professional approach in London and the romantic artisan approach in Paris. At the RCA I enjoyed the collaborative opportunities that a multidisciplinary environment presents. We involved several other students in our initial projects and today try to engender that atmosphere in our own studios.

Jay

How did each of you first become interested in design?

Design Museum

My first awareness of design came at an early age through sailing. I admired the streamlined and complex curves of wooden boat hulls and was fascinated by the craftsmanship they entailed. It was also my first introduction to plywood - using wood in sheets was rather intriguing. I felt the urge to be able to design things of equal beauty and simplicity.

Edward

What was the influence of your design education?

Design Museum

I seem to remember spending a lot of my degree life-drawing and taking photos – both of which have been invaluable tools ever since as both disciplines teach you to look at things in depth, objects change the more you look at them.

Edward

Which of your early projects were most important in establishing your reputation as designers?

Design Museum

The Loop Table was the first piece of furniture that we designed and put into production. It has proved to be the most important piece so far. Originally produced in the UK by Isokon, it was spotted by Giulio Cappellini and included in Cappellini’s collection at the Salone in April 1998. That established a regular work relationship with Cappellini leading to many pieces being designed for him, indirectly leading to many of our current and recent projects for other manufacturers. The Loop Table is now in the permanent collections of the V&A Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Edward and Jay

How has your approach to design evolved since then?

Design Museum

When we started the excitement was in creating new shapes and working with materials we hadn't used before. Now the focus has moved towards designing objects that really have a purpose and some projects, like the Levis hanger, are extremely precise in their requirements. Inevitably projects grow in complexity as knowledge grows and that’s why early projects have that naive simplicity and true spirit.

Edward and Jay

What are your goals as designers?

Design Museum

We believe that every project has to have a spirit of innovation. When we are commissioned to design a product we seek to re-evaluate the architype, to challenge precedents. We always look at different ways in which products can be manufactured, not necessarily by using new materials or radical re-thinking, but maybe by using existing techniques in a more original or intelligent way.

Edward and Jay

What inspires your work?

Design Museum

Inspiration comes when I have peace and quiet or when I am extremely busy. Travelling provokes thought and reflection and sometimes inspiration. In the same way, and again at polar opposites, I find that hand-crafted objects are often as inspiring to me as super technical things.

Jay

When design historians look back at this era, will they consider it to be an exciting period?

Design Museum

We are in a period where more is being produced than ever. Historians will no doubt judge this era as the time when consumption finally acknowledged ecology and global responsibility. It is important for us all as designers to design objects that will have a long life, physically strong and emotionally desired.

Jay

What inspires your work?

Design Museum

The rigorous design of strictly functional objects in nautical and aeronautical design is truly inspiring. Being in a quiet place, preferably near the sea, is where I’m best at formulating ideas. Jay and I regularly stay in a remote house on the Welsh Coast to work on new projects. The isolation seems to focus the mind.

Jay

When design historians look back at this era, will they consider it to be an exciting period?

Design Museum

Historically designers/architects went straight to work in the studio of an established name for years, now designers are experimenting and making straight from college which gives a hugely diverse and interesting range of work. Also, large manufacturers are increasingly prepared to take a gamble on students and graduates on the merit of their work rather than relying on proven track record of established designers, which gives further opportunities to young designers.

Jay

Which of your design projects have you found most satisfying – and why?

Design Museum

All of our projects have been satisfying in one-way or another but the Levi's project was a real challenge. Levi’s needed a hanger design that could maximise the expression of the three dimensional nature of their new garments (the Engineered Jeans range launched in 1999). They needed an inexpensive solution and a design that could be easily shipped to their 9000 stores worldwide. All within a six-month project programme. Jackets and shirts are displayed on a curved hanger, which mimics the broad shape of the human shoulder but only uses the same amount of material as a conventional coat hanger. Their shape means that many hangers can be stacked together to minimise volume for storage and delivery. We discovered that if the jeans were hung front to back they also took on a three-dimensional look – however this involved persuading Levi’s to sew loops into all their jeans for the hanger to work. After some persuasion they did this, and still do to this day. Being able to deliver on a project like this with a precise brief in such a short time is a rewarding experience.

Edward and Jay

How did the Portsmouth bench project come about? What would you identify as the most innovative or distinctive elements of the bench?

Design Museum

We were asked to design new furniture for St. Thomas’ Cathedral in Portsmouth, as part of an ongoing programme of renovation, which began in the early 1990s and includes work by Patrick Caulfield and Langland & Bell. The only definitive criterion for the pieces was that they be made of oak. Solid oak is heavy and one key requirement for the furniture was that it be light and easily manoeuvrable. These two apparently conflicting demands were resolved by the engineering of the design, resulting in the slender form of the bench, the delicacy of which belies its strength.

Edward and Jay

Similarly how did the Home table come about? And what are its most distinctive elements?

Design Museum

The Home table was an exercise in reduction. We wanted to design a dining table that through its simple form would express the intrinsic quality of its material. We designed it to be made in raw oak to emphasise its tactility. Its simple form belies the traditional woodworking methods used in its construction. The legs have the appearance of being made from a solid piece of oak but are actually made from planks.

Edward and Jay

Timeline of Exhibitions

1997

Installation in conjunction with Wallpaper Magazine at 100% Design, London

Modern Furniture, Contemporary UK Furniture Designers at Sotheby’s, London


1998

Installation in connection with Wallpaper Magazine, International Contemporary Furniture Fair, New York

Cappellini Collection, Milan Furniture Fair, Italy

Tectonic, Twentytwentyone, London

Herman Miller for the Home, launch of Flight Stool at Neocon Herman Miller, Chicago, USA


1999

Living Rooms (installation design with J. Morrison, M. Newson, M. Young & M. Marriott), Atlantis Gallery, London

Childsply, Twentytwentyone & The British Council, London & touring Germany, Taiwan, Venzuela

Barber Osgerby Show, Zona Zurich and Zona Bern, Switzerland


2000

Cappellini at Superstudio, Milan Furniture Fair, Italy

‘Woody’, Milan Furniture Fair, Italy

100 Pieces of Modern Design, curated by Jasper Morrison at Museum Fur Angewandle Kunste, Cologne

New Cappellini Collection, ECR, Cologne

Creative Britain – Stars of the Millennium, British European Design Group, Berlin, Milan and Rome


2001

The Evolution of British Design, Tempio de Adriano, Rome and National Gallery, Prague

Great Expectations touring USA, Asia & Pacific with The British Council

Contemporary Decorative Arts Exhibition, Sotheby’s, London

Home Sweet Home touring Europe and Australia with The British Council


2002

LOSA (London – South Africa), Sotheby’s, London

Spot On Exhibition, Haute Definition, Paris

Au Vestiare, Une Histoire de Cintres, Musee de la Mode et du Textil, Paris


2003

Habiter, Tuilerie Gardens, Paris


2004

Jerwood Applied Arts Prize for Furniture Exhibition, Crafts Council of Great Britain


2005

Au Doight et a la baguette – 40 designers dessinet la baguette de chef d’orchestre, Mudac, Lausanne

Colour by Numbers, The Blue Gallery, London


2006

Defining Space, The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea


2007

Nature Design, Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich


2008

Design Britain, NEC, Birmingham

Designs of the Year, Design Museum, London


2009

European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis

Super Contemporary, Design Museum, London


2010

Barber Osgerby Open Studio, London Design Festival


2011

Designs of the Year, Design Museum, London

Ascent, Haunch of Venison Gallery, London


2012

Designs of the Year, Design Museum, London


2014

Designs of the Year, Design Museum, London


Timeline of Awards

1998

ICFF Editors Award: Best New Designer


2000

FX/Blueprint Design Awards: Best Furniture — Hula Stool


2001

Victoria & Albert Museum Design Awards — Home table


2003

FX Design Awards: Best Furnishing/Accessory — Stella McCartney ceramic tile

FX Design Awards: Product of the Year — Stella McCartney ceramic tile

Design Week Award: Best Furniture Design — Stencil Screen

ID Magazine Design Awards — Stella McCartney ceramic tile


2004

ADI Compasso d'Oro Nomination

Jerwood Prize for Applied Arts

Design Week Awards: Best Furniture Design


2005

FX: Best Furniture for Leisure Environments — Zero-In

Blueprint Magazine: Furniture Designer of Year


2006

Red Dot Award: Best Product — Zero-In

Design Basel/Miami: Jointly named Designers of the Future with Established & Sons

Homes & Gardens Classic Design Awards — Zero-In


2007

Royal Designers for Industry

Elle Decoration Magazine: Best seating — Panoramic

Elle Decoration Magazine: Designer of the Year

Blueprint Magazine: Best Interior Product — Glove Chair


2008

Wallpaper*: Best domestic Product — Bottle Table

Design Museum Brit Insurance Designs of the Year: Furniture Award [Shortlisted] — Saturn Coat Stand, Product Award [Shortlisted] — Tab Light


2009

Wallpaper*: Best Floor Lamp — Tab


2010

GOOD DESIGN Award: Tab LED

Design Week Awards: Best Exhibition Design [Shortlisted] — Sony Installation

FX Design Awards: Best Museum/Exhibition Space Finalist — Sony Installation

FX Design Awards: Best Retail Design — H&M


2011

Design Museum Brit Insurance Designs of the Year: Product Award [Shortlisted] — Sony Installation

Barber Osgerby are appointed by The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to design of the London 2012 Olympic Torch

FX Design Awards: Product of the Year 2011 — Tip Ton chair


2012

Design Museum Designs of the Year: Furniture Award [Shortlisted] — Tip Ton

Design Museum Designs of the Year: Product Award [Shortlisted] — Ascent

Barber Osgerby are awarded Designs of the Year 2012 for the London 2012 Olympic Torch


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Permanent Collections

Loop Table, Isokon — Permanent Collection at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Loop Shelf, Isokon — Permanent Collection at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Flight Stool, Isokon — Permanent Collection at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

De La Warr Pavilion Chair, Established & Sons — Permanent Collection at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Loop Table, archival sketches and model — Permanent Collection at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Pantone Flight Stool — Permanent Collection at Design Museum, London

De La Warr Pavilion Chair, Established & Sons — Permanent Collection at Chicago Institute of Art

Tab Lamp, FLOS — Permanent Collection at Chicago Institute of Art

In the Making

See the touring exhibition

Unveiling the beauty of the unfinished object, the exhibition curated by award-winning British designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby captures 24 objects mid-manufacture.

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