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Hooked on classics.


London: Phaidon. 2006. [pounds sterling]100

Here is another of Phaidon's astonishing blockbusters, the kind of book that makes one gasp and stretch one's eyes. This one is a directory of international 'design classics': almost a thousand pieces of industrial and domestic design, each with illustrations and a short text, spread over three volumes resembling a set of thick Yellow Pages telephone directories. It is a remarkable achievement full of surprises (the familiar egg carton appeared only in the mid 1960s, apparently) and it will be greatly valued by all manner of people anywhere in the world from set designers to advertisers as well as the more obvious audience of furniture designers, writers, and architects.

So huge and provocative a project--good value, in fact, for [pounds sterling]100--is not without its problems and there are some oddities here, possibly because readers in different countries will have varying ideas about what constitutes a classic. The Bauhaus chess set is in; the familiar Staunton set, standardised the same year, is not. We have an American locomotive but none of Nigel Gresley's; nor is the Inter City 125 train here. In fact there is nothing at all by Kenneth Grange, who designed it: no Kenwood mixer, no Parker 25, no parking meter. Surprising, considering that his sometime partner Alan Fletcher art directed the book. There is on the other hand a great deal of work by Marc Newson and Jasper Morrison which has not yet stood the test of time. The texts, which vary in format to match the object concerned, are somewhat variable in content too; that on DYMO tape, for example, has big ideas and is amusingly printed in the form of letters printed with a DYMO machine, but tells you nothing about the designer or manufacturer.

These are small points, all things considered. The simple fact that so many products are arranged chronologically and clearly illustrated means that you can quickly get a useful sense of what else was going on when a particular item first appeared, an unprecedented facility. Phaidon has again set a very high standard in the generally unadventurous world of British art book publishing.
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Title Annotation:Phaidon Design Classics
Author:Brittain-Catlin, Timothy
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Previous Article:Joining in.
Next Article:Chunking the future.

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