‘Caught between Many Worlds: the British Site at Expo ‘58’ in Rika Devos & Mil De Kooning (eds). The Architecture of Expo 58, Dexia/Mercatorfonds, 2006.
My chapter in this major publication commemorating the Brussels Expo ’58 focused on the British Government’s Pavilion and site conceived and designed by James Gardner. It was one of 12 commissioned contributions by leading architectural and design historians that sought to redress the conventional emphasis on the US and Russian Pavilions as barometers of Cold War cultural politics. Expo '58, the first post-war World’s Fair, actually involved the participation of 52 countries, 150 pavilions and over 41 million visitors. Although most of the chapters in the book emphasised architectural content, I was encouraged by the editors to consider the British position from a wider perspective that involved not only the design and construction of the Government Pavilion and site, but also acknowledged the fact that all of the key figures involved in the British displays at Brussels were well versed in large-scale exhibition and architectural design, having been involved previously in the 1951 'Festival of Britain' displays on the South Bank in London. These included Cecil Cook, Director of Exhibitions at the Central Office of Information; Howard Lobb of Howard V Lobb & Partners, architects of the 1958 British Government Pavilion; John Ratcliff, Lobb’s architectural partner at Brussels, and, most significantly, James Gardner the key figure of the British contribution of 1958. The latter had been a major contributor to the 1951 Festival, and before that the Chief Designer for the Council of Industrial Design-initiated 'Britain Can Make It' Exhibition of 1946 and 'Enterprise Scotland' in 1947. In my chapter I argued: "by the time of Expo 58 Britain had in many ways politically and economically turned its back on Europe, a position reinforced by her unwillingness to accede to the Treaty of Rome of 1957 that had marked the beginning of the European Common Market. Britain’s ambivalence between her recognition of the need to compete internationally in scientific, engineering and industrial terms and her strong attachment to the world role that she had played on a number of fronts for several centuries until the Second World War was echoed in the architecture and displays on the official British site at Brussels. Her national ambitions were caught between the worlds of heritage, as represented in the Hall of Tradition, of scientific innovation, as displayed in the Hall of Technology, and of economics and industrial competitiveness, as represented architecturally by the more contemporary character of the glass-fronted British Industries Pavilion."
For many years I have been concerned with research into design and national projection in Britain from a number of different perspectives: in the context of the second half of the nineteenth century I wrote 'Design, Industry and Propaganda: British Exhibition Policy at Home and Abroad in the Nineteenth Century' for M Ganci, M & M Giuffrè (eds), Dall’Artigianito all’Industria: L’Esposizione Nazionale di Palermo del 1891-92, Palermo: Società Siciliana per la Storia Patria (1994), which was developed from an invited paper delivered at the International Conference in Sicily commemorating the centenary of the Palermo National Exhibition of 1991. I have also examined national projection from imperial perspectives, in interest stretching back as far as an early publication entitled ‘Design and Empire: British Design in the 1920s’ (Art History, June, 1980). But the clash between modernity and tradition, very much to the fore at Brussels '58, has also been a theme underpinning many papers I have given over the past fifteen years. These included ‘History, Heritage and Sportsmanship: British Design and National projection between the Wars’ at the 'Trading on Design' annual conference of the Design History Society, Manchester Metropolitan University, 1992, 'Good Design Propaganda versus Proto-Heritage Industry: British Design Policy and Identity in the Reconstruction Period' at the 'Design and Reconstruction in post-war Europe, 1945-1960' Conference, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1994, and 'Britishness in Design, Material Culture and Popular Artefacts', at the Renvall Institute, University of Helsinki, the University of Auckland and the University of Turku in 2004. (The latter has been further researched and developed as a chapter in Alan Tomlinson & Jonathan M Woodham (eds), Image, Power and Space: Studies in Consumption & Identity, Meyer & Meyer, Aachen and Oxford, 2007). Amongst other relevant research papers have been a number devoted to the idea of national branding, including 'Rebranding Britain - A Millennial Mirage' at the Design History Society Annual Conference, Huddersfield, 1998, 'Brand Mania: from Nation to Education', at 'Brand New' Conference at the V&A, London, 2000, and a keynote on 'Nation as Product? New Britain and Branding' at the international 'Is Everything a Product?' symposium relating to the theme 'What If….?' at the Moderne Museet, Stockholm, 2000.
Also highly significant in furthering my understanding of the Gardner’s work and outlook was the deposit of the James Gardner Archive at the University of Brighton’s Design Archives. The archive consists of works on paper that describe individual design projects together with business correspondence and private papers. Original plans and drawings relate to major overseas exhibition projects, among them, the World's Fair, Brussels (1958). This was of considerable help for a commissioned entry on Gardner for the New Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004), as was the Design Council Archive, also in the Brighton Design Archives. In addition to papers lodged in the National Archive at Kew that contain much relevant material on the British display at Brussels I also made use of the archives of Felix J Samuely & Partners, engineers of the British Pavilion, still a working company based in London.