Friday, 26 March 2010

Ron Arad at the Barbican Centre

Yesterday I went to the Ron Arad exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London. Arad is an Israel born, London based, architect and product designer, although at times it would seem fair to refer to him as an artist too (similarities to the work of artists like Anish Kapoor spring to mind). I was aware of Arad’s plastic ‘Tom Vac’ chair, of his curvilinear ‘Book Worm’ shelving system, and of his use of metal for seating and other furnishings, but this exhibition introduced me to many other aspects of his work, giving me a newfound, greater interest in the designer.

The exhibition is called ‘Ron Arad: Restless,’ probably in reference to the incredible fluidity and sense of movement possessed by a lot of Arad’s designs, many of which are in themselves miniature feats of engineering and construction. Arad works frequently with metal, yet his pieces often have an organic feel to them, along with underlying connotations of sensuality and sexuality thanks to the smooth, curvaceous forms, and the throbbing movements they make when set into motion (several of the moveable pieces, like the rocking chairs, were displayed with mechanical mechanisms to make them move). Arad really is a very talented and interesting designer.

These are a selection of the photos that I took (I apologise for the quality: I did not have a proper camera with me).

These metal chairs resemble geological formations, or molten volcanic rock:

USA shelving:

Reclining chair with an indented human shape to lie in, inspired by the work of Antony Gormley:

Rocking shelves:

GOD/WAR light:

The chair on the right is the 'inverse' of the chair on the left (and vice-versa):

Shots from some of the architecture videos:

The exhibition is on until 16th May 2010, and it really is worth visiting. For more information, click here. Click here for more Arad images, including a clearer picture of the amazing Y's Yohji Yamamoto store in Tokyo that he designed.


The Barbican Centre is an enormous, Brutalist style concrete complex in the heart of the City of London (the financial district), designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in the 1960s. It houses the largest performing arts centre in Europe, an art gallery (where the Ron Arad exhibition is on), and upscale residential apartments and houses. Unsurprisingly, the architecture is hated by many, but I think it’s just fantastic… I love the uncompromising harshness of it, the systemisation, and all the sharp straight lines. It’s an exercise in fairly avant-garde town planning too: cars are banished to lower levels, while pedestrians walk around on airy ‘high walks,’ elevated above street level, with lots of communal garden spaces.

Of course, I love it partly because it upsets so many people with ‘normal’ taste, and because it goes right against what we are told to believe is visually attractive. Architecturally speaking, it is uncharacteristically bold for Britain, and I love how it totally overturns the dull, nice-and-safe British ideal of some anonymous suburban home, complete with pretty garden and golden Labrador.

Even the decorative waterfall in the central lake has been reduced to some Brutal, utilitarian, great pipe!


  1. if you like your architecture brutal and concrete you should really pay a visit to Sheffield.

  2. I have been to Sheffield, and I have marvelled at the horrors/wonders of the Park Hill Estate...

    The thing about the Barbican is that it actually works & it is how Brutalist architecture should be: it is one of the few examples of Brutalist architecture in the UK that hasn't become associated with poverty and social problems (on the contrary, people pay up to about £2 million to live there).

    I totally understand why people who live in places like Park Hill hate it, but the problems are mostly down to poor management and wider economic/social issues.

    It would be very depressing if everything was in that style London we have a good mix

  3. i was recomended to take a trip round to the barbican but i never got round to it, my friend suggested i'd like it because it's quite different to the rest of the city. i share you opinion in it being harsh and intrusive, i love the pillars in the middle of the water. it's like a no frills Caribbean holiday resort.

    i'm really into furniture design currently so i'm liking some of the images here, esp the folding in together chairs. that usa map shelf thing is just fab too

  4. I really wish I could see this exhibition. Thanks for all the photos, it kind of makes up for it:)

    As for the Barbican, as an architect I really like the burtalist forms, but when it comes to urban design I think its a bit stark. The water features and planting do help a bit but the place often seems deserted and rather scary (I have only been there once). My sense is that the complex would not function well if it wasn't a high end residential complex. Its very difficult to keep something like that clean in the lower end market. Perhaps I should check it out on busier days, if there is such a thing :)

  5. the building's architecture is amazing! i especially loved the waterfall..