April design news: synagogues, sheds, shirts and new studios for makers

Everyone needs their own space and this issue of design news features a number of projects that honour space in different ways. There are studio spaces on offer courtesy of a new award from Cockpit Arts and New Craftsmen gallery – two mainstays of the London craft community – for makers from underrepresented ethnic groups. The importance of a creative space is also recognised by charity Men’s Sheds Association, which creates community spaces where local people can gather and share skills. Finally, two museums show how commemorative space is important. London’s Museum of Home celebrates what makes us feel like we belong, Ukraine’s Babyn Yar Memorial Complex will become one of the world’s largest holocaust centres. Used in the right way, space can help us create, to celebrate and also to make sure we never forget.

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This month Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding celebrate a decade as womenswear label Palmer/Harding. They know all too well how hard a life in style can be: “To quote our good friend, the fashion director Caroline Issa, celebrating 10 years in this industry is like celebrating 35 in any other,” says Palmer. While you may feel unmoved by the fact that your pet cat could outlive the average British fashion brand, there are many women who would plead the case for Palmer/Harding.

The two designers – partners in life as well as business – set up shop with a simple but great idea: to rethink women’s shirts. The first designs were made from the single roll of white cotton poplin they could afford, but as their imaginative clothes found fans – including Michelle Obama, Olivia Colman and Billy Porter – Palmer/Harding showed just how beautifully a shirt can be reworked by draping, folding and slashing. In their hands, that boring old work staple becomes a work of art.

Of course, their customers can afford designer shirts, but their website also includes interviews with inspirational women such as Gabby Edlin, the founder of period poverty charity Bloody Good Period, human rights lawyer Alison Macdonald and women’s right activist Hera Hussain. They financially support domestic abuse charity Chayn. They also visit European factories that make their clothes each year to check on working conditions. “We feel privileged,” says Palmer, “by the opportunity provided to us through the seemingly simple idea of redesigning the shirt.”

University College London is funding six research projects to promote mental health and combat loneliness. One aim is to see if any are right for social prescribing – an NHS service which connects people with community groups to improve wellbeing. All are worthy endeavours – community gardening, online dance classes for young people, singing lessons for postnatal depression – but, as a study of how creative spaces heal the mind, the UK Men’s Sheds Association (UKMSA) is an interesting one to watch.

UKMSA research has found older men typically don’t have support networks and often find retirement difficult, feeling a loss of personal identity. The problem is so universal that the Sheds organisation, which started in Australia in 1993, is now international. There are over 600 Sheds in the UK.

Despite the name and stated focus, UKMSA is actually for all genders. Just to complicate things further, the creative spaces don’t have to be sheds either. Any community building or space will do, where members can pursue practical interests and learn how to make and mend. The emphasis is on building friendships and sharing skills in a community.

“Sheds are increasingly ‘gender-blind’,” says Dr Chris Manning, UKMSA ambassador, “which is the beginning of the end for stereotyping and other issues that lead to men not talking, or feeling able to talk, about how they feel.”

The aim of this year’s UCL study is to evaluate the impact of Sheds on social connections and wellbeing, to understand why they are such unique places, and to see if they are suitable for social prescription. “The Shed movement is growing as the NHS rolls out ‘social prescribing’,” says UKMSA chairman John Latchford. Sheds are near at hand and shaped by local people – let’s get on with it!”
Visit the UK Men’s Sheds Association for more information

The New Craftsmen is one of the UK’s most respected galleries for British craft and furniture, a Mayfair space that sees artisan skills as art. This respect for basketmakers, ceramicists and furniture makers also extends to talented makers who need help to become established. The gallery has teamed up with social enterprise Cockpit Arts to create an award specifically for people from ethnic groups currently underrepresented in the craft industry.

The award will provide three makers with studio space at Cockpit Arts, financial and practical support, and mentoring. The programme will span from 2021 to 2026. Applicants will be assessed on their skills, the ambition of their work and potential of their business plan. The selection panel will include Lola Lely, founder of Wax Atelier, Alexandria Dauley, interior designer and founder of United in Design, with Yelena Ford from The New Craftsmen and David Crump from Cockpit Arts. There will also be a steering group of gallerist Peter Ting, interior designer Simon Hamilton, and jewellery designer Disa Allsopp.

“Craft is all about individual expression,” says Ford. “Access to this sphere should not be hindered by ethnic heritage or any other factor. However, it’s clear that craft needs to do far more to support diversity and inclusion. We felt that action was needed – which means a long-term initiative committed to genuine change.”
Applications for The New Craftsmen Award are open until 28 May

In May, the east London Museum of the Home welcomes visitors back after extensive redevelopment. Formerly known as the Geffrye Museum, this terrace of 18th-century almshouses now has a new lower ground floor for galleries and a pavilion for events and lessons, which has a living roof. The evolution of our living spaces portrayed by the museum has been updated too. Historical set-pieces Rooms Through Time are back – but with the addition of a 1970s Front Room curated by British playwright, artist and curator Michael McMillan, representing the experience of migrant West Indian families from this era. There’s also a new Victorian parlour, set up for a seance. The first exhibition is by photographer Polly Braden and documents a year in the lives of women raising children as single parents. The new Home galleries will look at what home means on an emotional and psychological level, including ornaments from local homes and how our idea of comfort has changed through the ages. The new Museum of Home: everybody’s welcome.
The Museum of the Home reopens on 22 May

Now in its third year, the New Makers programme by homeware and clothing store Toast supports independent craftspeople as they try to grow their business. There’s production, marketing and design advice – as well as the chance to sell in Toast stores and online. This year’s five lucky makers include jewellery designers, sculptors and basket weavers. There are mobiles of salvaged wood by Corrie Williamson. Recycled metal pendants crafted by Durness-based Jodie Metcalfe. Julie Gurr is a willow weaver who creates sculptural baskets, and Aude Arago took up sculpture after 30 years as a dancer and now makes pots from lime and hemp. Kelsey Rose Dawson digs her own clay from the shores of lakes in her native Ontario for her craft. “At Toast, we place huge value on skilled craftsmanship and beautiful, functional design,” says Suzie de Rohan Willner, the company’s CEO. “It’s a privilege to support and reward emerging talent in the hope they will inspire others and become the creative leaders of the future.
Visit Toast to find out more about the New Makers programme

Creating a suitable memorial for a massacre is not a simple task. Some become successful, cultural emblems, some are beautiful and others technically innovative. The Babyn Yar Symbolic Synagogue in Ukraine is undeniably all three.

Inspired by a pop-up book, this movable structure, designed by German architect Manuel Herz, can be opened by a congregation from an 11m-tall frame to become a synagogue. The unfolding space includes the bimah (reading platform for the Torah), benches and a balcony. It’s made from old oak wood sourced from all over Ukraine, referencing the old wooden synagogues of the region. The ceiling is painted with icons and symbols which recreate the star constellation visible over Kyiv on the night of 29 September, 1941: the night of the Babyn Yar Massacre. During this attack, Nazis shot more than 34,000 Jews in the Babyn Yar ravine. Tens of thousands of other victims, including Ukrainians, Roma and the mentally ill, were also killed throughout the Nazi occupation of Kyiv.

The synagogue is the first building to be completed in the Babyn Yar memorial complex, which will become one of the world’s largest holocaust memorial centres. As film director Ilya Khrzhanovsky, the centre’s artistic director, says: “The last generation of witnesses is passing away. The direct connection of time will disappear, future generations will lose the opportunity to understand what happened 80 years ago. The Babyn Yar tragedy and the tragedy of the second world war fade into history and become an abstraction – our task is to avoid that.”

Spring is traditionally the time that the international watch fairs are held and new models launched. Earlier this month, Panerai showed a new design that isn’t just covetable but also a challenge to the industry: a watch made from almost entirely recycled material.

Watch companies have been working on their green credentials for a while now. On the one hand, buying an expensive watch is intrinsically sustainable (as the tagline goes: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”). On the other, the watch and jewellery industry uses around 50% of the world’s gold and 67% of its new-mined rough diamonds. The side effects are brutal: air and water pollution, destruction of ecosystems and havoc for oceans and forests.

So the Italian-owned, Swiss-based company has come up with watch made of 98.6% recycled material. Its Submersible eLAB-ID uses a recycled titanium alloy for its case, dial and bridges, recycled silicon for its movement and even recycled pigments for its luminous hands. Although the watch is only a concept (you can’t buy it, yet) it is being launched with a plea to other watch companies. “We will be very happy if all our competitors in Switzerland and around the world get in touch with the same suppliers to use the same materials,” Panerai’s CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué says. “We don’t want to be the only ones doing this. Being alone won’t save the world.”