By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

BOOK

REVIEW

Czech Inspiration By Jan Kaplicky and Ivan Margolius. Fraktály Publishers, 2005. £9.90 Sketches By Jan Kaplicky.Alba Design Press, 2005. £25.90

Perhaps it takes a little distance and the passage of time to see things more clearly. In the case of Czech architect émigrés Jan Kaplicky and Ivan Margolius, absence from their homeland has given them an ideal vantage point from which to select images of Czech design, creativity and invention for Czech Inspiration - a gem of an album, a pocketbook gallery.

Ranging from prehistory to the present; their choice is both catholic and quirky, with some real surprises for an Anglo audience.

Alongside the more familiar Czech design icons, such as the apartments and stores from the 1930s that stand comparison with the best of European Modernism, can be found a patent drawing for what is demurely described as a breast support (1893) or the poster for Jirí Menzel's Closely Observed Trains (1966). The humble sugar cube of 1841 - a Czech first - is partnered by a Skoda howitzer and the skeleton of the exhibition hall of Hiroshima, designed by Jan Letzel and Výstavní Hala.

Gliders, photo collages and clutch pencils jostle each other in this emporium of images.

All the artefacts shown here bear a date, yet many defy their chronology. While Jarmila Friedrichová's radio set of 1933 would not be out of place as a modern must-have, a Cezeta scooter from 1959 seems caught in a design time warp, middleaged compared to the elegance of the Czech 30s. Nothing is quite as it seems, and those looking for a distinct Czech design gene can do no better than scan these images as a starting point.

Further puzzles and possible clues abound in the pages of Sketches, a harvest of drawings by the co-founder of Future Systems, from childhood aeroplanes to 'childlike' images as the prelude to real buildings.

Many of Kaplicky's floating images are immediately recognisable as the seeds of built projects. The Lord's Media Centre surfaces as an in-flight doodle en route to Prague - the elevated pod, the spectator stands, and a cluster of aerials - but then you turn back to find echoes of these forms in his capsule house sketches from the 1960s.

What fascinates in the presentation of Sketches is the wry juxtaposition of images page by page, no doubt intentional; same graphic style, same simple annotation, but so different in scale and scope.

Swirling concept sketches for a department store, the first inklings of Future Systems' Birmingham Selfridges, or another for the twisted office tower in New York, yield to Kaplicky's very festive takes on a champagne bucket or a design for a high-stepping pair of ladies' shoes which would do credit to fellow countryman Manolo Blahnik.

And this is not a sanitised art album. The drawings have the gawkiness of Edward Lear's menagerie: all blobs, spidery scrawls and crayon bursts en route to becoming a building - or, in one case, a bikini.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters