Overlooked: the art of the humble manhole cover

We walk over them every day but do we ever stop and think how beautiful some of the manhole covers that dot our streets are? The latest Pentagram Paper celebrates this unlikely art form

Overlooked is the 45th Pentagram Paper, the self-published series shining a spotlight on quirky or vernacular design, produced by design studio Pentagram. In it, London partner Marina Willer wanted to “celebrate the gatekeepers” to the subterranean world beneath London’s streets – the street or ‘manhole’ cover.

Cover of Pentagram Paper Overlooked
Cover of Pentagram Paper Overlooked
Overlooked opening spread
Overlooked opening spread
Overlooked spread
Overlooked spread
Overlooked spread
Overlooked spread
Overlooked spread
Overlooked spread

Willer and her team took rubbings of various forms of this type of street furniture, from coal hole covers, to the cast iron discs covering access points to sewers, conduits and gas mains.

Creating the rubbings for Overlooked
Creating the rubbings for Overlooked
Printing Overlooked
Printing Overlooked
Printing Overlooked
Printing Overlooked

Their often intricate surface patterns are rendered in fluoro colours, reproduced as a series of life-size prints with the location and name of the foundry that produced them.

“Our hope is that this collection of street covers can serve as a reminder that a city’ beauty isn’t limited to art galleries or grand architecture, and that intricate design is everywhere,” say Pentagram.

The result is a lovely piece of print, which Pentagram will distribute to ‘friends’ and clients.

It’s not the first time the humble manhole cover has been celebrated in print, of course. In 2010, we wrote about Remo Camerota’s book on Japanese manhole covers here And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a notable collector

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