Designing the Festival of Britain, 1951

In her new book The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People, Harriet Atkinson examines the role that this series of country-wide events in 1951 had on shaping the post-war landscape, and how much of it was achieved by architects and designers

Page from ‘A Specimen of Display Letters designed for the Festival of Britain 1951’, designed for the Typographical Panel of the Festival of Britain 1951 for distribution to architects and designers, particularly for the titling of buildings and laid out in Egyptian type cut by Figgins, Thorne and Austin, 1815-25. (© University of Brighton Design Archives)

In her new book The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People, Harriet Atkinson examines the role that this series of country-wide events in 1951 had on shaping the post-war landscape, and how much of it was achieved by architects and designers…

Festival Guide-Catalogue covers designed by Abram Games and published by HMSO

The new book includes images sourced from the University of Brighton Design Archives and the publishers, IB Tauris, recently posted a selection of printed maps, guides, signage and photographs which were used during the Festival. With its centrepiece at the South Bank in London, the fact the the Festival was a national experience, with events and exhibitions up and down the country, is often overlooked.

A ‘constellation of events’ across the nation. Map drawn by Eric Fraser showing nationwide Festival events, including exhibitions and arts festivals

Atkinson’s book addresses this issue, examining the different sites for the Festival, from the exhibition of architecture at Poplar, east London, to the exhibition of industrial power in Glasgow, via the various land and sea-travelling shows which appeared in cities and towns such as Bath, Norwich, Llanwrst, Dumfries and Inverness.

Plan of Exhibition of Industrial Power, Kelvin Hall, Glasgow

“The festival was a showcase of Britain’s finest architecture, technology, design, fashion, science, arts, manufacturing and creative industries to convince the war-ravaged nation that the future was not so bleak and that they were entering the age of modernity,” say the publishers. “Indeed, the festival was the last great British propaganda exhibition; by the end of the 1950s the majority of people would have access to a television and this, alongside radio, would become the ubiquitous medium for mass communication in Britain.”

Page from ‘Festival of Britain: The Use of Standardized Lettering in Street and Transport Signs; laid out in Gill Bold Condensed. (© University of Brighton Design Archives)

More details on The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People (£17.99) are at ibtauris.com. The blog post for the book is at theibtaurisblog.com (all caption information is taken from the post).

Page from ‘A Specimen of Display Letters designed for the Festival of Briain 1951’. (© University of Brighton Design Archives)

Magnified version of Michael Ayrton’s painting, ‘The Four Elements’, fitted into the bow of a ship, Shipbuilding section, the Glasgow Exhibition of Heavy Industry. Enlarged 600 times, Festival literature claimed it was the ‘world’s largest photograph’. (© University of Brighton Design Archives)

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