May 15, 2010 12:30 am

Plastic Dreams

Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design, by Charlotte and Peter Fiell, Fiell Publishing, £24.95

We are surrounded by plastic in our homes, barely noticing it. Yet its influence on our lives is unparalleled, as this 288-page hardback – Fiell Publishing’s debut – reveals.

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As leading authorities on 20th and 21st century design, the Fiells are well-placed to contextualise plastic’s history and its impact on design. Their introduction charts the material’s development from mid-19th century phenolic resins to today’s advanced technopolymers in an engaging story that is as much about social change as progress in design-led manufacturing and technology. Sustainability, however, is an issue that dogs any synthetic material and the Fiells warn that “mindless quantity must give way to thoughtful quality”.

The core 240 pages celebrate landmark designs in plastic from 1925 to 2009. Authoritative, yet accessibly written, the text is accompanied by crisp images of key products ranging from a Bakelite telephone to the Cosmic Leaf suspension light, designed by Ross Lovegrove for Artemide in polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).

Jonathan Ive’s Imac computer (1997) and Konstantin Grcic’s Myto chair (2007) are highlighted as significant breakthroughs in design and manufacturing. Meanwhile a four-page glossary of materials and processes is handy for anyone keen to differentiate their polyurethanes from their polypropylenes.

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