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Colin Bisset

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Presenting the explorer of the iconic, Colin Bisset.

A serial clarifier, Colin condenses the wonders of physical icons around the globe in lively, poetic and educational 3-5 minute capsules on the weekend Blueprint for Living. One of my all-time favorite segments from Australian National Radio’s considerable program, Colin’s features continue to surprise and take unexpected turns.

Key Links
Less is more
The curse of open plan
Formidable Firminy
The fussy librarian
Learning from La Tourette
Waste not, want not
Who needs architecture?
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Iconic Designs


Latest Recommended Listening

The Great Bed of Ware – The Great Bed of Ware was intended to wow. And who among us doesn’t feel excited by the prospect of sleeping in any four-poster bed, even one that is half the width?

The Match – It’s hard to imagine how revolutionary the arrival of the match was. Now we can’t imagine life without them.

The Confucius mansion, Qufu – Standing next to the huge Confucius temple, one of the largest in China, the Confucius Mansion is as interesting for its design as its history. Like the temple, the original structure was built in the 400sBC but was replaced and extended over the centuries so that it came to cover seven hectares and include 170 separate buildings, many of which survive.

White picket fence – The plain wooden fence has been around for much longer, of course, but who decided to make something prettier?

La Tourette convent – You may not expect beauty in these brutalist marvels but at La Tourette beauty is bountiful in every purposeful step.

Albi Cathedral – The cathedral was pillaged during the French Revolution and fell into disrepair until renovated by France’s great restorer,Viollet-le-Duc, in the late 19th century, who not only strengthened the roof but added a fanciful balustrade around its top as well as some pointy little towers. It was like putting a gorilla in a dress and thankfully they have since been removed.

Slippers – There’s surely no better icon of comfort than a pair of slippers. And yet the phrase ‘pipe and slippers’ is often used to describe someone who wants only to sit at home and lead a quiet life. The pipe is now long-gone but what of the slipper? Is it, in fact, an icon of dullness and stay-at-home resignation?

Iconic Designs: The Lazy Susan – Whoever Susan was, I’m sure she didn’t appreciate being called lazy. Especially when the device named the Lazy Susan does such a fine job of ensuring everyone gets a decent stab at the dishes on offer.

Iconic Designs: the retractable tape measure – It wasn’t until the 1860s, in America, that the spring-loaded tape measure arrived. Two men were responsible. The first was William Bangs in 1864 who patented the idea of a metal tape with a spring at its centre, which meant it would retract automatically once you’d finished using it. This was further refined by Alvin Fellows in 1869, who added the means of locking the tape measure into place using a sliding button on the side of the case.

Iconic designs: the magician’s wand – Of course we know that a wand isn’t magical but still, when someone produces one, we know instantly what it’s supposed to do.

Iconic Designs: the handkerchief – The word kerchief is derived from a Middle English word for a head cover. Carrying a cloth of some sort, for head protection or just to wrap your belongings in, has been normal since weaving began.

Iconic Designs: the world’s first municipal park – We often take the parks in our towns and cities for granted. The world’s first municipal park opened in 1847, at Birkenhead in the north of England, across the river Mersey from Liverpool.

Iconic Designs: the bowler hat – What a peculiar thing a bowler hat is. How can something so perfectly ordinary stand for so much? It started out in a perfectly normal way.

Iconic Designs: SS Great Britain – The SS Great Britain was not only the world’s first iron-hulled ocean-going passenger ship, but it also used a screw propeller, at a time when other steamships used rotating paddles. With six masts for sails, this use of both steam and wind power could halve the time taken to cross the Atlantic. It was a kind of greatest hits of the Industrial Revolution, all wrapped up in a single vessel.

Iconic Designs: microwave oven – An icon of efficiency that combines the magic of physics and an embrace of domestic laziness.

Iconic Designs: the Etch-a-Sketch – A magic screen with limitless possibility that every child in 1960 had to have.

Iconic Designs: Fagus Factory – This is a building of huge importance and yet, to see it today, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Doesn’t it look just like any other factory of, say, the 1950s? Except, of course, it was completed in 1911.

Iconic designs: Espaces d’Abraxas – The development’s muted colour palette, from grey to pale pink, gives it a mysterious air, a fantasy bastion with a filmset quality; which is why it was used in films like The Hunger Games and Terry Gilliam’s dystopian Brazil.

Iconic designs: the allen key – Many people, however, curse everything that the Allen key symbolises – the lost weekends, the indignity of buying furniture that starts life fragmented in a box, everything machine-made with only a veneer of craft implied.

Iconic designs: The Lehel Market – Lehel market hall certainly tricks the eye but what might seem chaotic at first glance begins to make sense when you examine each of its parts. (Budapest)

Iconic Designs: the Butterfly Chair – Where many chairs of the modernist period had a kind of perching quality – smart to look at, uncomfortable to sit on – the Butterfly chair aimed for something friendlier.

Iconic Designs: The Heidi Weber museum, Zurich – An arresting steel and glass pavilion in leafy Zurich that stands as a testament to the power of a passionate vision.

Iconic Designs: Tea Bag – In our fast-food, one-cup world, who among us doesn’t give thanks for the ease that the humble teabag brings to daily life?

Iconic Designs: The Rex Vegetable Peeler  – A well-designed kitchen tool that honours the art of cooking as well as the humble potato.

Icon of a Nation: Corrugated iron – Corrugated iron is as Australian as gum trees. It’s part of our vernacular. So how did that happen?

Icon of domestic shenanigans: The Singer sewing machineIcon of Engineering: Clifton Suspension Bridge – A breathtaking structure in a dramatic setting tells the story of the evolution of bridge engineering.

Icons of heritage: Hindustan Ambassador – An icon of multilayered multi culturalism and resilience, with just a touch of old-world luxury.

Icons of Celebration: Champagne – Who can argue with something that represents an entire cosmos in a glass?
Icons of speed: spaceship – We may be blasé about satellites and space stations circling our planet, and even drones in our skies, but has the spaceship craze ended?

Icons of grandeur: the chandelier – Colin Bisset asks who among us isn’t secretly a little enchanted by the sight of a chandelier suspended over a dining table?

Icons of Health: The Therme Vals – The architect who transformed the health spa and turned wellbeing into an artform.

Icons of colour: Majorelle Garden – Think artists and gardens and your mind might go to Monet’s famous garden at Giverny, but there may be another contender.

Icons of colour: Sonia Delaunay – Sonia Delaunay’s love of colour was so strong she founded an art movement.

Iconic designs: Moka espresso maker – Along with the Ferrari and Vespa, the Bialetti Moka stovetop espresso maker is instantly identifiable as an Italian design classic.

Blueprint for living

Icons of Duality: Ponte Vecchio – A powerful and very pretty symbol of wealth and resilience.

Icons of the Spectacular
Icons of the Spectacular: The Crown – A symbol of power, responsibility and a mark of the link between heaven and earth itself.

Ballets Russes – An icon of creative culture that left a trail of unforgettable music and design.

American National Parks and the rise of parkitecture – Architecture informed by rather than imposed on the natural landscape produced some of the 20th century’s most picturesque buildings

Icons of Health
The Therme Vals
The Capsule

Iconic Designs
Iconic Designs: the Statue of Liberty
A classical emblem of a new society, free from the shackles of the Old World.

Iconic Designs: Tiffin container
The Tiffin container remains an icon of Indian efficiency and organisational design.

Design Icons: Geoffrey Bawa
The evolution of Tropical Modernism.

Iconic Designs: the Tatra Car
The story behind the little-known inspiration for the VW Beetle.

Design icons: the thong
The story behind the unofficial star of Australia’s national costume.

Iconic Designs: Boeing 747
Colin Bisset looks upwards to the Queen of the Skies.

Iconic Buildings
Guggenheim Bilbao
Tolou, Fujian province
Rotterdam Market Hall
Sirius BuildingWhy Sydney’s Sirius building is worth saving
Twisting Torso, Malmo

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