Double Screen EH9681, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In 1996 Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, invited me to design a gate for the front entrance to the V&A’s new ‘state of the art’ conservation building. After due consideration, instead of a gate for the entrance, it was decided that I should design a screen for the new staff restaurant. Gwyn Miles, Director of Special Projects at the V&A, initiated the design process.

All the wonderful objects in this marvellous museum make the task of designing any work which is to become a part of the structure of the building a very considerable undertaking. I based the drawing for the screen on an animated sketch I had once made for a brooch. The lines within the frame of the screen still retain a sense of movement, further emphasized as you walk past the screens into the restaurant. Conceived as a pair of huge drawings, the screens appear to stand unsupported on the wooden floor. In fact both have feet buried deep into the foundations of the building.

The letters and number EH9681 refer to the code given by the steel mill, at the point of manufacture, to the three by six metre steel plate from which the screens were made: the code has been retained as an identity and has become the name of the piece. In creating the double screen, the use of new technologies falls within a deliberate philosophy: the technologies provide a positive means of dating the work as late 20th century. A pencl drawing on graph paper was redrawn on computer, to be used as the template for all subsequent work. The cutting of the steel with computer-controlled water-jet meant the two parts could be manufactured without the slightest change from the original drawing: the cutting path exactly followed the template drawing file. Plate EH9681 was the largest piece of steel that had been cut by water-jet in the UK at that time – a cutting bed had to be specially built to accommodate the scale of the work.

The detail and the finish of the screens received the same care as the development of the overall concept. Two pairs of optical lenses, mounted within the structure, create a series of views and distortions. The interior of one pair contains a double frame of laser-cut steel, holding examples of black plastic, stone, paper, ceramic, glass, wood, fabric and metal – eight materials to celebrate the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘materials’ Galleries. In the centre of one pair of lenses is a delicate circular piece of steel, chemically milled, to create a minutely precise representation of the larger screen. The delicacy of this 0.05 mm sheet steel when compared to the 40 mm plate steel from which EH9681 was cut, is an interplay on scale and time and on particularly 20th century technologies.


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Double Screen EH9681, Victoria and Albert Museum London

Maquette for Double Screen EH9681, Victoria and Albert Museum London

Computer drawing for Double Screen EH9681, Victoria and Albert Museum London

Detail - Double Screen EH9681, Victoria and Albert Museum

Detail - Double Screen EH9681, Victoria and Albert Museum