Science may trigger unwelcome school memories of frustration at failing to grasp its basic laws. But many of us still fondly remember the story of Archimedes yelling ‘Eureka!’ in his bath on discovering that the volume of his body equalled that of the water it displaced. And, as I discovered the other day, a new exhibition displaying the first drawings of 20 of the world’s most life-changing inventions (not all of them science-based) proves that science and engineering can be both enlightening and entertaining.
Star Wars Stormtrooper, 1976
Cleverly displayed on Samsung Galaxy Note 4 tablets, the drawings are on show at digital communications company O2’s Eureka! Gallery at The Proud Archivist café in Haggerston, north London. Appropriately, this ultra-hip café itself fosters experimentation, offering such events as mixology lessons and what it intriguingly calls ‘creative breakfasts’!
The show has been jointly organised by Mark Champkins, Inventor in Residence at London’s Science Museum, and O2. ‘We wanted to show that breakthrough moments start from humble beginnings and how a simple sketch can have a real impact on people’s lives,’ explains Champkins.
Eiffel Tower, 1887
The pioneering inventions range from Robert Stephenson’s 1829 Rocket steam locomotive to — hurrah! — the Anglepoise® Original1227™ lamp. One of the show’s more fascinating insights is that lateral thinking often spawns innovation: although a car designer, George Carwardine adapted his ‘constant tension’ springs to create the gracefully articulated Original1227™ lamp of 1935. Fast-forward to the 70s, and George Lucas’s initial inspiration for the Stormtroopers’ costume in his 1977 movie Star Wars was, apparently, an image of a Vietnamese soldier — another leap of the imagination.
Brompton Bicycle, 1975
The Original1227™ lamp is in excellent company: other brainwaves include Charles Babbage’s 1832 Difference Engine No 1 (the world’s first computer) and a page from Einstein’s general theory of relativity, published in 1916.
I was struck by something else: the staggeringly precise technical drawings here are not dry renditions of objects but beautifully delicate and aesthetically pleasing in their own right. Here indeed is a show that shows science in a different light.
Gensler Shanghi Tower, 2014
The exhibition, at The Proud Archivist, 2-10 Hertford Road, London N1, runs until December 7, 2014. Open 9am -6pm, seven days a week. www.theproudarchivist.co.uk.
Top Image: Patent for Anglepoise® Original1227™ Lamp, 1935
Words: Dominic Lutyens, arts writer for the FT and Elle Decoration. Books include 70s Style & Design and Living with Mid-Century Collectibles.