A story of passion - Celebrating 70 years of Penguin Classics at Skandium with Isokon Plus

On 26 May 2016, Penguin Classics celebrate its 70th anniversary with a new format and look for its books, launching a jewel-like return to colour after decades of black. Joining us in the celebration is Isokon Plus, the London maker of the Isokon Penguin Donkeys, a design classic that dates back to the 1930s, just like Penguin Books. But what links Penguin Books founder Allen Lane with Hampstead’s iconic 1930s Isokon building, the Grade I listed penguin pool at London Zoo by Berthold Lubetkin and the Penguin logo? And what links Isokon with Skandium, the Isokon Penguin Donkey and the re-launch of Penguin Classics?

The founder of Penguin Books - Allen Lane - was in a circle of influential 1930s artists and thinkers who congregated at the Marcel Breuer designed Isobar at the Isokon Building. They included luminaries such the Isokon founder Jack Pritchard, London Zoo director Sir Julian Huxley and architect Berthold Lubetkin, the creator of the penguin pool at the zoo, where Allen Lane sent a young designer to sketch the penguin who was immortalised as the Penguin logo. In 2014, the architect John Allan - restorer of the Isokon building and official biographer of penguin pool architect Berthold Lubetkin - and Magnus Englund - resident of the Isokon building and co-founder of Skandium – created the Isokon Gallery, a permanent museum about Isokon. Both are passionate about Modernist design and architecture, including the most cherished Isokon design, the Isokon Penguin Donkey, a bookcase that was designed by Egon Riss in 1939 for the original A-format Penguin paperback. Isokon Plus in London makes the Donkeys since 1982. [caption id="attachment_3125" align="alignleft" width="600"]

Penguin Donkey 1[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3126" align="alignleft" width="600"]

Penguin Donkey 2[/caption] In short, it’s a story of passion and partnership between Skandium, Isokon Plus and Penguin Classics – drawing on our shared 1930s Modernist legacy to celebrate the future of Penguin Classics and historic designs in a digital age. To honour this partnership at Skandium on the 26th May, Jim Stoddart, Penguin’s art director and creator of the new Penguin Classics cover will be in conversation with Max Fraser of the London Design Festival to discuss 'What makes a classic' be it in any discipline. To join us on the 26th May, 6.30 - 8.30pm at our Brompton road store for the launch; rsvp to kate@skandium.com and more information can be found on our events page.

About the Penguin Donkey and Isokon designs

Isokon was founded in 1932 to design and construct modernist houses and flats, furniture and fittings, headed by Jack Pritchard and his wife Molly, as well as the architect Wells Coates. Their first building was the Lawn Road Flats in Belsize Park, north London, completed in 1934 and designed by Coates. After a fall-out between Coates and Pritchard, they parted company, but the Pritchard’s continued with the furniture manufacturing. In 1935, Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, became Controller of Design for Isokon. Gropius had arrived in England in October 1934 and lived at No. 15 Lawn Road Flats until March 1937, when he and his wife Ise left for Harvard University in the USA. Before he left, Gropius recommended Marcel Breuer, a former colleague at the Bauhaus and fellow Lawn Road Flats resident, as his replacement. The furniture Breuer designed for Isokon are highly influential pieces of the Modern Movement, including the famous Long Chair. After Breuer had followed Gropius to the USA, Austrian émigré Egon Riss designed the Penguin Donkey for Isokon, made to fit this new format of affordable books. The end of Isokon came with World War II, with the supply of plywood from the Baltics cut off. The Isokon Furniture Company ceased production in 1939. Jack Pritchard revived Isokon in 1963. Changes in the making of plywood meant a redesign of some key pieces, for which Pritchard hired Ernest Race, including an updated version of the Donkey. In 1968, Pritchard licensed John Alan Designs to produce the Long Chair, Nesting Tables and the Penguin Donkey mark II, which the company did until 1980, when production again ceased. In 1982, Chris McCourt of Windmill Furniture met with Jack Pritchard and took over the license to manufacture Isokon furniture. In 1996, new additions were added to the Isokon collection by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, recent graduates from the Royal College of Art, when they designed their first piece of furniture, the Loop Table. This iconic Barber & Osgerby bent plywood design was to be the first of several furniture pieces that the designers created for Isokon Plus, as the company is nowadays known. [caption id="attachment_3129" align="alignleft" width="600"]

Loop Coffee Table[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3124" align="alignleft" width="600"]

Penguin Donkey 3[/caption]   Alongside new designs and designers, the appeal of the Isokon Penguin Donkey remains strong. Renowned designers Shin & Tomoko Azumi created a third re-imagination of the design in 2003. All three will be on display in Skandium’s Brompton Road store from 25th May, together with the newly re-launched Isokon Bottleship by Ernest Race from 1963.  [caption id="attachment_3127" align="alignleft" width="600"]

Bottleship[/caption] ---- We're a proud supporter of the London based manufacturer Isokon Plus, with their products sold throughout our stores, and with the manufacturer also producing some items from our in-house Studio Skandium range.