natIOnaL liBRArY


This Lecture consisted in a visit to the enormous British library in London, near Kings Cross station. Approaching this building a sense of mighty and at the same time littleness leads you through the building to the entrance, which is inside an inner open space, like a garden or a square within the edifice. The stylistic touch and refinement of the unique and peculiar architecture make it jump of from the almost seamless European influenced and based landscape of London, its lines, shapes, bricks, glass, roofs, walls, ledge, cornice, column and colors makes you wonder whether you’ll have to commit yourself to pretend to speak Russian inside the building. Inside is a massive atrium with endless spaces and very high sealing to reveal the audience this mighty, mighty of architecture but at the same time the majesty and magnificence of knowledge. Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge itself is power”.  The term “Big Brain” used by Alan Power and Mark Ingam is just appropriate for this great institution that within its huge spaces contains all, and let me repeat it, all the publication ever been published in England from book to magazine, periodical, journal, pamphlet, manuscripts, maps, prints, drawing and basically any publication printed. It hosts over 150 million items with over 3 million item added every year with an estimated 16.000 daily users; all this figure are just so impressive reinforcing the magnificence of this institution.

The “Evolving English” is a free exhibition that takes you in an inspiring historical journey to discover the way in which English has born and made its voyage to get to the formal structure so familiar to us. English is nowadays spoken by approximately 375 million people spread over the globe with an other astonishing 100 million Chinese student learning it daily at school, but how many of us has ever asked him self how has this language evolved? What has it gone through? What were the influences that lead to this leading way to communicate globally and how has it become the language of science and technology?

English is a Germanic language with strong influence of Latin, as well as some trace of Celtic and French. The growth of English can be marked with 3 different eras: the old English which was a profusion of different dialect deriving from the many different settlers such as the Anglo-Saxon (Germans), Viking and Celtics. Then old English was deeply transformed by the German and French invasion throughout the Middle Ages establishing French in the aristocrat’s courts while Latin was the lingua franca. From 1550 with the colonialism and the extremely fast grow of England commerce the modern English finally came to life spreading throughout the world and imposing its hegemony over indigenous languages.

From a Graphic Design point of view particularly interesting was all the section related to hand writing book prior to the Gutenberg’s invention of the letterpress dated 1440, before that the spread of knowledge through mainly the noble and clergy was all entrusted into the scribe’s hand and refined calligraphy. Outstanding precision, aesthetically inspiring with all the little inevitable mistakes.

The design practice of poster has always inspired me since you have this extraordinary tool in your hand, within the canvas so much can be said and interpreted. All the first half of the 19th century propaganda and political campaign where based on poster from artists initially and graphic designers later. In this respect the collection of the British Library is great in number and quality between which there is also the famous Riot Act poster.

Another important impression on me as been made by the number of fantastic maps of the world, and even more awe-inspiring was to see how this map have evolved through history with the colonial expansion and sealing technical improvements.It’s just amazing how everything we daily give for granted is the result of centuries of uncertainty and unknown with man that have devolved their whole life for the humanity’s illumination, in this case maps.

A note must be made to the amazing collection of foreign books where you could see the different evolutional paths that each region of the globe has undertaken in order to communicate. Different scripts, strokes, paper quality, formats, techniques and habits intended for the same common goal, communication.

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