Visiting the Ken Stradling collection and choosing our catalysts for our projects.
My eyes were drawn to a small 1963’s book case on 4 legs, filled with orange book-spines.
The extraordinary story of this small piece of furniture took me on a journey through the world wars, revolution in book publishing, architecture and all the ambitious ideas of modernism.
The ISOKON manufactured and designed by Ernest Race in the 1963 – ISOKON PENGUIN DONKEY MARK 2, displayed within the Ken Stradling collection was the starting point for me.
The father of the original Penguin Donkey was Egon Riss. As a Bauhaus-educated architect from Vienna, relocated to the UK, he started to experiment with new exploration within plywood bending and its possibilities.
His purpose build piece of furniture was commissioned by then very new, but a very rapidly successful paperback publisher Penguin Books. They revolutionised the easy of consuming our books and made it available to masses; by having best classical and modern works of literature produced in small, portable and cheap paperback format.
The new purpose build holder needed to reflect the easy and new way of reading; the books being close, always available within an arm’s reach from a chair, compare to conventional storage of great library like bookshelves.
The Donkey was manufactured using thin birch plywood, which became unavailable due to the outbreak of the Second World War, and all the plywood was directed for war purposes.
With only 100 pieces manufactured, the production ceased to halt.
ISOKON tried to revive the forgotten and never manufactured in a larger scale design by commissioning Ernest Race to create a modern version of this highly functional piece of furniture. The form changing drastically, loosing its early modernist curves for cold and sharp minimalists angles. The top is flattened to serve another function, as a coffee/side table, but still keeping its middle gap for magazines and newspapers.
This object caught my interest most from the Ken Stradling collection because of its minimal, functional design, purpose built for another object, as well as the white neutral colours giving prominence to the bright colour sleeves and ideas of display and containment.
However, it is the original curvy design and the story surrounding it and its makers and processes that I want to expand on.
In 2003 The Donkey saw another redesign by Shin and Tomoko Azumi, bringing back the curves, but still keeping some of the right angles. I feel it’s a nice fusion of the two designs, bringing extra functionality by the side handles and completely closing the top to function as a small table.
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