Tom Karen’s designs brought freshness and dynamism to the 70’s in Britain | Design

meIf you happen to grew up within the ’70s in Britain, you lived in Tom Karen’s world. If you happen to have been a child, you most likely performed Karen’s wonderful Marble Run, which continues to be in manufacturing in the present day. If you happen to weren’t cruising the streets aboard a Raleigh Chopper, you would be the envy of the child who was. And you’ve got been ready for the day after they invented a spacecraft that hovered on Earth like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars (and doubtless nonetheless is). If I have been a bit older, I might need pushed the modern new Scimitar GTE, as Princess Anne did. Or, if I am a bit trickier, perhaps a three-wheeled Robin. Karen, who died on the age of 96had a hand in all of those and plenty of different merchandise.

That so a lot of Karen’s designs converse to her period isn’t any coincidence, however Karen wasn’t precisely all in favour of type or modernity. Educated as an aeronautical engineer, he was additionally very hands-on, however he understood that good design wasn’t only a matter of type and performance, but additionally of creativeness.

Take the chopper. Karen’s Ogle is approached by Raleigh’s advertising director Design in 1968 to create a bicycle particularly for kids, and Karen appeared to know precisely what his younger – and largely male – viewers wished: excessive handlebars and the L-shaped saddle of an Straightforward Rider chopper; a centrally mounted gear stick from a Seventies muscle automotive; Large rear wheel, like a drag racer, full with dummy springs and disc brakes. It was radical, quirky, and playful, however with its straight-tube body, the bike was additionally stylish-looking and functionally constructed. Raleigh has offered an estimated 1.5 million of them.

Rally helicopter in 1971.
Rally helicopter in 1971. Photograph: Invoice Zygmant/Rex Options

Grownup merchandise have been no totally different. The Scimitar GTE, inbuilt 1968, was under no circumstances a superior performer, however by way of ambition and post-war enjoyable, it definitely appeared the half, with its excessive, lofty contours and radical “hatchback”—improvements that might quickly develop into fixtures of automotive design. The three-wheeled, vivid orange Bond Bag capitalizes on the youthful poppy aesthetic of the Mini, but additionally in The way forward for science fiction for the designers of the 60s Archigram, with its fiberglass physique and lifting parachute. No marvel George Lucas turned to him to design the Star Wars Earth Racer (which was tailored from the Bond Bug).

The Bond Bug’s most enduring successor, Relant Robin, grew to become related to the naffer aspect of Seventies and Eighties Britain, although Karen resented the truth that the favored Trotters automobile from the sitcom Solely Fools and Horses was really a believer. Mine, from the Fifties, will not be essentially the most elegant Robin by Karen. Admittedly, the Robin was nonetheless a bit brief—”for individuals who cannot afford a correct bike,” joked Jasper Carrott—however then once more, it was sensible: economical, adaptable, and technically certified as a motorbike, which suggests you did not have to. to a full licence, to drive one.

Relying Robin.
Relying Robin. photograph: in the present day/rex

In his lengthy profession, Karen has designed rather a lot—every thing from house home equipment to toys, planes, vehicles, crash check dummies, toys, and sculptures. He was an actual pioneer. Talking of Marble Run, which he thought-about his most inspiring creation, he wrote: “My mind appears programmed to allow me to juggle plenty of concepts on the identical time: operate, type, and methodology to make one thing. I let concepts seep into my thoughts and after they took a sure type, I used to be I jot it down in my sketchbook (by no means been with out it). This could clear my thoughts earlier than I sort out extra issues.” Evidently, he is bought quite a lot of sketchbooks.

Having come to Britain from Czechoslovakia, aged 16, midway via the Second World Struggle, Karen should have skilled Britain throughout one in every of its bleakest durations, however in his hilarious and sensible manner he appeared dedicated to offering pleasure to posterity.

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