REPORT

Not Just A Red Hook

London

4 October 2016

Michael Marriott has designed a hook of the sort that you would mount on a wall or the back of a door. You can hang your coat off of it. But this is not just any hook.

Ernö, as it is named, is an injection-moulded red hook made of plastic, inspired by the work of Ernö Goldfinger, the Hungarian-born, London-based architect best known for creating modernist tower blocks including the Trellick Tower in north Kensington and the Balfron Tower in Poplar. Although it may be modest in size and appear utilitarian in nature, the hook speaks of a way of thinking, which is unravelled in an installation and short film about the object's design and manufacturing process.

The installation and film are on display at 2 Willow Road, the modernist house in Hampstead designed by Goldfinger for himself and his family in 1939, which is now a National Trust property. A limited run of the Ernö hooks, designed by Michael Marriott, are currently on sale at the house, with the proceeds going back into the upkeep of the property, as well as funding its contemporary artists’ residency programme. Marriott has plans to produce the hooks in multiple other colours that will be available elsewhere, but the specially produced 'Willow Road red' variety is exclusive to 2 Willow Road.

Ironically, although the hook was inspired by Goldfinger and designed to mark the 20th anniversary of 2 Willow Road being open to the public, it cannot be attached to the house, since it is a Grade II listed building. Ernö will therefore never become one of the fixtures and fittings that comprise the Goldfinger home’s unique interior: a careful melange of modernism with personal quirks, like a flat pack chair in the bedroom made by his daughter and upholstered with the name of his wife, Ursula.

Although you can’t hang your coat on an Ernö at Goldfinger’s house, Marriott’s hook is connected to the house on a stylistic level. The colour – a bright red – was consciously matched with the distinctive red of the stairwell in the house. Moreover, Goldfinger’s work has deeply influenced Marriott. “I have a connection with Goldfinger and his method of thinking,” he explains. “What makes him stand out for me is what lots of people refer to as utilitarianism.” Goldfinger’s architecture is known as the modernist ideal – particularly his public housing projects which were influenced by the ideas of Le Corbusier. “Like Goldfinger’s work, I think the hook is quite voluptuous. Even sexy.” Marriott elaborates. “It is quite colourful. And it is plastic.”

It might seem far-fetched to call a hook voluptuous or sexy, but when Marriott shows me the door handles displayed on Goldfinger’s desk at 2 Willow Road, I can comprehend. The specimen handles are smooth, rounded and tactile, implying Goldfinger is interested in modernism and simplicity but also something more, which Marriott’s hook is attempting to unlock.

Drawing parallels with these door handles, Marriott says, “the hook is tactile and sensitive to your clothes like a fat thumb.” It therefore comes to signify much more than its mere function – it is a reflection on Goldfinger’s aesthetic.

The installation that accompanies Ernö is displayed in what was the nursery, on the top floor at 2 Willow Road. The main component is an ideas board of found articles collected by Marriot. The utilitarianism of Marriot’s work is matched by his choice of objects such as a heater control knob from a car, a spark plug cap and a rubber bungy. This is not out of character, since Marriott has been known to incorporate peg boards, wing nuts and plastic buckets into earlier projects.

The assortment of everyday objects on display mirror the personal artefacts and furniture in Goldfinger’s house, which is still punctuated by belongings to the extent that you genuinely feel the house could be occupied today. The modest items in Marriott’s display are treated with the affection of personal artefacts, for they are described by him in an accompanying sheet with careful terms including, ‘primordial’, ‘intrinsically tactile’ and ‘engineered wonders’.

A fascination for the simple forms of everyday things is clearly shared by both the architect of 2 Willow Road and Ernö’s designer. Marriott shares with Goldfinger a fascination for utilitarianism, and there is little doubt that 2 Willow Road and Goldfinger’s body of work are synonymous with modernism's functionalist ethos.

Ernö the hook is one more reason to visit 2 Willow Road. Perhaps what Marriott’s project has achieved best is to draw out the contemporary relevance of Goldfinger’s work and reflect thoughtfully on this dynamic architect’s legacy.