Mouldable

The A22 radio (1) was designed by Wells Coates for Ekco. It was released in 1945 and was the last in a series of five round designs from the company, the first launched eleven years earlier. Revolutionary in form it had no equivalent, taking advantage of one of plastics’ unique properties: mouldability. Because this material group has no inherent shape, plastics have released design from many of the constraints imposed by traditional materials. At that time, it would have been difficult to fabricate this radio in such large quantities and at an affordable price, in anything other than plastics.

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Ekco was set up as a business to make radio sets in 1924 when the wireless had already become a familiar object in the home. The booming industry attracted a large number of manufacturers but, since many of the important developments in radio technology had taken place, they were all essentially offering the same product. To compete, they needed to find something new.

At first Ekco housed their radios within the traditional, square, wooden cabinets that required a highly skilled workforce and labour-intensive production, but in 1930 they placed their first order for cases made in bakelite. This material had been in use for several years in radio componentry and Ekco saw its potential for the entire cabinet. To ensure supply, they set up their own moulding factory the following year.

A disastrous fire in 1932 and the ensuing fall in sales created a financial crisis for the company. To re-establish themselves, in 1933 Ekco made the bold step of commissioning some well-known designers to create new cases that would challenge the long accepted ‘wooden-box-style’ radio design and exploit all the advantages that plastics had to offer.

Wells Coates, now recognised as one of the leading figures in architectural modernism in the UK, reflected his interest in the revivalist Art Deco movement through his round radio designs. Their form evolved as a direct result of their function; based around the shape of the speaker with the internal components being re-arranged to fit. Not disguised as anything other than a radio, the series rapidly became a market leader and defined the visual vocabulary of radio design for many years.

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