“In the early Seventies Leeds had thirteen mills. In 1980, only six firms are listed in the Leeds directories as manufactures of cloth.

The old mill buildings lie empty. Some have disappeared and have been replaced by multistory flats, others house a multiplicity of small businesses. Some lie in wait for the vandals and their matches.

Who would have thought a century ago that the hanging fleece, so proudly displayed one the City’s coat-of-arm, was ironically prophesying the death of the city’s earliest and greatest industry?”

Barbara Nelson, The woolen industry of Leeds. D&J Thornton, Leeds, 1980.

Leeds Coat of Arms

Water. Wheels. Wool.

Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills.

Saturday afternoon. I’m waiting for the bus, right outside the Armley Mills museum I’ve just been in, and a middle age English women arrived. Very Yorkshire, very difficult to understand for me. She told me she was at the museum too, she was at the Saturday’s knitting group, from 1 to 4 pm, I confessed that I’m not able to knit, “You should come darling, we will teach you!” (I’m getting used to all that “sweety” and “honey”). But she didn’t know who she was talking to.

Know how. Inventions. Improvements.
The museum tells the story of Leeds in the last three centuries showing sewing machines, water mills, locomotives, clocks and printers. All togethers. Actually for a visitors it’s quite a mess but a fil rouge still exists.

The first section of the museum holds the textile and tailoring galleries, that tell the history of the industrial revolution that started from the textile manufacturer sectors and in Leeds this basically means wool. You can see changing  and improvements of working techniques and machines from big water wheels to Singer sewing machines. And that what I was expecting. But then I came across a room full of perfectly working clocks (I was almost freaking out with that tic-tac noise) from the  William Potts & Sons Limited, that was a major British manufacturer of public clocks, based in Leeds. And then I went ahed in a big room with: printers, monopoly games, projector and old cameras.

So I discovered that some of these old printers are by the John Waddington Ltd, which started life printing posters for the theatre around 1900 and then diversified into games and packaging, for example: Monopoly. Leeds was once home to some of the best known printing companies and most skilled printing engineers in Britain.

And that’s not all. In the big areas reserved to cinema (in which a old cinema hall has also been recreated) among big projectors, magic lanterns and a zoetrope with running horses, I discovered a deep link between Leeds, the art of capturing moving images and the mysterious disappearance of a certain Louis Le Prince, but maybe it will deserve a special post.
And go forward. The museum is quite dark and a bit disorganized but it seems to be never-ending! There’ s also an outside section with more machines, more engines and a chimney, because in 1788 Armley Mills was turned into the world’s largest woollen mill by Colonel Thomas Lloyd, a Leeds cloth merchant. 

I went away quite confused, wondering that I should come back in a sunnier day for a better visit of the outside but while I was on the bus with the “knitting lady” I imagined the 18th-19th centuries Leeds, smoky, foggy, with chimneys and factories everywhere, with people in the roads struggling again hard work conditions… but it should have been also so vibrant and full of inventions and engineering experimentations, a place of practice and improvements. A place where things were made. A place of know how.

Is that the Leeds heritage? And how is that linked with the today Leeds?


“Throughout its history, the secret of Leeds’ success has been its outstanding ability to introduce new industry and adapt older ones when patterns of demand have changed and new opportunities have arisen.”

Burt and Grady, 1994, The illustrated history of Leeds, Breedon Books.


“It’s a great place to see tacky, rapacious capital butted up against proper Victorian architecture.”

Vanalyne Green, Professor of Fine Art, University of Leeds.


Spectro-photo-radio-meter… Lab tour!

Today we had an other quick talk with our tutor Steve, that showed us how the color measurement tools work. Vien had already revealed something, but we hadn’t seen anything in practice, until this afternoon. So, there are 3 rooms, but they have a lot of instruments inside that should be place in more and more space. The room are: measurement laboratory, imaging laboratory and psychophysic (?!) lab, where they do focus groups and surveys.
The measurement tools are divided in two categories:

  1. Spectrophotometer. Instrument that measure colours for contact, connecting with a computer it gives back the color description in term of wave lengths. For this instrument you need flat sample and uniform color.
    Pro: independent from external light, very scientific method.
    Con: can’t measure pattern and screen colors (it records reflected light). Sometimes different wavelengths correspond to the same color, for the weakness of our visione, it doesn’t match the colors.
  2. Spectroradiometer. Instrument used at distance, for measuring avery kind of surfaces and things but:
    Pro: it can measure and record monitor colors (es: color monkey) and also food (you mustn’t touch it), or not flat shape.
    Con: it depends on the external light.

Moreover they have grey boxes, in which you can arrange different light settings, and a particular tool that they’ve invented for taking pictures in a particular light. It’s a big metal box with a drawer where you put the subject of the picture. Then you close the drawer and put the camera on the top of the box, in a stuff designed to handle the camera and to take a picture from the top view. It’s useful for samples with strange shape or pattern surfaces.

Steve also explained to us some practical applications of these tools. Basically (almost) every industrial good is coloured so that (almost) every company need instrument to measure colors. They ran projects with textile companies, pharmaceutical or, for example, with Smarties and Weetabix, that uses a spectroradiometer for checking products quality. But also for the police, he were asked to try to understand the color of a car from a security cam video.

We may think that this subject of studies is very scientific and specific and for more people knowing nothing about it it’s enough, because the ICC (an other interest of color lab) make all the work. But actually colors are everywhere in our life and more and more people are concerned about it.

We’ve also discover this amazing tool called the Swatchmade Cube that will come from Australia..and now we want it!
ps: If it’s not enough have a look at Steve’s blog!
...and maybe buy a new coffee machine, he ensured that it works perfectly!

Eating exploration. The Kirkgate Market

“It seems that you’ve never eaten before”.
Sembra che non abbiate mai mangiato prima d’ora.

Yesterday, after the exploration 4th, tired and starving we decided to try the Market Experience. Amazing.
Far away from Starbucks and Mc Donald. We choose a nice place into the covered Market. All green and blue, in the squared pattern of the table towels. After a quick chat with the “sure sweety”-“of course my darling” blonde waitress we ordered a cheeseburger and a don’t-know-what-pie. But they reassured us that everything was homemade. And.. approved! Not only for the food, that was good, really but for the homely atmosphere and the love that they put in their job. Everybody seems to know each other in that place and although we knew nobody the old man in front of us try to speak with us, maybe because we were acting as we’ve never eaten before. 

Non in un posto così, e probabilmente nemmeno quella specie di tortino-pie-di patate-forse carne?. Insomma patate con contorno di patate. Classicone. Il vecchio signore seduto di fronte a noi, continua a cercare di parlare, cercare perché non è così facile capire cosa ci stia dicendo con la sua parlata West Yorkshire così stretta. Sorridiamo. Annuiamo. La signora bionda a cui abbiamo ordinata torna a chiedere se va tutto bene, se ci piace, se è la prima volta che mangiamo qui. Take care. Tutto qui.
E una parete verde di foto con i commercianti del Kirkgate che sorridono di fronte alle loro svariate e multietniche bancarelle.

E dopo la mattinata trascorsa a catalogare texture e sovrapposizioni di colori, anche l’hamburger sembra disposto su più livelli.
Come Leeds. Enjoy.

Exploration #4. OverLeeds

Going deeply into the project. In this sunny morning we went around looking for details, colours and textures and wondering about what these urban traces can tell. But wow. What a mess!

It seems that in Leeds you can find every color, every pattern, every architectonic style. And it wouldn’t be so surprising if they weren’t so mixed and close and combined. In Leeds present and past live together in the same quarte, in the same street, in the same building. What is it telling us?

Così che è diventata una sfida, un gioco, andare a trovare quei punti di contrasto, di giustapposizione di presente e passato, di vecchio e nuovo. Ma quale passato e quale presente? La storia di Leeds inizia con gli Angli e i Sassoni, ma prima del ‘400 rimane piuttosto piccola e silenziosa. La sua storia evidente è soprattutto sette-ottocentesca. E’ il suo passato nel mercato del tessile della Rivoluzione industriale. Dei sobborghi operai e delle immense Power Station. E’ un passato grigio, fumoso, di mattoni rossi e quartieri di casette tutte uguali con i comignoli come in Mary Poppins. 

E il presente? Quand’è il presente, e di che colore è? E’ nel vetro e nelle superfici lucide e candide del Trinity Centre, nel Merrion, nell’altezza del Bridge Water Place che svetta su tutto il resto. Nelle vetrine dei negozi e botteghe dalle texture più improbabili che sembrano sorreggere gli edifici storici rossi, bianchi, senape che ancora resistono ricchi di pinnacoli e dettagli strutturali ai piani superiori. E’ nei nuovi grattacieli di vetro in cui si riflettono vecchi edifici in terracotta vittoriana.

Who is Leeds?
Which colour is Leeds?

It’s contrast, overlayering, mix and overtelling.


Conversation with Steve. #2

Conversation with Steve. #2

“Steve and the sleeping giant”

This morning we discovered some more information about the University of Leeds and its history, through a nice chat with Steve, our tutor. He told us that the Textile and Colours department is the most ancient part of the University and that the Clothworkers’ building is its core, founded in 1874, and after that all the others faculties developed around it, since 1904. And textile and colours seems to be exactly what Leeds has always been famous for. Here colors have been considered from a scientific point of view, explored with quantitative methods and strictly related to technology. But.
But in the early 90s, or probably before, there were a crisis in the textile sector due to international competitor with cheaper labour costs.
Moreover, in the 2000, in Leeds there were also a college for Fashion and Arts but its head seems to had have some problem with finance and taxes so the government asked to the Leeds University to absorb the college for not loosing it.

So that, since 2000, the Uiversity of Leeds held its textile and color heritage with this new art and fashion department. They couldn’t have been separated for long, so in 2005 the School of Design were founded.
But a problem still remain: with so different origins in which direction should the school go?

Maybe they should find a common direction and here is the reason for the brand identity project. But for now the school remain a sleeping giant, with high potentialities, looking for his own direction, hesitant between practice and theory. The difference sometimes is not so easy to define.