A piece of aviation history has been transformed into fine art by British industrial designer Sebastian Conran with his sculpture ICON. At the Royal Ascot Races in July, he will unveil his five-tonne sculpture – playing homage to the legendary Concorde.
For the latter part of the 20th century, Concorde was the epitome of speed and futuristic, high-tech design – the surreal sonic boom it made as it broke the sound barrier and the fact it could travel between London and New York in half as much time as other airliners only added to its science-fiction-like mystique.
Despite being retired in 2003 amid the post-9/11 slump in air travel, and after the only crash in Concorde history killed all 109 passengers and crew in France in 2000, it remains a symbol of the glory days of Anglo-European engineering.
Seven years ago, Brooklands Museum in Surrey, the birthplace of British aviation, decided to sell a Concorde nose and visor assembly to raise funds for the restoration of Concorde G-BBDG.
It was privately purchased, and the new owner only discovered later that the nose had originally been part of the sixth Concorde airframe – in other words, the mechanical structure of the aircraft. This particular airframe had undergone the most comprehensive ground testing ever mounted for a civil aeroplane, and resulted in certification for the structural design that allowed it to be used as a commercial airliner.
The initial idea was to restore the Concorde nose for display, but as the team witnessed the reactions of those who saw the three-metre-high, seven-metre-long piece, another concept was floated – to turn the stunning piece of industrial design history into a public sculpture.
Enter designer Sebastian Conran, who had previously led the design team at Conran & Partners that designed the interiors of the final Concord fleet. Like many of his generation, Conran also had a soft spot for the plane, as it had captured his teenage imagination during its heyday in the 1970s.
The brief was for a piece of work that would stand the test of time and continue to inspire future generations. Six and a half years later, Conran is set to unveil the work. Its aerodynamic form has been mounted on a highly polished steel base that is a piece of precision engineering in itself. Its reflective surface mirrors the nose, the view changing constantly as visitors move around the installation.