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Monday, 29 December 2014

Can the umbrella be improved?

Umbrellas have been around for more than 3,000 years, but young designers are trying to reinvent them.

Woman under futuristic green umbrella
Ayca Dundar's umbrella, The Drop

They get lost. They poke people in the eye. They misbehave on windy days.
But umbrellas are one of the design classics of the modern world. From Mary Poppins to the Mikado to burlesque dancing routines, they feature regularly in popular culture. More than 5,000 models are on sale on Amazon. One city, Songxia in China, is able to make 500 million a year in more than 1,000 dedicated factories.
They in come in many sizes and colours, but the key thing we think we know about the umbrella is that they don't change. We think the umbrella is as good as it's going to get.
The most common umbrella, featuring foldable steel ribs under the canopy, was first sold by Englishman Samuel Fox in 1852. Compact, collapsible models have been widely available since the 1930s and the larger golf-style umbrella since the 1970s.
Cheaper plastic versions, sometimes see-through, are available, as are disposable ones. Lackeys carry umbrellas for heads of government and state, while British pub gardens are full of large parasols in the summer.

The Sa umbrella
Justin Nagelberg's Sa umbrella

A brief history of the umbrella

  • Parasols were used to offer shade from the sun more than 3,000 years ago in Egypt
  • Umbrellas to protect from rain thought to have been invented in ancient China
  • Largely used as a woman's accessory, until mid-18th Century, when English traveller Jonas Hanway bucked the trend. Despite initial mockery, other men began to use them
  • First single-purpose umbrella shop, James Smith and Sons, opened in London's New Oxford Street in 1830, and is still in business
  • In the 1950s, nylon canopies, which do not rot, came into use as an umbrella covering; material's strength allowed development of golf umbrella in the 1970s.

Stephen Collier (on the blue shirt and white umbrella) and his Rainshader

With the environmental impact of all the umbrellas thrown away each year in mind, UK-based designer Ayca Dundar has invented the Drop, a pop-up canopy version made from just six parts. She says it is easy to repair, meaning that when a single component breaks the whole thing does not necessarily have to be replaced.
Dundar realises there is limited scope for redesigning the classic umbrella, arguing that "durability" will continue to be the most important consideration. But, with people around the world spending more time commuting and the numbers living in cities increasing, there is a new challenge.

Promotional literature for Senz umbrella shows man and woman sheltering from storm
Promotional image for Senz umbrella

In the last few years the Dutch company Senz has invented an umbrella which was tested to withstand winds of up to 100km/h (62mph). Designed by Gerwin Hoogendoorn, it has a lop-sided shape which means it is more aerodynamic. Senz, which sells its products across Europe, east Asia and North America, has also developed models which open and shut automatically and can be attached to bicycles.
"There are several long-standing frustrations with umbrellas," says commercial project leader Marinka Eekman, "At first people just didn't believe that the umbrella design could be improved. Even now, we notice that when people are carrying our products others are curious. They wonder why it looks that way.
"We are adapting the umbrella to the modern market. People like to have umbrellas that they feel confirms their identity, especially in the UK. It's a status symbol to have a good umbrella. It can also be fun and keep up with fashion."
From BBC News


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