Christian August Barman was born on 13th September 1898 in Berkshire to Norwegian parents. He was educated on the continent before attending the University of Liverpool School of Architecture, where he studied under Sir Charles Reilly. In the early 1930s he edited successively The Architect’s Journal and The Architectural Review. A Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Barman sponsored Serge Chermayeff’s application in 1932.
Following an invitation from Frank Pick in 1935 Barman took on the role of Publicity Officer at London Transport, with responsibility for advertising, signs, notices and street furniture. The two men worked together over the next five years ensuring the highest standards of design in the public presentation of London Transport. The Second World War brought an end to their partnership and Barman went to work for the Ministry of Works. In 1945 he joined the Great Western Railway as Publicity Adviser for two years until the British Transport Commission came into operation and Barman became their Publicity Officer, a post he held until 1963. When the government authorized a modernization plan in 1955 Barman pointed out that all new investment on the railways should embody all that was best in industrial design. In response the Design Panel was established with Sir Gordon Russell RDI as Chairman and Barman as an ‘Executive Member’. In the RSA Journal for 1980 David McKenna, Chairman of the Design Panel of the British Railways Board, praised Barman’s grasp of the subtleties of effective organization and his ability to translate admirable intentions into action. Barman, he said, ‘was a pioneer in the management of design’.
As well as books on architecture published in the mid 1920s Barman also wrote about the railways including Public Transport in 1949 for the Penguin series ‘Things We See’, and The Man Who Built London Transport: Biography of Frank Pick in 1979. Under the pseudonym Christian Mawson he wrote a novel as well as a Portrait of England. An anthology. Barman wrote an article on the ‘New Industrial Order. Lessons of the Coal Age. Influence of Electricity on National Life’ for The Times on 5th December 1933 and contributed a piece on ‘Printers’ Flowers’ for a special issue of The Monotype Recorder on ‘Typography for Hospitality by the British Transport Commission’, published in 1958.
Barman exhibited a water heater at the Britain Can Make It exhibition (1946) as well as writing about transport for Design 46. During the BBC radio discussion programme on the exhibition Barman asserted ‘as an absolute truth…that good design is good business’. The electric iron he designed for HMV (1936) featured in the Design at Work exhibition organized by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) in 1948 and his interest in electrical goods saw him also design a hairdryer and stand for HMV.
Appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1948 Barman gave an oration to the RSA in 1967 on ‘Design and the Urban Environment’. He also spoke at the RSA in 1945 on ‘Design in Modern Transport’. Ten years later he gave the Percy Smith Memorial Lecture on ‘Public Lettering’ to a joint meeting of the RSA and the Faculty of RDIs.
A member of the Society of Industrial Artists Barman served as their President from 1949 to 1950, and in 1963 he received the OBE.
Christian Barman died in Reading on 5th October 1980, at the age of 82.
Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946
- Group GG: Domestic Equipment – item 111
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Original image reference: GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-B-12-1. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.