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Thursday, April 2, 1998 Published at 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK

Special Report

The art of communication
image: [ All things British: Red telephone box, brown sauce and a passing London taxi ]
All things British: Red telephone box, brown sauce and a passing London taxi

Forget the telephone or Internet, at powerhouse::uk communication carries a far wider remit.

Whether it's the label on a cheap plastic bottle of orange squash or the latest album by Pulp, the underlying thrust is "getting the message across".

"Britain leads the way in exploring effective and original methods of communicating messages and ideas," proclaims the information board at the entrance.

[ image: One of the city's
One of the city's "buildings"
The statement is loaded with portent, and it's hard not to be bewildered by the imagination that has gone into the display.

This is not the sort of show where exhibits are neatly arranged, side by side and locked in glass display cases.

A Scalectrix track skirts around the perimeter of the communication zone, carrying London taxi cabs and buses back and forth.

The vehicles weave in and out of a darkened, miniaturised cityscape which, at first glance, looks like a setting from the film Bladerunner.

[ image: British designer Ian Anderson talks about his work]
British designer Ian Anderson talks about his work
But take a closer look and it quickly dawns that the buildings are constructed out of packaged supermarket products, books, carrier bags and CDs.

Tiny, flat television screens show pop videos which, together with roving overhead spotlights add a dash of light to the darkened room.

"I wanted to show that cities are an incredible resource," said Nigel Coates, whose company Branson Coates designed the whole powerhouse::uk show.

[ image: Pizza boxes or works of art?]
Pizza boxes or works of art?
"They make you come alive, like my architecture which is far more than a purely aesthetic, functional object."

Everywhere the eye settles, it focuses on familiar products and brand names. Bottles of olive oil, boxes of washing powder, tins of beans and cartons of milk. Nothing is too trivial.

In their natural setting these are items we pass by without paying them a second thought. Here, visitors are invited to appreciate them on purely aesthetic criteria.

[ image: A department store carrier bag]
A department store carrier bag
Elsewhere there are stacks of television screens, broadcasting the random soundbites of a selection of Britain's top designers.

"If everyone in America is famous for 15 minutes, you are only famous here for five," says one.

Another asks: "What shape is tomorrow?"

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