Architecture - Issue 104 - Magazine | Monocle

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Studio profile

Unfold — Antwerp

“We’ve always liked the tangible world of materials; the smell of wood and the weight of ceramics,” says Dries Verbruggen who, along with Clair Warnier, co-founded Antwerp’s Unfold design studio in 2002. His words are particularly surprising because the work of his studio revolves around 3D printing. Yet from the beginning this business, housed in a lofty refurbished mustard factory in Antwerp’s increasingly trendy north, has taken a more thoughtful approach to pioneering in this medium.

Bucking the trend of using plastics and resins in its manufacturing process, Unfold experiments with age-old materials such as clay. And while its mixture of craft and cutting-edge technology has all the ingredients of a recipe for disaster, Unfold’s results are elegant and compelling.

A delicately constructed ceramic diffuser in an earthy brown was the standout from a 2013 collection of organically shaped objects for French perfumer Barnabé Fillion. As the years have gone by Unfold’s client base has grown; the studio has worked with international names such as Aesop and L’Oréal.

Yet it’s the cross-pollination of ideas from a blossoming community of designers and creatives in Antwerp’s north that provides Unfold’s biggest inspiration. “We are designers, artists and makers who need space to develop and produce ideas,” says Verbruggen. “It’s a sign of the times that a lot of designers are now, to a certain extent, also producers.”

Three notable projects:

  1. l’Artisan Électronique (2010)
    An installation in collaboration with artist Tim Knapen that couples a ceramic 3D printer with a digital pottery wheel, whereby visitors can create their own vase. Featured at biennales and museums from New York to Sydney.
  2. The Peddler (2013)
    French perfumer Barnabé Fillion asked Unfold to find new ways of experiencing scent. The studio created an olfactory installation using 3D-printed ceramic diffusers.
  3. Artefacts of a New History (2016)
    Commissioned by gallery Valerie Traan, this collector box features nine intricate ceramic 3D prints that resemble ancient artefacts such as fossils.


Ronan Bouroullec

Co-founder, Bouroullec Brothers


The design work of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, collectively known as the Bouroullec Brothers, includes memorable collaborations with Hay and Vitra. Now the pair are expanding their portfolio beyond furniture and into the realm of the city.

Tell us about your work in the urban environment?
I became a designer because I wanted to do things that could be shared – I thought that projects in cities might be a way to share on a larger scale. We are doing one in Miami, where we are creating a system of shadings for a street, and one in Paris, where we have been chosen to design fountains for the Champs-Élysées.

What does the perfect Bouroullec city look like?
I was in Shanghai recently. There was a small house with a shopfront on the street and old people and kids sitting on chairs outside, along with some birds in a cage. It was beautiful to see all the things our cities have lost in the past 50 years. This is the question for new cities: not the efficiency of cars, or of people getting from A to B, but what happens when they stop – on what type of bench, with which view, with which perspective?

Animal kingdom


The Natural History Museum in St Gallen, just south of Lake Constance, has a new home. Zürich-based architects Michael Meier and Marius Hug designed a sleek structure defined by a concrete and chrome façade to house the museum’s duckbill-dinosaur skeleton, 25,000 fossils and four-metre-long stuffed Nile crocodile, which established the museum’s collection in 1623.

Inside, polished concrete floors extend the functional aesthetic of the exterior, while handcrafted walnut furniture adds a homely touch. The venue’s location was strategically chosen to complete the urban ensemble made up of the church of St Maria Neudorf and the Botanical Gardens on the eastern edge of St Gallen. With its imposing size and artfully placed windows, the new museum has completed the trifecta and transformed Neudorf into a destination in its own right.

Ride along

By Nolan Giles

The bicycle is big business these days. Changes to our lifestyles and within urban environments have expanded interest in this healthy form of transport beyond the Lycra-clad audience that the industry has geared itself toward in the past.

With luxury giant lvmh recently snapping up Italian bike brand Pinarello and rumours that it’s eyeing up cycling-wear brand Rapha, the market is clearly moving. Thankfully good design remains a priority. But as every aspect of the modern bicycle is fine tuned it’s the liberating freedom offered by this simple ride that remains its most attractive selling point.

That is, until your front wheel gets wedged in a tram track and you find yourself flying into oncoming traffic. That was one of my recent experiences as my memory jolted back, mid-air, to why the city remains the realm of the serious cyclist. For the hobbyist, navigating the urban environment can feel more like a battle against pedestrians, cars and poor planning than a pleasurable summer spin. Few city-planners have created perfect infrastructure suited to all forms of transport.

There are many reasons for this. But talking to Punkt founder Petter Neby whose fuss-free electronics brand recently turned its attention to the humble bicycle, his consensus is that the solution to improving urban cycling is a highly localised one.

Too often cities apply a one-size-fits-all system, hence some city bike-share schemes succeeding and others failing miserably. And while urban-planners today are certainly invested in improving infrastructure, perhaps these private players cashing in on the bike’s popularity could chip in too. I would be enamoured by a brand working with a city to build infrastructure that improves the enjoyment of urban cycling, rather than one simply slapping its name on the back of a poorly planned share scheme.

Let’s fix: cycling in Belgrade


The problem?
To cycle in Belgrade is to battle with potholes, tramlines and impatient drivers. A road full of thundering lorries cuts off a potentially useful riverside bike path from the city and fewer than 1 per cent of journeys are made by bike.

What went wrong?
Topography helped some Serbian cities maintain a cycling tradition. But the hilly capital embraced cars, with wide flat boulevards designed around them; the bike lanes feel like an afterthought.

Monocle fix.
Ramps in subways and extensions to existing pedestrian skywalks could improve links to the riverside. Belgrade’s tram tracks are already used informally by cyclists but should be adapted for safe shared use. The city has launched a cycling strategy that aims to increase cycling’s share of traffic to 10 per cent, with plans for 120km of new cycle lanes and bike-sharing. Belgrade could emulate Trondheim, which installed a “CycloCable” to assist cyclists uphill. It may not burn calories but it could convince Belgraders that two wheels are an option.

Cordial capital


The slender extension to Oslo Airport offers a warm welcome to the Norwegian capital. The work of Oslo architects Nordic, the design has doubled the existing terminal’s capacity and set a global benchmark for sustainability in airport construction, highlighted through savvy investment in materials, from timber cladding sourced from nearby forests to a concrete that harnesses volcanic ash.

Natural light is prioritised, with a massive skylight drenching the terminal in sunshine in Oslo’s summer months. Smart artificial lighting means that the space retains a warm glow, even in the depths of the Norwegian winter.

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