Architecture - Issue 106 - Magazine | Monocle

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Room to boom


Moving the headquarters of the government-backed Thailand Creative & Design Centre (TCDC) from a foot-traffic-heavy mall to an up-and-coming corner of the Thai capital, with poor public transport links, was a risky move. But its new home, in a former General Post Office on Charoenkrung Road, cleverly repurposed by Bangkok firm Department of Architecture, is helping transform the area into a buzzy creative precinct. With thousands of young Thais making their way to TCDC’s design library, café, maker spaces and shop, the operation has become the driving force in this old district’s regeneration.

Middle ground

by Nolan Giles

Space in the city is a luxury we can’t afford to waste. As we observe in the empty streets of Kenzo Tange’s Centro Direzionale in Naples (see previous article in this issue, 'On the up'), when a city-builder’s vision doesn’t align with the needs of citizens the results can hurt an area’s economy and liveability. Yet looking at Tange’s work in his Japanese homeland, there’s a lot that today’s architects and developers can learn; not everything went awry.

The often photographed but under-valued Nakagin Capsule Tower in Shimbashi, Tokyo, speaks to a democratic vision of space in densely packed cities. While today this blocky 1960s building with modular rooms is in disrepair, its ambition to be a bustling, attractive mixed-use community, where businesspeople could cut out commuting by living centrally (in tiny homes), takes on increased resonance when affordable inner-big-city living is threatened. It shares some of the vibe of the Barbican in the heart of London, a brutalist estate from a similar time, which remains a highly desirable residential enclave and cultural gathering point.

Property developers may hesitate at building smaller, cheaper mid-city flats: they mean more management costs. But if we want our future cities to thrive, density is our only real option. In Paris, new hotel Yooma offers compact rooms in which up to six people can comfortably stay – they can be adapted to house a family with lots of children or members of a six-a-side football squad. In Copenhagen the smart new Future Sølund development raises a quesiton: why can’t businesspeople, grannies and students live together affordably in the city, rather than distant suburbs?

As commuters pass empty offices on long trips home, perhaps it’s a question they should ask of their cities too.

Studio profile

Ambientec — Tokyo

Yoshinori Kuno is the CEO of Ambientec Corporation, a small Japanese studio that specialises in cordless home lighting. In the world of illumination he was renowned for his award-winning underwater-camera lighting but he saw an opportunity in high-end cordless lamps. He began looking for a designer who could translate his ideas into lighting for the home.

He found his man in Ryu Kozeki. Kozeki’s first light for Ambientec was Bottled, a solid glass lamp that is shaped like a bottle and has three different settings. “Japanese rooms tend to be bright, whereas I want to make rooms as dark as possible,” says Kuno. “I like a warm tone and the ability to adjust the brightness.”

Ambientec’s headquarters has a showroom at the front, an office in the middle and a research studio at the back where three engineers (all divers) test the products. Natural light is important. “You need to look at sunlight to reset your eyes,” says Kuno. Ambientec’s lamps are built to last and be repaired. Kuno adds: “Retailers want low prices and bigger volumes but I’m not prepared to compromise.”

A few notable projects:

Ambientec’s first light, which was launched in 2012, is a cordless glass lamp that looks like a bottle and can be moved from dining table to garden.


Small hand-cut crystal light with a warm led that can be adjusted to a comfortable dimness. “My request was for the feel of a candle without making a fake candle,” says Kuno. “I also wanted to use glass – there’s so much acrylic everywhere but it doesn’t last.”


Ryu Kozeki’s third light for Ambientec provides natural-quality illumination that is good for reading and can be dimmed.

Perfect harmony

Künzelsau, Germany

David Chipperfield has helped boost the cultural clout of the small German town of Künzelsau, in Baden-Württemberg, via the Carmen Würth Forum. Commissioned by business magnate Reinhold Würth to celebrate his wife’s 80th birthday, the culture and congress centre handled by Chipperfield’s Berlin office is positioned amid rolling meadows. The building’s centrepiece is a walnut-clad chamber-music hall, providing a functional space that feels as calm as the countryside beyond its walls.


Julian Sleath

CEO, The Bentway


The innovative Bentway in Toronto, opening this year, will feature an ice-skating trail, open-air theatre and arts space beneath an elevated expressway.

Why Gardiner Expressway?
Planner Ken Greenberg was captivated by the contemporary yet classical scale of the concrete arches. It’s an extraordinarily powerful connector across the city but a place that people avoid.

What will the impact be?
More than 70,000 people live within a 10-minute walk and we’re connecting to communities. This model of conservancy is relatively new in Canada; the timing is perfect as the density of Toronto’s downtown intensifies.

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