Architecture/Design | Monocle

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A magical new theatre

The Danish Royal Theatre has just opened its new playhouse in Copenhagen’s harbour area. The Royal Danish Playhouse, designed by local architects Lundgaard & Tranberg, is a gritty, slightly sinister building that reflects the water with its shimmering green, blue and brown brickwork. Henrik Schmidt, one of its principal architects, says the maze of spaces, balconies and stairs should evoke a “magic mood” in visitors entering the cave-like interior.


The anti-eco, eco-friendly architect

He single-handedly pioneered the use of bamboo in construction, but Colombian architect Simón Vélez won’t embrace eco-acolytes who tout the hollow grass as the 21st century’s answer to the steel beam. “I hate environmentalists,” says Vélez having designed a 5,130 sq m museum in Mexico City made entirely of renewable resources. “Like all fundamentalists, they’re the pest of humanity.”

After running away from the glass-enclosed home built by his Bauhaus-trained father, Vélez, 58, experimented in the 1970s with guadua, a bulky bamboo from western Colombia. Trial and error led to a discovery: by filling joints with mortar, he could erect structures 50 times stronger than oak and lighter than steel. In 2006, he was honoured by the American Society of Landscape Architects for the Crosswaters Ecolodge in China, the biggest commercial project ever built from bamboo. His work faces objections from Colombian environmentalists who want to prevent guadua from being industrially harvested, even though stalks can grow 30m high in a few years.

His latest project has catapulted bamboo building into international fame. Occupying Mexico City’s central plaza, or Zócalo, for three months until 27 April, Vélez’s Nomadic Museum houses Gregory Colbert’s travelling “Ashes and Snow” exhibition. Vélez is unfazed. “I’ll kiss the feet of whichever client asks me to build them a house in something other than bamboo.”

Q&A Wiel Arets


The Netherlands

Dutch architect Wiel Arets has designed this stand-out social housing development opposite Pradalongo Park in Madrid. Built on a budget, the three concrete buildings feature an undulating façade and each of the 144 apartments has a terrace. Arets established his practice, which has HQs in Amsterdam and Maastricht, in 1984.

Tell us some more about this project.
In Madrid you find lots of social housing in big, reddish buildings. Diversity, identity and creating a community are important to this building. My idea was to bring the park opposite into the building, to make a public space on the ground floor. The buildings are different to give them an identity.

In social housing who is leading the way?
Holland has a tradition of experimenting with social housing. One of the reasons we were asked to do this project was because we have some experience already.

Work balance

Hotels and offices, take note

Contract furniture rarely excites, but Arti takes a fresh approach. Sharp, modern pieces – like Taiji Fujimori’s Bureau series – by a group of nine designers including Ichiro Iwasaki and Gwenael Nicolas, use original fabrics by Japan’s leading textile designer, Reiko Sudo. The full range, made in Mie, is on display at Arti’s appointment-only showroom in Tokyo. No more excuses for bland hotel meeting rooms.

Northern highlights

Stockholm fair for Nordic wares

The Stockholm furniture fair may be small compared to others, but it’s still one of the best Nordic design showcases. Here’s our pick of some of the best products. For more highlights visit

  1. Manufacturers should jump at Katinka Yri’s curved stools made in bamboo. Designed to fit together to create large seating areas, we’re pleased to see environmentally friendly materials used in the design of public furniture. Yri is a third-year design student at Norway’s Akershus University College.
  2. The sleek silhouette of Slim One, a stackable chair by start-up Swedish design company Minus-Tio, caught our eye. It’s a contemporary take on Sven Markelius’s chair designed for the Helsingborg concert hall in the 1930s.
  3. Craft meets technology with a suspended wooden light by Peter Launo for Finnish lighting company SAAS Instruments. Launo is a member of the design community in Fiskars, a village in Finland where over 100 artists, cabinetmakers and industrial designers work and sell their wares. (See Monocle, issue 09)

Life’s a squeeze

Architecture for small spaces

This tiny 80 sq m residence Yoyogi, designed by two-year-old practice­ frontofficetokyo, is squeezed into Tokyo’s densely built-up Shibuya neighbourhood. It makes the most of a tight spot with a cleverly cantilevered design and has a colourful pink exterior, “to contrast with the concrete base and to stand out in a city that is often grey and utilitarian,” says architect and co-founder, William Galloway. He set up the practice with Dutchman Koen Klinkers in 2006. This latest creation has a small garden so the owners can grow strawberries and indulge their love of jam-making.

Tunnel vision

An admirable memorial

A sensitive design was required for this visitor centre at the Ravensbrück concentration camp memorial site in Germany. Designed by Frankfurt-based Wandel Hoefer Lorch + Hirsch, the exterior is made from about 500 matt glass panels, and the simple tunnel-like building looks out to where the camp once stood.

Pin point

Mexico’s new priorities

Young Mexican designers Emiliano Godoy and Alejandro Castro of the Pirwi furniture line have opened the Pin shop in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma to showcase environmentally friendly designs. “Environmentally conscious design is not yet a trend in Mexico; people here are more interested in price and design,” says Castro. The made-to-measure furniture – including bookshelves, occasional tables and sofas – is created from sustainable woods, biodegradable paints and dyes, and even agave cactus. The pair hopes the shop will promote their ethos both to other designers and to the public. We’re sure that with its light, airy interior, Pin is destined to be a big hit.

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