Design/Architecture - Issue 46 - Magazine | Monocle

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Don’t mention the d-word

Now everyone has ‘design’ in their job title, are we forgetting what it actually means?
By Hugo Macdonald

I met someone the other day who, with a straight face, introduced himself as a hair designer. “What is it that you design around hair?” I asked, wondering if he was a trichologist whiz kid, developing a cure for alopecia perhaps. But no, he replied with irritation that he cuts and styles hair and is essentially a hairdresser. He’s the latest in a long line of people who believe they’ve elevated what they do by adopting the word “design” into their title.

I’ve come across flower and food designers (florists and chefs) and – my favourite – an Information and Strategy Designer (analyst). It’s not just people, either. My bank offers savings plans “designed” for me. You can design your own lunch in a high-street food chain. Everything is being designed and staffed by designers. The world has suddenly become a very creative place. Except it hasn’t really – it’s just a fad to dress up everyday occupations with something that sounds more creative. My concern is that the more inappropriate the d-word’s adoption becomes, the harder it is for true designers to be heard above the din.

Design is a famously difficult discipline to define already. It’s not just making nice things or making things better or more beautiful, it’s not just solving problems and it’s not just discovering new things or processes, though it’s all of these and more. My favourite definition comes from Paola Antonelli, head of design at the New York MoMa: “Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty, to produce something the world didn’t know it was missing.” This, to me, does not include hairdressing or floristry, savings plans or lunch options, so my call goes out to anyone tempted: please give a damn about the guts and think twice before putting the d-word on your business card.

Lab report

Cambridge — LABORATORY

“Quality of function was the key requirement,” says Gavin Henderson of London architects Stanton Williams, discussing the Sainsbury Laboratory, a botanical research facility. Clients Cambridge University and the Gatsby Foundation also asked that the building be beautiful inside and out, fitting perfectly into its environment.

One in the bush

New South Wales — SPORTS HALL

When Michael Heenan, a principal architect at Sydney-based practice Allen Jack+Cottier, arrived at Milson Island recreation camp an hour from Sydney, he intended to make a sports hall using materials from the local bush. A piece of curled bark propped up on sticks is what he came up with, and he used a sophisticated thermodynamic modelling technique, together with metal and glass, to achieve his vision. The design’s simplicity is outstanding, and it sits perfectly in the wild bush and eucalyptus forest. The average age of the children using the hall is 12, and by creating low windows along its side at a pre-teen’s eyeline, Heenan intended for “young minds to stray into the bush outside”.

Sea and be seen

Istanbul — BOAT

Turkish boatmaker Vicem continues to make waves with its Vintage Line of wooden motor yachts. The ‘75’ family cruiser, to premiere this month at the Cannes Boat Show, features a cold-moulded mahogany hull and interiors handcrafted in Wengé and Anigre, and main-deck flooring laid in Iroko.


Drumbo piggy bank

by Luigi Colani, 1963

German industrial designer Luigi Colani created this elephant “piggy bank” as a corporate gift for Dresdner Bank in 1963. Called Drumbo, it has become a rare find, worth more than the pennies it can hold.

Inside, outside, USA


Delivering buildings that fit seamlessly into the landscape is a core principle of most architects (bar Zaha). American author Eva Hagberg’s second book, Nature Framed: At Home in the Landscape, centres on 24 recent houses in all corners of the US that offer an interesting way of fitting into, and making the most of, the surrounding landscape. From Roy McMakin to Brad Cloepfil and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Hagberg’s stunning book is a profile of America’s finest practices at the top of their game.

Into the fold

Sweden — CHAIR

Åke Axelsson’s Ferdinand chair is one of the most exquisite designs of recent times. More than just a beautiful form referencing the mid-century heritage of Axelsson’s homeland of Sweden, Ferdinand also has environmentally friendly values, required by today’s industry but so rarely delivered with practicality. The oak (or beech) frame, with back and seat in ecologically tanned leather, folds up to save 80 per cent of a normal transport volume – saving on packaging, emissions and storage space. Swedish manufacturer Gärsnäs is putting Ferdinand into production this autumn.


Office hotties

The Netherlands — DESK AND LAMP

A new term calls for a new desk for the home office, and this year we’re taken with Dutch designer Reinier de Jong’s new barely-there design. Solid oak is paired with alternating layers of high-pressure laminate and aluminium – a technique used for laboratory tabletops that will withstand the most frustrated fist-banging. We’re teaming it with Gino Sarfatti’s floor lamp from 1950 for Arteluce. The enamelled steel and aluminium design is perfect as a task light for duller days and can slip into a sofa-side setting by night.,

Bright idea

Stockholm — CYCLING

“Our challenge was to make a light that suited my vintage French racer, and I think we have surpassed ourselves,” says Victor Kabo, co-founder of new Stockholm-based bike-accessories company Bookman. The lights are an exercise in simple design and perfect function.


Alexis Georgacopoulos

Director, ECAL


Greece-born Georgacopoulos is the former head of the Industrial Design MA course at ECAL.

Why do you think you were chosen to take over as director at ECAL?
I knew the school well enough, as well as the people, institutions and companies around it. I have almost 10 years’ teaching experience. My optimism and – soon to be gone – youth were probably an asset, too...

What challenges do you face in the position?
Living up to former director Pierre Keller, who placed ECAL on the map, is one thing. But for me it’s not the most important. I would like to give students the best in art and design education, and prepare them to face the outside world. Also keeping teaching staff up-to-date and strengthening our relations with partners while finding new ones.

What do you hope to bring to the role?
In the last five years, art and design education has evolved. ECAL now needs to stay in tune and reinforce its role as a pace-setting school. We need to be more open to the outside world without losing the identity that makes our school different from so many others.

What does ECAL offer that other design schools do not?
ECAL is a state-funded school with yearly tuition fees of only €1,500. We have long experience of placing students with well-known companies and institutions. And we have a spacious building with excellent facilities, staff and visiting professors. Lausanne, the lake and the mountains aren’t a bad place to live, either. Sounds like a student’s dream, don’t you think?

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