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Long overdue

Library design that's not off the shelf

Students at top Tokyo design school Tama Art University – better known as Tamabi – should need no encouragement to study in its new library. Designed by Toyo Ito, one of Japan’s leading architects, it has a sloping gallery space on the ground floor, a reading area on the upper floor and underground storage for 300,000 volumes. The arched windows and curved pillars are typical of Ito’s bent for organic shapes and buildings with a comfortable, human scale.

Wood you believe it

Japan's benchmark for carpenters

The Hida Takayama region of central Japan has some of the best-preserved wooden buildings in Japan – from wooden machiya town houses in Taka-yama city to A-frame silk weavers’ homes in the UNESCO-listed village of Shirakawa-go. The region is also home to dozens of wooden furniture manufacturers and some of the country’s top craftspeople. Would-be carpenters come here to start – or perfect – their training. The Hida International School of Craft & Design on the outskirts of Takayama offers a hands-on education covering all aspects of furniture-making, from design to selecting materials. There are around 60 students each year and 95 per cent of the graduates end up working in the business. Courses run from 10 days to one year and the best pieces from the course are exhibited in Japan and then sold.


Reinier de Graaf

Partner at OMA

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Which country do you think has the best brand image and why?
Countries in the Middle East are carrying out interesting brand revamps. Take the UAE: 85 per cent of Dubai’s residents are non-nationals, which proves how successful its rebrand has been. Dubai has chosen to go down the path of attracting businesses. This big investment is thanks to great branding and mega-projects – an image that covers up the dysfunctional side of the Emirate.

Which country would you like to see get a brand makeover and why?
The Netherlands would benefit if its identity was reworked. There are misconceptions that detract from the country.

Hot seats

Spain sets fire to the White House

Flame, a chair from Figueras International Seating in Barcelona, has been installed in the press room at the White House. Portuguese architect Filipe Oliveira Dias set out to create a luxury chair with “very svelte, feminine lines” and was inspired by the flicker of flames.

Intended as a seat for theatres and auditoriums, it captured the imagination of White House officials. They may have been impressed by the acoustic qualities of the chair’s shape, coupled with its sleek beech and aluminium finish. Eva Blanco, head of marketing at Figueras, says: “This does not represent a big contract in economic terms, but it is a prestige move.”

First it was an Italian helicopter for the President and now it’s a Spanish chair for the corps that covers his every move. The Europeans are everywhere.

Cool runnings

Icelandic gym that's fir for purpose

Even if you were not in the mood to work out, it would be worth visiting the new Atak gym and spa in Akureyri, Iceland – just to take in the view. Proving a gym need not be a sweat box, the studios have views over a fjord. Built by Ágúst Hafsteinsson at FORM Architects, the inspiring interior was created by Fanney Hauksdóttir at AVH Architects in collaboration with sports consultant Nick Swinn. “When you’re in the gym it feels like you are standing in the sea because of the views. We wanted to bring the feeling of nature inside,” says Hauksdóttir.

Glow for it

Switch on to Louis Poulsen

Danish designer Christian Flindt has created his first collection for our favourite lighting company, Louis Poulsen Lighting. With shades woven from white vinyl string, the Flindt series includes two pendants and a floor lamp. It launches in September.

Rubble with a cause

Rising from the ruins in Beirut

The war last summer between Israel and Hezbollah left parts of Lebanon in ruins and thousands homeless. Beirut-based architects Nachaat Ouyada and Sami Markus, from Idea Consultants, wanted to help with the rebuilding and decided that the best thing they could do was to, quite literally, pick up the pieces.

By encasing bomb debris in steel-mesh boxes, they found that they could assemble housing units in just weeks. The simplicity of fabrication and the use of on-site material also overcame the shortage of manpower and the difficulty of transporting building equipment over damaged roads. A prototype of Project R has been built.

Beach Sandells

Bodrum gets a Swedish makeover

“I wanted to create the Scandinavian dream of what architecture should look like in a Mediterranean country,” says Swedish architect Thomas Sandell. He is developing a housing project in Gümüslük near Bodrum in Turkey, with colleagues Gert Wingårdh, Einar Jarmund and Håkon Vigsnaes along with landscape designers at Natur Orienterad Design. The initial phase was completed at the end of July and its 35 white houses already sold. The second phase will start in September with prices from €200,000.

Sandell might find the peaceful location especially appealing at the moment: his plans for a new 6m-high bathing pavilion in Stockholm have caused a storm of protest from indignant locals.







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