The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Thursday 14 April 2016

Image: Artemide/Alphabet of Light/Designed by BIG

Easy as ABC

As the world’s premier furniture fair, Salone del Mobile is filled with historic companies showcasing their famous designs in new hues and materials; small tweaks to tried-and-tested models. Yet in the pockets of Milan’s suburbs and corners of the Fiera grounds, innovative and potentially groundbreaking creations abound. Case in point this year: the Alphabet of Light range designed for Artemide by Danish architecture firm Big. The prototype collection of LED lights is comprised of two shapes (curved and straight) and four joints that, in various combinations, create every letter in the alphabet. The design taps into the Danish legacy of modularity (think: Lego) and Big envisages the lights being used in everything from apartment walls to restaurant signs when they are released commercially later this year. “We wanted to get away from the classic neon sign, which looks good but is not useful for lighting a space and costs a lot of money because you have to get your sign [custom-made],” says Big partner Jakob Lange, adding that the firm chose Salone as their launching pad because the fair is like the “Architecture Biennale” of the design world.

Image: Kazuhiro Nogi/Getty Images

Shinjuku sabotage?

There was bad news for one of the most idiosyncratic pockets of central Tokyo this week. The famously quirky nightlife district of Golden Gai in Shinjuku was hit by fire on Tuesday, destroying four wooden buildings. Tokyo Electric Power Co also reported that the fire knocked out the power in 500 buildings. Golden Gai is a unique relic, crammed with more than 200 small bars and alleyways that has drawn an eclectic crowd of film-makers and artists for years. Most of the bars are tiny – and many only welcome regulars – and the passageways almost impossibly narrow. There has long been rumours of imminent redevelopment but the bar owners have seen off all attempts to demolish the area. Inevitably, there are wild conspiracy theories bouncing around the internet, some even blaming unscrupulous property developers for the blaze but Golden Gai survives another day.

Image: Dave Bloggs007

Setting a benchmark

For the past year or so, small, brightly coloured benches have been mysteriously appearing at locations across Calgary: in front of clothing stores, next to coffee shops and near transit hubs. Printed with the words “Have a Seat”, the purpose of the venture is to create little spaces in the city for people to sit, meet a stranger and begin a conversation. Since the benches first began appearing, Calgary’s residents have enthusiastically welcomed the additions to their cityscape. The benches are the work of a rather shadowy group known only as The Bench Project, whose members have opted to remain anonymous. The Project has now been garlanded with a National Urban Design award for its enhancement of the civic experience.

Image: The Tribeca Film Festival

Explosive action

The 2016 edition of New York’s Tribeca Film Festival – the event co-founded by one Robert De Niro – is underway with a whopping 77 world premieres and 42 directorial debuts. For the first time this year US narrative films have their own section (look out for Kicks and Women Who Kill, among others) and there is also a top line-up of talks featuring everyone from Baz Luhrmann to Alfonso Cuarón. Like at this year’s Sundance, “experiential” and virtual-reality film has a strong presence, a nod to this year being “all about pushing the boundaries of storytelling”, according to senior programmer Cara Cusumano. In this vein, the closing film at Gotham Hall promises to be quite the spectacle: a 360-degree experience about nuclear weapons called The Bomb. The festival runs until 24 April.

From Monocle 24

Image: Julian Anderson

Max Fordham

UK engineer and entrepreneur Max Fordham launched his eponymous firm half a century ago. On the company’s 50th anniversary, Max shares some of the business and life lessons he’s learned along the way.

From Monocle Films

Residence: Nishinoyama House

Home to a diverse creative community, architect Kazuyo Sejima’s housing complex is designed to enlighten residents with its sense of serenity.

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