Talking shop - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 24/2/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


View from the top

Speaking with Singaporean architect Mok Wei Wei this week, following the release of a monograph, published by Thames & Hudson, celebrating his 40-year career, I learned of his work protecting and restoring the island’s mid-century housing. Mok attributed much of his conservation success to politicians and bureaucrats who wholeheartedly embraced his vision for a better city. But this relationship, where designers lead politicians, seems to be the exception rather than the rule – a trend we should be looking to overturn by having more architects in public office.

After all, politicians play an outsized role in the design industry (from commissioning civic projects to approving building regulations) and there’s no reason why the relationship shouldn’t work both ways. Having designers on the inside would not only lead to better-built outcomes but also politics that puts people first. A good architect responds to the needs of those inhabiting their buildings, putting human experience and wellbeing front-and-centre. A good politician should do the same.

For proof of concept, look to Singapore’s neighbour, Indonesia. There, Ridwan Kamil, co-founder of architecture practice Urbane Indonesia, is currently serving as the governor of West Java, following a successful stint as mayor of one of the country’s largest cities, Bandung. He’s been credited with using his design and planning expertise to help build happy and creative communities while in office. Many are tipping him to succeed Joko Widodo as the country’s president. If Kamil’s political success is anything to go by, architects putting their name on a ballot might just be the ticket to better buildings and a better world.


Take a seat

Japanese timber specialist Karimoku Furniture has just opened this dynamic showroom in Tokyo to highlight its various brands and the craftsmanship behind its products. The three-storey building comes courtesy of architecture firm Keiji Ashizawa Design and features a striking rooftop terrace that looks out over the museum-dense district of Nishi-Azabu.

Inside it’s all about design, however, with pieces from the company’s brands Karimoku Case Study, Ishinomaki Laboratory and new addition MAS (specialising in Japanese cypress and domestic softwood) set across various levels of the building. The simple interiors and timber floors allow the furniture to take centre stage. A pared-back gallery and events space on the ground floor also entices curious passersby to drop in and linger.


Talking shop

Helsinki’s art lovers have been luckier than most in recent months, as many private galleries and museums have remained open for most of the year. Now there is even more cause for cheer as the popular Amos Rex museum, housed in the 1930s Lasipalatsi building, has had its shop tastefully revamped by Finnish creative agency Kuudes.

The airy space contrasts warm wood with shimmering steel. “We combined elements of the historic functionalist building with those of the modern exhibition space downstairs,” says interior architect Juha Koskinen. “The shop acts as a threshold to the museum.” And luckily, monetising museum-goers is not the priority. A cosy lounge area encourages browsing of the books and magazines, as well as the kind of casual social interaction that is so vital to cities but has been in such short supply this past year.

Image: Kuster Frey


Off the wall

Zürich-based artist Anne-Marie Fischer started her practice to enjoy a greater creative freedom after many years working as an architect. Her abstract art, which she often creates on three-dimensional objects, is still informed by her previous career and tends to be formed in harmony with the surrounding environment. This is most certainly the case with her latest work Out Of The Blue, a series of murals at the city’s new Wolkenwerk mixed-use development, led by Staufer & Hasler Architects and Ballmoos Partner Architects. Fischer tells us how the project aimed to elevate the building’s lobby and evoke a proper sense of arrival for those passing through it.

How do you describe the difference between art and architecture?
Architecture and art both require the same way of thinking and have similar processes. I moved away from architecture because I found that art was a more direct medium. There are no complicated processes; you have an idea and you can just start and do the work. Architecture requires much more collaboration and is always bound by costs.

Your latest project at Wolkenwerk combines the two disciplines. Tell us more.
Because I worked for so long as an architect, I’m always thinking about space and materials. These buildings feature the highest-quality materials, with a lovely colour concept for the interiors. The murals I created provide a contrast to this: featuring soft and curved shapes, they offset the more controlled architecture of the buildings.

What inspired the work itself?
I knew this place long before the new buildings arrived. It was an industrial area and I actually lived in one of the former factories here. It was a very special type of living, because I had a huge space where I worked on large-format pieces and I had 10 massive windows – so I was always watching the sky. I channeled that inspiration into this work and re-interpreted the sky itself onto these murals. I wanted to highlight this discovery of the sky in an abstract way. The feeling comes from midnight-blue and champagne-white colours and these smaller golden touches, which might remind someone of an aeroplane, a UFO or a dream – it’s about interpretation.

Why should property developers elevate lobby design?
My murals aim to welcome the residents to these buildings in a very warm way, maybe even a heavenly way. It’s important for people arriving home from work to feel a sense of value immediately – and this starts at the front door.

To hear the full interview, listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

Brand values

V-Zug’s strategy to remain an approachable brand includes maintaining close ties with Zug, the city in which it is based, and its citizens. While more permanent efforts (such as building affordable housing) are part of its long-term approach, pop-up events and interesting public programming keep this relationship a personal and lively one. During the summer of 2020 V-Zug opened its magnificent semi-complete, timber-lined production facility to the public as a space for organisations to host concerts.


Breath of fresh air

Braun is turning 100 this year, which is the perfect excuse to revisit the German company’s extensive archives. Spanning a century of consumer products, from speakers to shavers, there is much to admire, even beyond the famous designs of Dieter Rams.

Take for example this beauty of a desk fan, designed by Reinhold Weiss in 1961. It performs its function efficiently and quietly, while looking good enough to merit a permanent place on the desk. Sixty years after its launch the simple device is a collector’s item – one has even been shown in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It’s proof that even the most basic everyday products, when thoughtfully designed, can stand the test of time. Considering Braun’s enduring success, this approach is one that many more makers of consumer products would be wise to adopt today.


Timber beams

There’s no need to explain the importance of smiling but we might forget it when times get tough. That’s why Spanish designer Jaime Hayon teamed up with British brand Benchmark, known for its quality timber wares, to send some positivity our way through the Smile Stool.

This adorable piece is made from American cherry at Benchmark’s UK workshops. The grinning mouth doubles as a handle, while the four legs are hand-turned with two passing through the seat to form the eyes by using a traditional tenon-joint technique.

Image: Stefano Boeri Architetti, Un Bosco Morto, LeTroianeSiracusa, Drawing Architecture Studio


Tomorrow’s world

In today’s fast-changing world, architects and designers are experimenting with ideas that will shape the way we live. In a new book published by Phaidon Press, Radical Architecture of the Future, author and critic Beatrice Galilee brings together some of the planet’s most original projects by top designers and thinkers. From a power plant in Copenhagen that also functions as a ski slope to a dynamic opera held on New York’s High Line by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and a philosophical video game by David O’Reilly, every work is given a serious examination across the book’s pages.

It also goes beyond architectural practice to explore digital landscapes, art, films and installations. “There is currently such a vivid, rich and pluralistic landscape out there where the next generation of architects and designers can flourish, change, expand and grow,” says Galilee, a former curator of architecture and design at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “I hope that readers will feel encouraged by the ideas and visions we are sharing and feel that, perhaps, the future is in good hands.” The book also stands out for its eye-catching cover, designed by Studio Joost Grootens


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