Wednesday 10 March 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 10/3/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Running the gamut

It’s this time of year that many people’s new year’s resolutions start to come unstuck. One of my plans for 2021 was to diversify my exercise routine beyond the bicycle. Having failed to do so, I realised that I needed some added motivation. Tying exercise to my love of design seemed like it might be the ticket, which begged the question: what’s the best sport for architecture enthusiasts?

Lasse Andersson, director of Denmark’s Utzon Center, suggests squash: “You play in plans, sections and elevations,” much like the sketches found on an architect’s drafting table. But Iain Borden, professor of architecture at The Bartlett, leans towards skateboarding, as it allows people to actively engage with static structures in a way that you can’t as a pedestrian. Although both pursuits are appealing, I’ve realised that there’s a simpler and lower-risk answer: jogging between a few of your favourite designer’s buildings.

Linking up the works of an architect by pounding the pavement allows you to appreciate the development of their design ethos over multiple projects. With this in mind, I joined architectural tour guide Ed Conway for a run in north London last weekend. Together we nipped between four of mid-century architect Berthold Lubetkin’s designs. While getting some much-needed cardio, we observed Lubetkin’s evolving use of colour and playfulness with perception. It’s an experience that has made me want to explore the works of other famed architects in a similar manner.

So, for anyone who wants to be more active this year but is struggling with motivation, might I suggest reframing your exercise as an architectural pursuit? Pull on your jogging shoes and map out a route that explores the work of a favourite designer, or two, in your own city. Or if this still feels like too much (and you live in London), then get in touch with Ed – he’ll be more than happy to show you around.


Right at home

Bringing new buildings into a historic neighbourhood is never an easy task for designers but Paris-based architect LAN has done it with a deft hand in this residential development in Strasbourg. The eight blocks that form the project comprise 178 housing units, a hotel, offices and commercial space.

Image: Lorenzo Zandri, Charly Broyez
Image: Lorenzo Zandri, Charly Broyez
Image: Lorenzo Zandri, Charly Broyez

The new buildings are all connected by a central communal garden and have been laid out in a deliberately dense manner to emphasise a relationship with the traditional terraced buildings they border. The daring approach in the use of colour on the façades – nine tasteful shades in total – also draws from the palette of the surrounding neighbourhood. The olive-yellow, for example, is inspired by buildings in the city’s historic centre nearby. The clever combinations of all these colours not only creates a feeling of familiarity but also adds a fresh stroke of character to the district.


Working principles

Overseeing the new Copenhagen headquarters of technology and design agency Work & Co, multidisciplinary studio Aspekt Office aimed to design a space that matched its location. The result is a welcoming, cosy setting achieved through a balanced use of tones and materials – a physical working environment that offers employees something much superior to any home office.

The airy workspace, spread across one floor and divided by the occasional glass wall, has a distinctively Scandinavian feel. It is built around a soothing neutral palette of light oak and soft textiles, and is furnished with bespoke wooden desks and bookshelves alongside some of the studio’s favourite designs. These include a leather lounge sofa by mid-century Danish master Børge Mogensen and Primo chairs by Berlin-based Konstantin Grcic for Mattiazzi.

For the office’s spacious and inviting canteen, Aspekt collaborated with Danish kitchen designer Reform, adding a bespoke long oak dining table that encourages co-workers to socialise over daily servings of smørrebrød.

Image: Courtesy of Spinnova


A different cloth

Finnish textile company Spinnova turns the likes of wood waste into eco-friendly fabrics, which are currently very much in demand by the fashion industry. Lotta Kopra is the company’s chief commercial officer and is responsible for helping to get the brand to market. She’s involved in building partnerships with brands such as Marimekko and Brazilian wood-pulp producer Suzano. Here, Kopra tells us how Spinnova textiles are made, and why scaling up is important for global impact.

Fabric manufacturers often take the likes of cotton and dissolve them in chemicals before weaving them into fabric. How does your process differ? We produce a textile fibre with a process that is so clean, it uses no harmful chemicals and can take many types of feedstock materials [in pulp form], including virgin wood, agricultural waste, food waste and textile waste. So what’s our secret sauce? It’s a three-step process: one, we grind; two, we mix; and three, we spin the fibre. We grind the material into tiny particles, a bit like the way spices are ground in a mortar. With the mixing, we add fluids and increase the temperature, with a little bit of pressure too. Finally, with the spinning, we push the mix through tiny nozzles and dry it. The technology is almost like 3D-printing fibre.

How do you hope that this will change the textile industry?
The whole phenomenon of sustainability in the textile or apparel industry comes from everybody agreeing that the state the industry is in today is far from ideal. What we are seeing is that leading textile brands are willing to make a change and shift radically towards more sustainable materials but they haven’t had the tools. So at Spinnova we are really happy to provide one tool in this toolkit to help shift towards more sustainable material use and resources.

What are the next steps required for Spinnova to have a far-reaching impact?
We can only make a change if we have a big enough volume, so our focus is now on scaling. We have already announced a joint-venture plan to scale up using certified-wood material, where we will have commercial quantities available. And we plan to announce more. That’s how we will go forward. It’s almost like the whole industry is forming these joint ventures or coalitions. For Spinnova that means bringing our technology to a raw-material partner, who brings a good quality, well-priced raw material to us, such as textile or agricultural waste. Only then can we work with the customer – such as an apparel brand – who wants to invest in this, knows how much they need and can decide what kind of materials to make out of the fabric.

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

Illustration: Anje Jager


Bright ideas

In the late 1980s, Ettore Sottsass – famed for his design work with Olivetti – came up with 30 different lamps for Japanese firm Yamagiwa, of which half were put into production. The body of work shows the postmodern polymath’s range. Some are peculiar statement pieces that would be challenging to decorate with but others, such as this angular desk lamp, display Sottsass’s talent for timeless design.

Named Twenty Seven, this more pared-back piece retains the signature playfulness of Sottsass while also being a really practical desk light. Made from lacquered sheet metal, it casts a lovely warm glow on the table and looks equally stylish against the wall or standing alone. As many of Sottsass’s more functional designs are in production (and in high demand) today, there’s no reason why the offering shouldn’t be expanded. After all, a designer’s repertoire being emblematic of an era can mean it is the opposite of dated.


Mighty oak

Designing furniture pieces that are fit for both public and private spaces is about creating works of longevity and flexibility. With that in mind we’d like to point you in the direction of furniture firm Poiat, known for its simple Nordic designs, with this line-up of chairs fitting succinctly into interiors at home or the office.

The collection consists of two options: the Lavitta chair and Lavitta lounge chair. Both are made of two pieces of moulded, veneered-oak plywood. Coming in black, dark or natural oak, with the surface either stained or lacquered, their tough construction and sophisticated, functional design means that they will look and feel good for years to come, whatever their usage.


Raising the issue

Deem Journal has returned with a vibrant second print issue that’s dedicated to interrogating and reimagining contemporary design and education. Once again, Deem’s co-founder and creative director, Nu Goteh, has applied his knack for strategic, socially oriented design. “Our entire brand balances a spectrum of structure through rigid systems, and energy through moments of excitement,” he says. “For Issue Two, we pushed more to humanise the content by exploring more of the spectrum’s ‘energy’ side.”

This energy is released across the issue’s glossy pages through photography and art from the likes of Texas Isaiah and Alexis Eke, and playful typography by designer Cody Cano. The varied colour palette that Goteh has employed on the pages pops without ever being jarring.


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