Wednesday. 17/3/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Lofty aspirations

In a chat with Monocle’s Asia bureau chief Fiona Wilson for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design, she discussed the challenges faced by Tokyo’s ambitious new Torch Tower. Designed by architect Sou Fujimoto, it is set to be the skyscraper-filled city’s highest building. Globally, much is being made of the changing nature of the office due to the pandemic and the rising number of vacant office towers as remote working becomes more common. Fujimoto’s mixed-use effort addresses some of these challenges – the highlight being a humongous artificial hill-like public plaza set 300 metres up inside the building, which offers views over the metropolis. There’ll also be a hotel, a mall and plenty of public recreational space, giving the building an around-the-clock buzz.

While taking these concepts quite literally to a whole new level, this is not something new for Tokyo, said Fiona, who already enjoys relaxing in the rooftop gardens of Ginza skyscrapers. Those fearing a grim future for urban office blocks need to take a trip to Tokyo, where you’ll find teppanyaki bars on the upper levels of what could be mistaken for purely corporate blocks and, in the not-too-distant future, children rolling down fake hills set high in the sky. Rather than bemoaning the future of our city’s ailing office-building stock, let’s look at enhancing what already exists.


Clear as day

Greek architecture studio Point Supreme has opened up a previously enclosed light shaft in the middle of an existing three-bedroom apartment in Athens. Rather than divide the resulting area with walls, architects Konstantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou have embraced the new abundance of natural light and used a variety of materials and finishes to create different “atmospheres” across an expansive internal area.

Original wooden floors contrast with marble, concrete and terrazzo tiles, while a range of varnished green timbers help to differentiate a desk space from storage and a seating nook, in a large bespoke furniture unit. “The overall space becomes a small world, with different neighborhoods,” says Rentzou. And, like any good city, Rentzou assures us that there’s enough variety in each neighbourhood to suit changing moods and times of the day.


On the house

With our homes and the effects of their design on wellbeing being brought into sharp focus this past year, it’s welcome news to see France’s Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal being named the 2021 Pritzker Architecture prize laureates. The winners of the industry’s most important annual prize have dedicated much of their careers to designing better housing, often for those in tough circumstances.

In a field where grand designs such as national museums soak up much of the attention, it’s refreshing to see global recognition given to projects such as Lacaton & Vassal’s recent architectural reinvigoration of the 1960s Grand Parc social-housing project in Bordeaux – in which units were extended to offer tenants better access to natural light and balconies.

“Good architecture is a space where something special happens, where you want to smile, just because you are there,” says Vassal. We’re sure those living in a Lacaton & Vassal home would agree.


Sole trader

English boot-maker John Lobb has been catering to the well-heeled since 1866. Owned by Hermès and with a retail network that includes 19 shops across three continents, the brand’s boots, brogues and Oxfords can be found on the feet of royals, movie stars, musicians and politicians from Tokyo to New York. Here, John Lobb’s CEO, Philippe Gonzalez, tells us about the ambitious redesign of some of the brand’s retail spaces.

How do you find the right location for your shops?
It’s about finding the balance between where your customers are and where you will have some foot traffic. Our objective is to show John Lobb to a wider audience, so we need to invite people into our shops and embrace them.

You’re expanding in Asia and also rethinking your bricks-and-mortar shops in other markets. How are they being designed to attract customers?
We are renovating a shop in Paris and also building what we are calling “John Lobb House” in Beverly Hills, which will be a two-storey shop with an area dedicated to our bespoke offering. The objective is to have a bright and warm atmosphere in which we can welcome our customers. The concept has a central element, called the “capsule”, which will concentrate all our values, all our elements of savoir-faire that are key to John Lobb, into one place at the centre of the shop. All the customer care will take place there.

Can you tell us more about the customer care on offer in these capsules, and what will make them distinctly John Lobb?
What makes John Lobb unique is the fact that all our welted shoes are durable and can be repaired. So that element of care – cleaning, waxing and shoe-shining – will be represented in the capsule area. We have other services such as by-request [which allows customers to have material and colour variations made to the brand’s designs], so it will also be a playful environment in which the customer can design their own shoe too. And, attached to that, there is the luxury experience of the bespoke. All these new shops will have a proper bespoke area where we will be able to welcome our customers, take our time with them, take their measurements, and have the artisans at their feet making sure that all the proper elements are there to manufacture the shoes.

For more from Philippe Gonzalez, listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.


Into the fold

Here at Monocle we have a penchant for flat-pack design. There is no reason for furniture to be shipped in heavy, wasteful packaging. Fortunately, many brands have popped up that make high-quality furnishings to suit more itinerant lifestyles. And someone should definitely snap up production rights for this mid-century folding chair by Roger Tallon.

The French designer is most famous for the interiors of his country’s TGV trains and indeed brought a flair for engineering to all his work. Ingeniously constructed from a single piece of plywood, the TS chair shows how space-saving at its finest also adds aesthetic value: it looks even more artful folded up against the wall. It’s ideal for compact patios and we definitely wouldn’t mind seeing this funky number whipped out for barbecues and garden parties this spring.


Low and slow

Danish cabinet-maker Mathias Steen Rasmussen first designed the MR01 Initial Chair for his own Copenhagen apartment. Now issued by local firm Gubi, this handsome low-slung lounge seat is crafted with all-natural materials and is a celebration of Denmark’s longstanding carpentry traditions.

The piece, built with a simple oil-finished walnut or oak structure, can be put together without the need for screws or nails and makes use of techniques first devised by craftspeople in ancient Egypt. For the wide and inclined backrest, Rasmussen developed his own hand-weaving technique. The chair’s frame is connected with a 90 metre-long linen cord sourced from Italian marine-rope suppliers, ensuring that the seat is sturdy and the design long-lasting. And thanks to its lightweight structure and elegant look, the lounge chair can be easily carried around to fit any space.


Status symbols

Richard Baird is a man of many talents. The London-based graphic designer, writer and publisher (who also used to be a furniture designer), runs Logoarchive, an online blog about logo design. “I had collected a lot of modernist mid-century logo books,” he says. “But it was difficult to remember where particular good examples were and the printed index feels painful to use today.” So, he scanned his favourites and, in 2015, started sharing them on Instagram “to help others access logos that were only ever published in rare books”. Some 180,000 people follow Logoarchive’s Instagram account.

Baird also publishes collectible booklets that document mid-century logos and delve deeper into subjects that inform design. Each issue is a chance to explore ideas outside of graphic design and bring them into the industry. They are presented not just through texts but also non-verbally with dyed papers, folders and digital printing technologies. Subjects covered range from art and design to philosophy, anthropology and history.

It’s a labour of love: a special bilingual edition on Japanese logo design (pictured) took five months to put together. Fans of Baird’s sell-out zines appreciate the visuals but also the detailed intellectual rigour that he brings to the subject. The next issue, due out in late March, was inspired by Paul Rand’s work on the exhibition announcement for Toys and Things at the IBM Center in 1967. And does Baird have a favourite logo? “I generally avoid favourites but if I had to pick, perhaps Fotografiska by BankerWessel and the Expo 67 logo by Julien Herbert, as I can see them from my desk.”


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00