Wednesday. 24/3/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Drawing conclusions

The importance of sketching was hammered home to me as a design student while on a visit to Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal in 2012. After I’d spent hours taking snaps of the site in the hopes that they would inspire my designs for a landscaped waterside walkway, my professor, Carl Rogers, told me to throw the camera in the canal (although waterproof, I didn’t) and to sketch instead.

He said that “capturing on camera” wasn’t the same as “seeing on paper” and that the sketchbook is the space where designers quite literally draw out the solutions to their design problems. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten and one that has recently been underscored by New York publisher Designers & Books, whose new crowdfunding campaign hopes to support a reissue of The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I Kahn.

Last published in a small print run in 1973, the seminal work features Kahn’s sketches and writings on the likes of his famed Salk Institute in San Diego and the Richards Medical Research Building in Philadelphia. According to the book’s editor, Richard Saul Wurman, it will be “a book of Kahn, rather than about him”, showing the journey he took to build these works. It offers a chance to pore over Khan’s sketches (which is why I’ll be contributing to the campaign before it closes on 31 March) and will offer invaluable insight into the mind of one of the world’s greatest modernist architects.


Sense of scale

Earlier this month the exhibition Aldo Rossi: The Architect and the Cities previewed at Rome’s Maxxi museum, spotlighting the work of one of Italy’s most celebrated architects and designers. Unfortunately, it will now not open to the general public until the latest coronavirus restrictions ease. Following the tradition of Italian architecture, Rossi was a master of many trades.

Image: Luigi Fiano
Image: Luigi Fiano
Image: Luigi Fiano

This exhibition sets out to showcase the various projects through which he expressed his radical ideas, including the bold Parigi armchairs produced for office-furniture specialist Unifor in 1989, which are still in production. While there is a certain whimsy to his postmodern architecture, his work with architect Gianni Braghieri on the Modena Cemetery, with its unique cube-shaped ossuary, aimed to link the neoclassical architecture of the city with more modern ideas about planning.


More is more

Sensitivity has been thrown out the window in this bold reworking of Louis Vuitton’s 1981 flagship space in Ginza, Tokyo, through a new glass-laden design. Extending the original building upwards, Japanese architect Jun Aoki and New York-based Peter Marino wrapped it in a striking, rippled-glass façade that aims to imitate reflections dancing across pools of water. The myriad colours generated as sunlight bounces off the surface are down to a vast expanse of dichroic window film that covers the glass.

The building reopened this week and greets visitors with a central staircase made from sculpted oak and framed by glass to accentuate the seven-storey structure’s organic aesthetic. Curving counters and ceiling panels continue to contribute to the sense of flow. Shifting through colour tones across the interiors – from pink and orange on the women’s floor to saturated shades of red, turquoise and lime in the men’s section, it makes a vibrant backdrop for the brand’s elegant fashion.

Image: Mew


Idea banks

Throughout its 97-year history, Danish firm CF Møller has built a reputation for seamlessly integrating architecture, landscapes and urban design. It’s a combination that’s left it well-placed to reimagine a large stretch of flood-prone waterfront land on the Gudenå river, in the heart of the Danish city of Randers. Here, its lead architect Lasse Vilstrup Palm explains how the firm’s design embraces changing water levels and what other cities could learn from the work.

How did the project come to fruition?
We started this project to work out how to reconnect the city with the river delta, while also addressing stormwater risks and creating opportunities for urban development. The basic concept is to embrace the environmental challenges that Randers and Gudenå face, namely rising sea levels and a threat from water running off and down from the surrounding hills. To do so, we have designed what we call a “climate ribbon”, which is a 4km-long embankment on each side of the river that allows the development to embrace those threats positively without blocking the access of citizens, and the city, to the water.

What do these developments look like?
We deliberately tried to create as many different meetings as we could between water, nature, and city life. We have housing on top of the embankment but also in front of it, offering ways of living within the natural delta. There’s also a tidal park that plays with the experience of tides rising over a day or year, with space for kids to play with water. And then there are more hardscape urban squares, which have more cultural aspects. It’s there that we have referred to some of the positive steps we’ve seen in Denmark over the past 10 years, where cities have created harbour baths. Inspired by this, we introduced a river bath so that people could embrace the river.

For other cities facing the threat of rising river and sea levels, does this set a standard for designing with water?
It does. How we handle these big-scale issues related to climate adaption is an important aspect of Danish urban development at the moment. So we’re trying to investigate how we can respond to this challenge and benefit many other cities. We want to show rising water levels in terms of potential rather than challenge.

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


If looks could grill

With its delightful name and form, this one-legged grill was a fixture of stylish Canadian gardens in the late 1960s, courtesy of the relatively unknown designer William Wiggins. Introduced to the market in 1968 by Ontario-founded firm Sheperd (today a multinational manufacturer of hardware accessories headquartered in Michigan), the popular range came in three different sizes with a matching side table that resembled a raised flying saucer.

The futuristic form of this grill may be strangely reminiscent of another famous design of the era (yes, that Eero Aarnio chair) but for barbecues, it represented an innovation. Many models on the market today are spherical because the shape circulates hot air, resulting in an even char. So besides its undeniable charm, the Ball B Q was a technical pioneer – and would surely be standing jauntily on many terraces today, were it on offer.


Way to glow

Swedish brand Pholc has again teamed up with architecture and design duo Mats Broberg and Johan Ridderstråle to create the latest addition to its lighting catalogue. The Romb table lamp is cleverly designed to play with perception: it appears chunky and cuboid but is narrow enough to sit on thin surfaces such as windowsills.

The duo came up with the idea of a compressed rhombus shape while working on their architectural models. “We often use corrugated cardboard when modelling potential designs for buildings. As we were forming them one day, the architecture prototypes began to take shape as a design piece, which eventually formed the foundation for Romb,” says Johan Ridderstråle. The lamp provides a soft light and comes in two different shapes and colours, Cotton and Cumin. “It’s quiet, discreet, and warm,” says Ridderstråle. “Enough to set a tone but not dictate it.”


Taking shape

An underappreciated gem of modernist design has been polished up and presented to a new audience through this handsome monograph. The project analyses the work of Rudolph de Harak, whose 1960s album art for Westminster Records and paperback covers for Mcgraw-Hill combined modernist ideas about simplicity with abstract geometric designs.

An incredible resource for graphic designers, and a lovely coffee-table book for the rest of us, Rational Simplicity: Rudolph de Harak, Graphic Designer was written and designed by former De Harak studio partner Richard Poulin. He is currently raising funds for the title through publishing platform Volume and it’s a project that’s certainly worthy of your attention.


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