Wednesday. 31/3/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


More haste

By the time architect Karim Nader had finished explaining the difficulties that his home city of Beirut had gone through in the past year, including an economic collapse, protests on the streets and the port explosion that brought the place to its knees, I’d forgotten that it had also suffered through the pandemic – until he reminded me of that too. Yet, in conversation for a forthcoming edition of Monocle on Design, his tone remained upbeat. Brimming with the resourceful attitude that seems to define this city’s population, he took me through a project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, to rehabilitate 10 Beirut schools that had been laid to waste by the blast.

In dealing with this emergency, he had to design without hesitation. The pursuit of perfection that tends to define the ambitions of architects was thrown out of the window and in its place came a preference for productivity. “We learned to be quick decision-makers,” he said. “It’s a completely different approach to masterminding an architectural gem.” With this mindset, the repairs were done much faster than anticipated. Nader was able to go back to the project’s backers and ask for more funds to enhance the schools – to add rooftop greenhouses and better facilities – to which they agreed. Nader adds that this reactive approach to fixing the built environment in Beirut has been mirrored by many of his contemporaries, and great work is being done citywide.

In an industry that too often gets bogged down in defining the details, there’s much to learn here. It shouldn’t take a catastrophe to make us weigh up actually how quickly designers can do good work. Sometimes, simply getting stuck in to solve a problem and then refining the nuances at the end is the best approach.


Taking care

“The event is not fundamentally about selling, it’s about having conversations on the importance of our three thematic pillars: climate, care and community,” says Simone LeAmon, a curator of Melbourne Design Week, an annual event running until 5 April this year across the city. “In the end we want people to be interested in and stimulated by design.”

The participating designers have taken these themes and run with them to striking effect. Broached Commissions, a Melbourne-based artistic production house, has worked with heritage wood company Elton Group to unpack the historical sustainability of the timber industry. Together, they are producing 12 pieces of furniture for the home (pictured, second from top) using new and historical veneers – some up to 70 years old – from Elton Group’s archive.

Image: Gareth Sobey
Image: Gareth Sobey
Image: Gareth Sobey
Image: Gareth Sobey

Also making items for the home are 11 designers from Adelaide’s Jamfactory (pictured, third from top), a not-for-profit organisation that helps young creatives to build their careers. Showing their work as part of Jamfactory’s exhibition are Jordan Leeflang and Xanthe Murphy, whose stained-black, American white oak Ripple coffee table (pictured, fourth from top), celebrates the natural phenomenon of sand ripples and the collective process of making.

Leaning further into the thematic discussion, with a more abstract take on items we encounter in our everyday lives, is Natalie Turnbull. The stylist and art director takes familiar household objects, such as paper lamps and vases, and turns them into sculptural works (pictured, top) through the use of light and tweaks to their traditional forms. It’s sure to be a conversation starter.

Image: Franklin Azzi Architecture


Good enough to eat

At the foot of one of the world’s architectural wonders, this kiosk designed by architect Franklin Azzi takes a relaxed approach to its prestigious surroundings. A space to serve waffles to Eiffel Tower sightseers, the simple structure, made from timber, glass and metal (with a zinc roof that nods to the Parisian vernacular) takes inspiration from another French architectural great: Jean Prouvé.

In the wake of the Second World War, Prouvé developed prefabricated housing that was quick to assemble and emphasised large windows to make the most of the outdoors. Similarly, the Eiffel Kiosk and the wide openings that mark its exterior provide a welcoming experience for customers, while its overhanging roof offers respite to waffle eaters from rain or sun. Although the architect calls it “micro-architecture”, we’ll tag it as world-class design with a meaningful message.


Glow up

Sabine Marcelis is a Dutch-Kiwi designer, whose eponymous studio is based in Rotterdam. A graduate of the renowned Design Academy of Eindhoven, Marcelis has gone on to create a successful practice that works across a range of design disciplines – from materials and installations to products. Having already collaborated on design projects with global brands such as Fendi, Eastpak and Aesop, the multi-award-winning designer’s most recent collaboration is with Ikea. For the brand’s 2021 Ikea Art Event, Marcelis was selected alongside artists including Daniel Arsham and Stefan Marx to form works that can be viewed as pieces of art in the home, without the exorbitant price tags. She tells us more.

You’re launching a lamp with Ikea; how did the collaboration come about?
Henrik Most [Ikea’s creative leader] called me out of the blue. There wasn’t a brief; his question was more along the lines of, “What would you design as an object for Ikea?” From there, we decided on a lamp, as it’s something I do a lot in my work outside of this collaboration. I work on playing with lights and the interaction of light with materials in particular, so it was a cool challenge to try and translate that work into a more mass-produced version for Ikea.

How did you combine your approach to work with a brand such as Ikea to form something that could be produced cost-effectively and en masse? Quite early on I decided that I didn’t want to work with resin or glass, or similar to how I work within my studio. I’m normally involved from the idea all the way to creating the final object. What’s unique about working with a company such as Ikea is that you get to just focus purely on the creative part. When optimising its production, the Ikea team were so incredibly professional and experienced, so I had to take a little bit of a step back. Instead, it forced me to think more about how the shape of the material can influence light.

What did you want to achieve with this design and how does its role as a piece of art fit in with that?
My aim with the lamp is that it will allow for the space it is in to be transformed through the changing of colour. The lamp lives as quite an anonymous object when it’s not turned on; it’s just subtle enough to blend into a space. But then it makes enough of a statement when it’s turned on that it can transform that same space. You have the option to decide what colour you want the space to be, so it’s nice to be able to transform it from daytime working mode to something cosier, or even all the way to party mode, just by changing the colour of the lamp.

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


Worldly goods

Those who move house frequently surely find themselves wishing that they could fit all their belongings into one suitcase. This stylish wardrobe trunk by Japanese interior designer Shigeru Uchida goes some way to making that idea a reality. Standing on six wheels, this rare object can be clasped shut or unlatched to serve as a full-sized wardrobe.

With its smooth red leather upholstery and robust Bubinga wood shelving, it looks equally handsome either way. But reissuing this wardrobe on wheels isn't just ideal for the itinerant. The design is also a welcome alternative to the open storage solutions that have become increasingly common, as it allows for dishevelled-looking shelves to be tucked away at a moment’s notice.


Seat values

Friday is the late Danish master furniture designer Hans J Wegner’s 107th birthday. To mark the occasion, the manufacturer of his classic Wishbone Chair, Carl Hansen & Søn, is reissuing the famous piece in mahogany. The design icon has been produced by Carl Hansen for some 70 years and celebrating it with a new edition has become an annual tradition for the firm, says CEO Knud Erik Hansen.

“Wegner’s furniture holds such a strong place in the public consciousness and all the designs have the potential to be reinterpreted using different wood types,” he says. “We aimed to create a version of the Wishbone Chair with a new look but without compromising on the chair’s design integrity.” Produced in a limited special edition from certified mahogany, an exclusive wood type that is well known for its deep, uniform colour, this is a tribute done with subtlety and elegance.


Self made

The story of Japanese master of concrete architecture Tadao Ando is something of a rags-to-riches tale. From a poor family, he grew up to become a boxer before teaching himself the craft of architecture and going on to realise many of the world’s most magnificent modern buildings, including Japan’s Church of the Light and Chichu Art Museum. Ando has cemented his reputation as one of the world’s best architects over the past few decades, picking up the prestigious Pritzker prize for his work along the way

This story is captured in Ando’s Hands: Tadao Ando Works 1976-2020 a new monograph published by CCC Art Lab Co, which showcases 38 projects from the past 44 years through images and sketches. Like Ando’s work, the piece is particularly high-end, with only 200 being copies made available. There is also an even-more-premium set of 50 editions featuring Ando’s hand drawings of some of his projects on washi paper.


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