Wednesday. 28/4/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Assume form

Weeks of conversations with our correspondents across the globe and hours spent interviewing designers from Stockholm to Seoul have resulted in the inaugural Monocle Design Awards. As of tomorrow, you’ll be able to discover the winners for yourselves as Monocle’s May issue hits newsstands and drops through subscribers’ letterboxes. In this very special edition of the magazine, we look at the world’s best makers and top new projects, from architecture to urban planning and graphic design to furniture production.

Having spent the past 14 years profiling the globe’s most interesting architects, urban planners, graphic designers, creative consultants and furniture-makers, we felt that it was time to recognise this talent more formally. Selected by Monocle’s editors and its network of design correspondents, the 50 winners include British-born architect David Chipperfield, an Ikea product made in collaboration with Netherlands-based designer Sabine Marcelis and much more.

We’ve enlisted our best photographers and writers to tell these stories but it’s the world-class body of work that is the real hero. Monocle has always emphasised the role that good design can play in improving quality of life and creating more liveable cities, and these awards reflect those championing this approach. Now, we’re not going to give everything away but here’s a teaser of what’s to come in the form of a tight selection of five winners from the final Top 50, plus a little insight into the award itself.

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Image: Charly Broyez


Inside job

The breathtaking design for this residential building in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, tucked in the courtyard of a 1970s apartment block, evolved from pure necessity. “We had to fit all construction elements through an opening only 2.3 metres wide,” says Raphaël Renard of French firm Mars Architectes. “Working with timber was simply the logical solution.” Fortunately so, as its masterful employment elevates this project into a class of its own. Imbued with the natural warmth of the European Douglas fir, each of its 14 apartments boasts a balcony, ceiling-height windows and fine wooden flooring. Residents also have access to an inner courtyard that helps to provide a sense of community.

Laudably, the architects devoted just as much care to the surroundings, creating a haven of more than 30 regional plant species in what had previously been a barren concrete enclosure. This regard for detail and wellbeing that is frequently lacking in new builds sent Parisians clamouring. On completion last October, rental contracts were snapped up from developer Gecina within a few days. “The feedback from the residents says that they are delighted, so we are happy too,” says Renard. Indeed, 14 Accommodations shows that, in expert hands, architecture is only enhanced by being in a tight spot.


Training tracks

Using lessons learned when pioneering New York’s famous High Line, landscape architecture studio James Corner Field Operations has taken things to a new level on The Underline in Miami. It does a lot with a little, taking derelict land beneath an elevated railway and improving quality of life in a sunny city where residents mostly use cars to get around.

Image: Gesi Schilling
Image: Gesi Schilling

Its outdoor gym, basketball courts and running track, as well as new bicycle and pedestrian paths, all allow citizens to be more active. Whether they’re limbering up for a yoga class or taking up new cycling commutes, residents of Miami will surely agree with Monocle that this verdant space is a top urban intervention for 2021.


Best of the best

For an award that needed to represent a particularly Monocle flavour of design, we called upon longtime collaborator and friend Harry Thaler of South Tyrol to create the concept. Thaler is a specialist in working with the beautiful timbers of this Italian Alpine region. For this project he chose oak from the area and combined it with brass to form this understated trophy that doubles up as a paperweight.

Image: Luca Meneghel
Image: Luca Meneghel
Image: Luca Meneghel

Every winner of a Monocle Design Award will receive one of these limited edition pieces, along with a certificate of recognition. “The fact that the award has two purposes corresponds with my principles of sustainability and functionality in design,” says Thaler, whose international work across industrial design and architecture tends to blend traditional craftsmanship with novel shapes and interesting, tactile materials. “The winners will receive an award that does not just gather dust on the shelves but can be used daily.”


Animal instincts

“The environment is so beautiful in Hanko that it was natural for me to open the shop here,” says Anna Fromond, co-founder of Cigale & Fourmi and the mind behind the finest design destination of 2021. Housed in a 19th-century wooden pavilion and curated with an inimitable Nordic sensibility, it puts this idyllic Finnish resort town on the itinerary of any design devotee.

Image: Juho Kva
Image: Juho Kva
Image: Juho Kva

Cigale & Fourmi specialises in pottery and has an expert selection of homewares, from chic Danish sun chairs to hardy Fiskars garden tools. Its ethos lies in the name, drawn from a French fable about an ant and a grasshopper. “We have the two sides in all of us: the hard worker and the idler,” says Fromond (pictured). “You can only find balance by making room for both.” The shop has a broader scope than simply selling good design wares, however. “People can stop for a coffee after a stroll on the beach or lounge in the hammocks,” says Fromond. “I imagine this as a living room for the community.”

Image: Luigi Fiano


Top-class assembly

Gio Ponti is one of a select band of designers who deserve the title of “visionary”. Years before we all became hooked on ready-to-assemble furniture, the Italian architect conceived of the eight-piece Round D.154.5 chair.

Catching the eye with its aerofoil shapes, it featured in many of Ponti’s interior-design projects. We pay tribute to Molteni&C for bringing this overlooked gem out of the archive and reissuing it for a new generation.


Show on the road

For Japanese, the mere glimpse of the kuro neko (“black cat”) logo unfailingly conjures up images of Yamato Transport’s trucks and its army of delivery staff. After all, the company’s smart uniforms and vehicles have been seen across the country since it was founded in 1919. Updating the look of one of the nation’s most famous brands, therefore, is no small task. But this 2021 renewal courtesy of master graphic designer Kenya Hara is smart and subtle – a testament to our feeling that strong branding doesn’t necessarily have to be loud.

Following the makeover of staff uniforms last autumn, the Japanese logistics giant launched its new corporate logo this spring. “I made sure that the scene of a cat carrying a kitten is still instantly recognisable,” says Hara, who refined the details of the form without breaking the meaning of the symbol. “It’s an environmental design too, so I chose a harmonious colour scheme.” Indeed, Yamato’s fleet of nearly 57,000 trucks has to zip across the length of the country sporting this new identity without disturbing the landscape – whether it be in downtown Tokyo or the serene countryside of Onomichi. So a subtle shade of grey was deployed as a backdrop for Hara’s punchy yellow-and-black logo.


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