Wednesday. 5/5/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Physical education

Remember the anticipation that you felt before primary-school class trips? As an old bus rumbled outside the classroom, you grasped your permission slip and – if you were like me – were overly excited at the prospect of seeing a tiger.

If we’ve talked at any point in the past week, you will have picked up quite quickly that I’m in a headspace that’s similar to that nine-year-old about to head to the zoo. Only this time I’m a design writer gearing up to go to the Venice Architecture Biennale. When speaking to the event’s curator, Hashim Sarkis, this week, our discussion naturally turned to why the event was going ahead, given that some travel bans are still in place and other events are continuing to opt for online iterations.

His answer, much like a teacher quizzed on the importance of a field trip, is that the thinking and lessons of the biennale are most powerful when experienced in person, with all our senses engaged. If the event is to inspire a better world, then people need to see, hear, smell and feel what it’s like to live in, say, a home made from environmentally friendly brine-based cement (a proposal by Dubai-based architects Waiwai). Sarkis explains that it’s this “haptic, experiential” immersion that makes attending Venice an indispensable learning tool.

“It’s not about looking at pictures or reading,” says Sarkis. “It’s about experiences, installations and moving through the spaces. That dimension of architecture is irreplaceable.” It’s why, permission slip in hand, I can’t wait to get to Venice to learn. This time, however, here’s hoping I won’t have to take an old bus to get there.


Artfully furnished

A unique Danish and Japanese collaboration, the Karimoku Case Study is continuing to bear fruit in Tokyo, having completed its second residential project. The Azabu Residence combines the skillsets of Copenhagen’s Norm Architects and Tokyo’s Keiji Ashizawa Design in a handsome apartment renovation where much of the furniture has been produced for the designers by Japanese manufacturer Karimoku.

In homage to In Praise of Shadows, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s famous book on Japanese aesthetics, this design masterfully balances light and shade across the interiors. American modernism is also a key inspiration: the timbers deployed across the project are dark and rich in colour, drawing upon smoked oak and brown wood veneers, reminiscent of the walnut wares popularised in mid-century US design. This moodier tone is offset in a calm and contemplative manner by lighter elements such as a soft white paper lampshade and a plush cream sofa.


Heading west

For many furniture companies, sales have remained robust over the past year, with clients upgrading homes and revamping offices. Retail growth has been tricky, however, and so it’s heartening to see Danish furniture brand Hay continuing its expansion into the US with this new shop in Berkeley, California. A subsidiary of US furniture giant Herman Miller Group, the space will allow Californians to get up close and personal with the brand’s colourful and practical array of furniture.

“In recent months we’ve found that customers are wanting to shop for home decor in-person, as they near the end of their decision-making process,” says Debbie Propst, president of Herman Miller Group Retail. He adds that while online channels can support design companies, furniture shopping is still very much a physical affair – and should be celebrated as such.

Image: Felix Odell


Love is the rug

Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg is founder of The Ninevites, a textile brand that celebrates craftsmanship and empowers corners of the world that are rarely represented in international design. Working between Africa and South America, the Stockholm-based designer has become known for made-to-order rugs that use lush mohair, the results of which are then shipped to customers around the world. We’re celebrating Mlangeni-Berg’s enterprise and design nous as our Best New Talent in the inaugural Monocle Design Awards, published in our May issue, which is out now, and spoke to her this week on Monocle 24’s Monocle on Design.

Tell us about the inspiration behind The Ninevites.
I was studying at Kaospilot [Denmark’s “alternative-business” school] and was really interested in the textile industry in South America, from the style of weaving to the graphics used. So I went to Peru, Colombia and Ecuador to do some research and I realised that there was not a lot of collaboration between South America and Africa. So I took traditional [African] patterns, evolved them and made them more modern with a graphic designer. I then met up with a textile weaver in Lima, who wove these patterns into beautiful rugs. I come from a fashion background and I wasn’t originally planning to make rugs. But after I saw what he did, I was blown away and the project started from there.

What have you learnt from working across two continents?
What has come to light is that lots of things on the African continent, for example Congolese raffia textiles, were considered craft but not necessarily design. But in the past few years young people in Africa have started reclaiming this and saying, “Hey, what we do is also design.” I guess design [can sometimes be viewed] as a Eurocentric thing because everything that came from Africa was seen as artefacts or craft. But now we are going back to look and are realising that really cool stuff has been made for a very long time. It just wasn’t recognised as that.

How does this realisation feed into your approach to design?
It’s about taking the time out to educate myself about what’s happening in Africa. My curiosity is now around what is happening on the continent and how young people are giving it new meaning by exploring and experimenting with the traditional – and evolving it. But it’s also important to look at all the archives and the work that has been created before and learn from that.

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


Metal winner

Maarten van Severen’s design of the LC95A happened almost by accident. The story goes that the Belgian interiors architect took a leftover piece of aluminium and, in folding it over, realised that it took the form of a chair. The resulting chaise lounge, made of a single sheet of aluminium, enjoys a gravity-defying elegance but, like most of his designs, Van Severen’s version was a one-off.

And although authorised plastic versions were made by Italian brand Kartell, we feel that there’s an opportunity for the aluminium version – made by Lensvelt – to make a broader mark on the furniture market. New chairs could have a sustainable edge and be made from industrial leftovers and offcuts. The result? A piece of furniture that’s good for the planet and – design enthusiasts.

Image: Salva López


Outsider art

As days get longer and brighter for many of us, and as countries emerge from long winter lockdowns, the need to push open the windows, head to the rooftop and pull a chair onto the terrace has never felt so urgent. Spanish furniture manufacturer Expormim is getting in gear for spring with its latest campaign titled, “Outdoor 2021: to be global, think local”, which is rooted in the brand’s dedication to Spanish craftsmanship.

To promote the campaign, Expormim’s outdoor pieces are photographed under a Mediterranean sunset, drawing long shadows on the terracotta floor of a country house surrounded by pine trees. The Lapala chair – originally designed by Alberto Lievore, Jeannette Altherr and Manel Molina in 1998 and rereleased by Expormim in 2014 – has been rereleased in a weather-resistant version (made with nautical rope and stainless steel) for alfresco dining. The relaxed Liz armchair by Ludovica Serafini and Roberto Palomba, meanwhile, could easily be mistaken for an indoor chair but is protected from the elements thanks to its recycled aluminium frame. It also has a plush seat cushion upholstered in technical fabric, making it ideal for poolside lounging or enjoying an evening apéritif.


Line drawing

Zürich’s restaurant and café terraces are reopening and the city is springing back into life. To mark the occasion, Swiss design agency Ruf Lanz has created an advertisement for its long-time client Zürich Public Transport.

The posters, which are already peppered around the city’s trams and buses, include a fork with rolled-up spaghetti representing one of the transit system’s various lines. Through this tasty campaign, the agency succeeds in not only highlighting the comprehensive transport network but also enticing passengers to support the hospitality industry across the city.


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