Wednesday. 2/6/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


On occasion

The bulk of my work in recent months has centred around the return of design events. From heading to Venice last month to report for Monocle’s Venice Biennale Special Edition newspaper to attending the opening day of London’s own Design Biennale yesterday, my calendar has been full. After a year with very little in-person interaction within the design community, it has felt good. But it has also been a touch exhausting. Clearly there’s an art to attending. For those of you gearing up to visit any of the aforementioned events, here are some tips to ensure that you see what you want to see and meet who you want to meet.

Don’t have a plan. It can be difficult to tell from the guidebook which exhibitions are going to inspire you and keep you engaged. So whip around the event space first to get a feel for what’s on show, before coming back to whatever tickles your fancy.

Go early (or late). People are eager to be out and about again, which means that event spaces are heaving at peak times. A highlight of my Venice trip was dropping into the Arsenale an hour before its doors closed, when nobody else was around.

Ask to meet the curators. Many curators, especially those at the London Design Biennale, are turning their curatorial trip into an extended holiday. Chances are they’re lurking around the exhibition halls, potentially on hand for a private tour.

Eat and drink where the designers are. If you can’t find them at the event then head to the bars they’re drinking at. In Venice, the architects were posting up along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Stay somewhere nice. If you’re travelling, book a place large enough to hold a party in (restrictions permitting). It’s always handy to be the host of kick-ons.


Mutual respect

Jaime Oliver and Paloma Hernaiz are the architects behind Ohlab, the Palma de Mallorca-based creator of clever and sustainable residences, innovative retail spaces and the glorious Can Bordoy hotel. (One of their Mallorcan countryside projects also graces the pages of The Monocle Book of Homes ). The latest of their schemes to edge towards completion is Can Santacilia, a collection of 15 apartments inside a historically significant Palma edifice that has elements from as far back as the 12th century. Indeed, archaeologists made what Oliver describes as “some very interesting discoveries”, including a ceiling from the building’s earliest days. It’s not uncommon for delays to last years when such discoveries are made but, luckily, he and the authorities got on nicely and the project never stopped. It is, says Hernaiz, without doubt,“the most complex project we have ever done”.

Image: José Hevia
Image: José Hevia
Image: José Hevia
Image: José Hevia

To bring the mostly derelict site back to life, while respecting all the quirks of the building, Ohlab has used what it calls “noble materials”: plaster mouldings, timber coffered roofs, and metalwork, linens and textiles from local companies. Then there are special commissions, such as lighting from another Palma favourite, Contain. The outcome, as can be seen in the show apartment featured here, is a series of calm, luminous spaces on a grand scale that are primed for an easy modern life. The mirrored-box bathrooms are also something of an Ohlab signature.

And how is the architecture trade in Mallorca as we edge out of the pandemic? “Booming,” says Oliver. “There’s an incredible demand for residences. We thought that people would cancel projects but the opposite happened. People have increased their budgets and the sizes of the places they want built. They are really thinking about what makes a home. As one client said, ‘You only live once.’”


Old soul

The Musée Carnavalet in Paris has just reopened in the vibrant Marais district after four years of renovation, with a sharp new look. Located in two former private residences, the Hôtel Carnavalet and adjacent Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, it tells the history of Paris through 625,000 artefacts ranging from paintings to furniture. Lead architect Chatillon Architectes, which has restored storied buildings around France, worked alongside design giants Snøhetta on the upgrade.

Image: Antoine Mercusot, Jean-Baptiste Gurliat
Image: Antoine Mercusot, Jean-Baptiste Gurliat
Image: Antoine Mercusot, Jean-Baptiste Gurliat

It’s a smart refurbishment that isn’t afraid to be daring at the right moment. Views through classical-style entryways point to swooshing modern timber staircases. The minimalist foyer and clean lines of the new public furniture offset the old buildings’ grander and more eccentric moments. This successful design looks to become another story for this unique institution to tell.;

Image: Alberto Bernasconi


Strong currents

Designer, author and curator Marianne Krogh holds a masters in art history and a PhD from the Aarhus School of Architecture. It’s an education that left her perfectly placed to lead the Danish effort at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Denmark’s 2021 contribution, Connectedness, uses water to explore the built environment’s relationship with the elements. We caught up with Krogh at the biennale for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design, where she walked us through the exhibition and explained how a better understanding of water can lead to better architecture.

Water is often used as an ornamental tool but can it actually help us to build better architecture, and a better planet?
I think that there are some basic elements in our world – air, water, and earth – that we have taken for granted. For a very long time they were just there and we had plenty of them. But it’s not like that anymore: what was in the background has now come into the foreground. And in a way, this exhibition could have been about any of them. We chose water because it has a wide range of atmospheric and sensory experiences – you can touch it, smell it and hear it. It’s also extremely political: in many places in the world they don’t even have clean water. It has this whole span of meanings. So we use it as an architectural element, stressing the idea that we are connected with everything, that we are living entities interconnected with every living entity – plants and animals – on the planet.

How is this expressed in your pavilion?
The overall structure of the exhibition is built around a water system. We collect rainwater on the roof, which then runs into our little garden, gets cleaned with UV light and is led into the exhibition in pipes. It’s very important that we don’t hide the pipes. We are surrounded with so much technical stuff, especially in architecture; scratch any surface in a white modern building and beneath it there are millions of things. We wanted to be transparent about it because if we want to change something, or have an opinion about what’s going on, we have to see it. So we exposed our water pipes through the whole exhibition. The water pours into a large basin with a floating platform for people to walk on, with niches to sit down and drink tea brewed from the water. From here, you can follow the water back through the exhibition until it ends up in our small garden again, where the circulation continues.

What do you hope people take away from visiting this space?
I hope that people will be able to feel and reflect on connectedness. I don’t want architects to just think, “Oh, we can incorporate water into our next building.” I think that what’s at stake here is a very basic common denominator for life: we are interconnected with the elements. Having this awareness gives us great potential.

To hear more from Krogh, listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.


All-round performer

During a brief but prolific career in the 1960s, Italian industrial designer Joe Colombo became known for his futuristic “living systems”. These designs, which compressed the features of a kitchen, bedroom or entire apartment into one moveable piece of furniture, were based on the idea that technological advances would create a need for highly flexible living spaces. Colombo was finally proved right last year, when the home suddenly became the office, school and gym too.

The first of Colombo’s living systems was the cylindrical Combi Center, designed for Bernini in 1963. Made of stackable parts in wood, acrylic and aluminium, this beauty can be wheeled around and easily reassembled, serving as anything from a bookcase to a home bar. Given that Colombo not only predicted the multifunctional home of today but also made it look this attractive, it’s high time that the Combi Center was put back into production.


Quite the catch

In expanding the colour options for its popular outdoor-furniture range, Stockholm-based brand Massproductions adopted a technique traditionally used by English fishermen to give water-resistant qualities to canvas fabric. This smart new green oilcloth finish is achieved by treating the designs with boiled linseed oil, which provides the brand’s slender steel furniture with all-natural protection against the elements.

Looking equally elegant amid leafy greenery or on a pared-back poolside, the furniture’s mint-green hue provides a cheerful pop of colour that sets the right tone for breezy summer days to come. Massproductions is offering this finish on both its classic Tio collection and Roadie bench.


With the grain

Under the curatorship of architects Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner, the US pavilion has one of its best ever showings at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Beyond the new towering wooden structure that dramatically frames the pavilion, the focus on American timber construction continues inside via this evocative photography series from Daniel Shea. American Framing sees the celebrated New York photographer hone in on both the natural world and the construction aspects of timber building.

Shea uses black-and-white images to highlight the textures of the raw material in the wild, as well as its relationship to the built environment. Making a hero out of this most humble of materials, the series melds seamlessly into a smart overall exhibition that aims to help us better understand the importance of wood. Yet it will also stand alone as an impressive solo effort for years to come.


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