Wednesday. 23/6/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Hit the road

Spending time in Italy recently, including a visit to the creative studios of Ferrari (hear more on this week’s episode of Monocle on Design, has helped me fall back in love with good car design. And it’s the older models made for the everyday use of everyday people that have really captured my imagination. From vintage Piaggio Ape Max three-wheeler mini trucks with tiny trailers loaded up with fruit, bouncing along dusty country trails, to boxy 1980s Fiat Pandas, still looking cool on the Ligurian coastline, these Italian cars are imbued with character.

Enjoying these classics I was also reminded that the design of contemporary get-arounds (on the more affordable end of the spectrum) don’t seem to inspire an aspirational audience, particularly young people. A 2018 report showed that in the UK the number of people under 20 even bothering to get a driver’s license had nearly halved since the 1990s. Although surveys show that this same generation is keen to get behind the wheels of modern electric vehicles, they aren’t buying them. I believe this might be because what’s currently on the market doesn’t appeal to them.

As the car industry motors into a better, more sustainable electric future (and as these models become more accessible), the smarts under the hood are overpowering the creative might of the vehicle’s design teams. Glaring electronic iPad-like dashboards, rigid seating and exterior shapes that simultaneously try to say “I’m sexy, sleek and sustainable” are failing to turn heads.

Designers of the next generation of cars don’t need to completely (ahem) reinvent the wheel in their efforts to please the general public. Perhaps some time in Italy surveying its glorious car culture of yesteryear might provide some inspiration.


Floating, an idea

The Thames might be one of the most famous rivers in the world but for Kate Woods, whose family business has captained boats and chartered yachts on the waterway since the 19th century, its potential is yet to be fully realised. To address this, the designer has just overseen the launch of Woods Quay, a new floating pavilion on the site of an original Victorian pier.

“We felt that there was no care for design and architecture on the Thames,” says Woods. “So, we wanted to create an architectural, atmospheric way to embark and disembark the river while taking in its curve at Westminster.” Complete with a reception hall that has views of the Houses of Parliament, an intimate dining room with an open kitchen and a well-stocked bar, it’s the first high-quality floating entertainment space on the river – and the perfect point of disembarkation for private charter launches.

The material palette is inspired by the Thames itself, complete with “river-pebble” terrazzo flooring and English oak beams. Woods worked with lighting designer Sally Storey and architect Simon Skeffington on the structure at Tilbury Docks, Essex, before towing it 25 miles upstream to its new location in central London. From there, Woods hopes the new quay might inspire further design-minded transformations of riverfront structures.


Outside the (jewellery) box

One positive outcome of pandemic restrictions has been that fashion houses have explored different formats for presenting their collections online. As well as enjoying the work of A-list film directors and conceptual artists bringing brands’ physical goods to life on the small screen, we’re particularly enamoured by Rome-based fashion house Bulgari’s addition of architecture to its efforts.

Image: First image: Agostino Osio & AMO; Second and third image: AMO
Image: First image: Agostino Osio & AMO; Second and third image: AMO
Image: First image: Agostino Osio & AMO; Second and third image: AMO

Already known for its product collaborations with industry luminaries including the late Zaha Hadid and Japanese master Tadao Ando, the jewellery and accessory brand’s latest tie-up is with Rotterdam design giant Oma’s research counterpart, Amo. Amo has produced some stunning scenography as a setting for Bulgari’s latest filmed presentation. “We wanted to create scenes that resonate with the design of fine jewellery, as much as the artisanship behind the scenes,” says Oma partner Ellen van Loon who, together with Giulio Margheri, devised models and clever lighting setups to form a backdrop that paid homage to Milan’s historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Image: Rodrigo Navarro


Border lands

Since she founded her namesake practice in 2004, Mexico City-based designer Tatiana Bilbao has sought to imbue architecture with social value. This work is explored in her latest book Two Sides of the Border: Reimagining the Region. Published by Yale School of Architecture and Lars Müller Publishers, the weighty tome looks at the shared histories, cultures and economics of the US and Mexico through the lens of architecture. To find out more about the built environment on this contentious border, we spoke to Bilbao for Monocle on Design.

What was the starting point for the project?
The idea came following the 2016 US election. For me it was really striking that someone could be winning an election with a discourse of hate towards my country. It made me realise that the only possibility for a discourse like this to permeate and be agreed with is a lack of understanding of the situation. And whenever I find something so problematic, I always try to find something productive to do with it. I learned this from my dad who had a sign in his office saying, “If you come with a problem and you don’t bring a solution, you’re still part of the problem.”

I started thinking with friends and colleagues in Mexico about what to do and we realised there were three ways of dealing with this situation. The first was thinking on a professional level about how we could start bringing projects to the table that could open up opportunities or tackle issues or encourage the understanding of migration, and how migration has shaped places and cities. Secondly, we realised we could work individually with our social and political agenda, getting involved in protests and being more insistent with politicians. Third and finally, we saw that it could be a productive line of work within academia.

So you wrote a book. How can this help fix the problem?
I think that one of the important issues for me is that in any given school on either side of the border, we have been really lacking the opportunity to understand the subject. We have dismissed the history of the creation of these two countries as a reference for architecture. I want to promote the idea of understanding the symbiotic existence of these two countries: the US can’t exist without the relationship that it has built with Mexico and Mexico can’t exist as it is without the relationship it has built with the US. So, working with friends on the book, we looked at what the design of spaces can enable or disable within this region’s historical, geographical, economic, cultural and religious issues.

So, can architecture change the world?
I don’t think architecture can change the world. But I think certainly we could build platforms on which anyone could produce change.

To hear more from Tatiana Bilbao, listen to ‘Monocle on Design’.

Image: Anje Jager


Shine a light

Heavy-duty flashlights may not be in overwhelming demand, but we’d argue this has less to do with smartphones (during a camping trip or blackout, the battery only lasts for so long) as with dullness of design. This eye-catcher from 1983 shows that there’s no need for torches to be bulky and monochrome. The top of the cylinder rotates into an L-shape, so it can be comfortably carried or set down as a stylish free-standing light.

This torch’s designer, Argentinian architect Emilio Ambasz, was appointed curator of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Moma) at just 25 years old and pioneered green architecture in the 1970s yet remained little known outside the profession. But with the newly established Emilio Ambasz Research Institute at Moma and a portion of the Italian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale dedicated to the architect, there’s hardly been a better time to revive one of his finest industrial designs.


Modern times

Danish furniture brand Fredericia dug up decades-old sketches to bring this handsome mid-century chair to life. Stackable and lightweight, it was designed in 1954 by Børge Mogensen and takes its name from the designer’s countryside residence in which drawings of the piece were first found.

Hired as the first in-house designer for Fredericia (one of Denmark’s oldest chair factories), Mogensen was among the pioneers of Danish modernism, alongside masters Arne Jacobsen and Hans J Wegner. This movement introduced a minimalist and functionalist approach to furniture-making that has gone on to define the country’s design output ever since.

Available in various timber colours, the chair’s wide seat and backrest are connected by a simple tubular metal frame. Presenting a simple and clean silhouette, the Lynderup chair easily adapts to its surroundings and lends itself to residential and hospitality projects alike.


To a T

Finnish furniture favourite Artek has looked to the art world for this special edition of Alvar Aalto’s 1930s classic Stool 60, which was created with London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). As part of the ICA’s Artist Editions programme, 252 of these pieces collectively known as “21 Questions” are being made available on 1 July. They pay homage to Swiss artist duo Fischli/Weiss’s much-loved conceptual art project “Questions” – 21 excerpts from the piece are emblazoned on T-shirts that can be worn or draped over the stool.

Image: Todd White
Image: Todd White
Image: Todd White

The surreal and ambitious questions include “Why does the world afford the luxury of having me?” and the ICA describes the product as multifarious and playful: “A fashion item, a piece of modernist functional design and – when combined – a sculpture.”


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