Wednesday 23 June 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 23/6/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Being present

At the opening of Venice’s Architecture Biennale in May, I sat down with Swiss-born curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, to discuss his new book, The Extreme Self (see In the Picture below). Conversation soon veered into the very unusual year that we have just experienced and Obrist talked about the creative ways in which he had been able to view work online as well as ways in which he saw the design and art world changing, with more potential for remote installations that could grow and evolve in far-flung locations. It wasn’t a particularly painful time for the man behind London’s Serpentine Pavilion and he seemed to relish the challenges of pulling together the lush visual pages of The Extreme Self exhibition digitally with Shumon Basar and Douglas Coupland, as well as viewing studios in distant lands as a smiling face on a smartphone screen.

But when talk swung back to Venice, and the importance of being at these types of events, his eyes lit up. “The day of yesterday felt like a month,” he said, recounting social breakfasts, walks, dinner, drinks and, of course, seeing the architecture exhibits. “So many ideas were born, so many sparks ignited – these things just can’t happen on video calls.”

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has allowed creatives to reappraise their work and practices, pause to reflect on who they are and swerve into daring new directions with their craft. But when it comes to displaying these projects, there’s simply no substitute for a physical location and a crowd of interested (and interesting) people. Thankfully, in the coming weeks, Europe will be alive with these types of gatherings, from Salone del Mobile to Paris Fashion Week. We look forward to seeing you there.


Different branch

Osaka’s central neighbourhoods were once home to countless wooden houses. Increasingly, however, demand for land close to the centre of the city has meant that many of these traditional structures have met the bulldozer to make way for high-rise apartments. So it’s likely that when architect Yoshihiro Yamamoto arrived on a site after one such home had been demolished, nosy neighbours might have thought that more condos were on the cards.

But rather than replacing the original home with a high-rise, the owners and Yamamoto took note of the area’s traditional character and designed a single-story house with a wooden interior. Catering to a young couple and an ageing parent, the structure had to serve multiple generations and the family’s cosmetics business that is run from the home. The arrangement presented a unique challenge for Yamamoto, who was tasked with finding a way to connect the dual uses but still allow for separation between work and home life.

The resulting design is both compact and organised. The elongated floor plan is centred around the kitchen, with a dining area on one side and office on the other. And the abundance of timber and natural light creates a tranquil atmosphere in an otherwise busy urban environment. Proof, according to Yamamoto, that “a grounded dwelling may be more luxurious than a condominium”.


Hot pots

After graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2007, Japan-raised Reiko Kaneko designed a range of products, from lighting to armchairs, that were sold across the globe. But it was the pull of the famed potteries of Stoke-on-Trent in the UK that saw her focus both her practice and manufacturing in the country where she had studied. Now based in London, after an extended stint in the West Midlands, the ceramicist has launched Botanical, a new collection of homeware with British manufacturer and retailer SCP.

Drawing on her time in Stoke-on-Trent, the one-off pieces are a contemporary evolution of the area’s pâte-sur-pâte technique. Originating in France before being further developed by a French émigré in the West Midlands, the approach sees a raised design painstakingly created layer by layer on a base ceramic. When adopted by Kaneko, the result is a collection of vases, plates and bowls decorated with beautifully elevated depictions of flora. It’s a reminder that traditional practices are always worth revisiting and that, sometimes, dinnerware can look too good to eat from.


At home, working

Fitting out an office or hotel room with furniture is a particular design challenge. These spaces often need to be furnished with contract items: desks, chairs, tables and beds made specifically for commercial use. Designed to be neutral, these pieces can lack character and distinction, and make for lifeless spaces. It’s a situation that has prompted Cassina to launch a new collection, Cassina Pro. The Italian furniture brand is taking its own residential designs and turning them into furniture that’s fit for contract settings. To find out more, we caught up with Cassina’s CEO, Luca Fuso, for a recent episode of Monocle On Design.

Tell us how the idea for the Cassina Pro collection came about. The idea is very simple. We have a great residential collection, with designs from 1918 to 2021. Among these we have a lot of design icons, many of which are part of the Cassina Pro collection. What do we do to make them “pro”? We certify them. Every single item is certified for professional use, stability, fireproofing and anything else you may need in order for it to be used in a contract environment. We can, for instance, make one of our residential tables for dining into a perfect desk for working.

What’s one of the icons you have turned ‘pro’? A very good example is the Ventaglio table by Charlotte Perriand. Designed in 1972, it is a very specific shape: the shape of a fan. But by adding sockets, cabling and electrification for Cassina Pro, it becomes a very modern place to work. What we’re doing is improving the aesthetics of working, so that you may have a beautiful table or a beautiful chair that keeps its beauty while being both certified and functional.

How does this play into the wider Cassina ethos? Well, you can have a very famous, classic piece of design history combined with, and made suitable for, professional and public use. The concept of Cassina is all about creating warm and welcoming environments that are made using different designers coming from different periods and eras. So, choosing from our collection, you can really enjoy the history of design in one place. And this is what makes a room made using Cassina furniture not a showroom but a piece of your home – and definitely a place where you would like to spend time.

To hear more design stories listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’.


Modern marvel

It might be hard to believe but there was a time when a Marcel Breuer chair didn’t have popular appeal. When Jack and Molly Pritchard founded Isokon in 1931, they enlisted Bauhaus luminaries Breuer and Walter Gropius to create furniture in plywood, hoping that the warm material would make the avant garde designs more palatable to a British audience. The Pritchards also commissioned a modernist apartment block in Hampstead, to be furnished with their products. The enterprise was not a commercial success but today the Isokon building and its interiors are celebrated as icons of the modern movement.

While many of Breuer’s designs are in wider production today, this stackable dining chair can only be custom-made at the London workshop of the company now named Isokon Plus. Thankfully, the historic firm also hasn’t stopped pushing the envelope, working with the likes of Barber & Osgerby (and others to come) to create contemporary designs as enduring as this Bauhaus classic.


Making the pitch

Summer 2021 is in full swing in Europe but we already have our eyes on next year with the Sling chair, part of Ethimo’s 2022 collection. “We found inspiration from the classic camping chairs from the 1970s,” says Chiara di Pinto, co-founder of Milanese creative studio Studiopepe, which created the laid-back design for the Italian outdoor-furniture company. “But, of course, we tried to translate it in terms of materials and finishes into something more sophisticated.”

The Sling chair is certainly no standard camper: the steel frame comes either lacquered white or in shades of brushed bronze, and fabrics are picked from French designer textiles from Élitis. Still, the hard-wearing range, which also includes a matching footrest and side table, promises to stand handsomely in any patio or garden for many summers to come. “By using tubular steel, we wanted to make something pure and simple,” says Di Pinto. “The line should be easy to use for any kind of occasion.”


Take a byte

Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist’s new graphic novel The Extreme Self, published by Buchhandlung Walther König, offers a deep dive into identity and consciousness in the digital age. Designed by London studio Daly & Lyon, and featuring images curated by photographers, designers and film-makers from around the globe, the book’s 14 chapters offer reflections on topics from fame and consumerism to the rise of augmented realities and automation. Their method? A cutting-edge technique that Daly & Lyon has termed “mindsourcing”, which is essentially an attempt to mine images from the depths of the featured artists’ consciousness. The result feels frantic and, for the most part, anxiety-inducing. But in a world where culture is increasingly agitated and moves at speed, perhaps some will even find it comforting.

Images: Yohei Sasakura, Jérôme Galland, Elle Decoration, Adrian Volcinschi. Illustration: Anje Jager


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