Wednesday. 21/7/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

OPINION / NOLAN GILES

Here to stay

Last week I visited two very different events in Venice that will both have a positive impact on the city, as well as highlighting a shift in thinking when it comes to creative, site-specific launches. The first was the showcase of Saint Laurent’s menswear collection, which was hosted in a majestic, massive, mirrored, plant-laden box installed on derelict land by American artist Doug Aitken. The concept is described by Aitken as an “ice cube that will melt onto the island” because, once the installation comes down at the end of the month, all of the greenery will be planted into the ground as part of a long-term plan to regenerate native flora in the area.

The next day I headed to a park near the Giardini, where the Venice Architecture Biennale is being held. Here, global building-materials supplier Holcim has worked with multiple parties including London’s Zaha Hadid Architects and the Block Research Group at Swiss university ETH to construct a bridge-like structure of 3D-printed concrete blocks. It’s a stunning showcase of the power of new sustainable building materials: even before the work officially opened to the public, children were clambering across it and couples were posing for selfies atop it. It’s due to be taken down in November but the park’s neighbours are already lobbying the city council to keep the work there permanently.

These efforts, I hope, show a broader shift in the mindset of the creative industries when it comes to attracting press, guests and customers to international events. Giving back to a city, rather than simply using it as a location in which to draw a crowd, has a more positive effect and should be celebrated.

THE PROJECT / THE TOKYO TOILET PROJECT, JAPAN

Flush with pride

It must have sounded like a wild idea on paper: hiring some of the biggest names in Japanese architecture and design to create 17 public toilets around Shibuya. And yet the Tokyo Toilet project, which is backed by Shibuya City and The Nippon Foundation, has proved a hit for both the installations’ design and their maintenance (cleaners in smart boiler suits are keeping the loos in tip-top condition). And we’ve been keeping up with progress. Kengo Kuma has designed a “toilet village” (pictured) in Nabeshima Shoto Park, comprising five huts clad in planks of Yoshino cedar. Kuma describes it as “appropriate for post-pandemic times”: open, breezy and set up for the various needs of families, wheelchair users and children running around the park.

In Harajuku, fashion designer Nigo has created The House, a small building inspired by a US military housing complex built in Shibuya in 1946 called Washington Heights. Only one of the original houses is left now, in Yoyogi Park, which doubled up as accommodation for Dutch athletes in the 1964 Olympics. Nigo’s mini-house, with its white and blue-green paintwork, is a nod to this important piece of the city’s history. “I wanted to preserve some of the designs that are beginning to disappear in my favourite area,” says Nigo. At the foot of Yoyogi Hachiman shrine, Pritzker prize-winner Toyo Ito has designed a trio of toilets. The round, mushroomlike structures are beautifully tiled, lit and equipped with new Toto facilities (as are all the project’s structures). Other cities take note: public loos needn’t be pungent eyesores and can even enhance our parks and streets. tokyotoilet.jp

DESIGN NEWS / DONUM HOME, USA

Impeccable taste

Copenhagen-based architect and designer David Thulstrup has brought a touch of Nordic simplicity to Californian winery The Donum Estate. Sat in the heart of Sonoma county and spread across more than 80 hectares, the estate is known for its expert wine-making, specialising in the production of pinot noir. Thulstrup’s intervention aims to “celebrate calmness and wellbeing” and builds on its existing Donum Home concept, a hospitality centre that welcomes guests for wine tastings in relaxing surroundings, which was built in 2017 by San Francisco firm MH Architects.

Boasting high ceilings and enviable views over the surrounding landscape, the structure is now fitted with three additional Thulstrup-designed tasting rooms, and furnished throughout with bespoke pieces and handsome chairs from Danish furniture brand Brdr Krüger. To complement the Estate’s impressive sculpture park, which includes works by Yayoi Kusama, Thulstrup also adorned the interiors with a collection of newly commissioned artworks. studiodavidthulstrup.com

WORDS WITH... / NICOLAS BELLAVANCE-LECOMPTE

Made at home

Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte is a contemporary design specialist, architect and curator based in Italy. In 2017 he co-founded Nomad, a leading international event for collectable design and contemporary art, with Giorgio Pace. The travelling showcase brings together galleries, designers and the owners of private residences to create exhibitions in extraordinary architectural locations across the world. After the latest edition wrapped up in St Moritz earlier this month, we caught up with Bellavance-Lecompte on Monocle on Design to find out more about the concept.

Tell us about the idea behind Nomad.
The concept of Nomad is always to establish this relationship between a very strong context – a house that is never open to the public – and the exhibitors, whether that’s a curator or a gallery. We ask them to realise a setup that makes this experience very unique for the visitor.

How did this play out in your most recent edition?
For this edition in St Moritz, we had more than 25 projects of contemporary art and design in a dialogue with the existing context of [host venue] Chesa Planta, which is a patrician’s house from the 16th century. Inside, one can discover a huge variety of rooms. You have, for example, wooden Stube, the typical wood-panelled rooms from the Engadin, hand-painted in beautiful tones of blue. In this specific room we had the fantastic project of the artist Christo, which featured wrapped furniture and objects. The resulting dialogue with the room is just the perfect example of what you find at Nomad. It’s this duality between a strong environment, which is on more of a domestic scale, and the different works, in perfect symbiosis.

What sets Nomad apart from other showcases? And what could other designers and curators learn from it?
The idea of Nomad is to get out of the idea of the white cube: the neverending hallways of artificial spotlights and aseptic atmospheres do not exist here at Nomad. What we propose is a house with old wooden floors. There’s a smell to a house that has been inhabited for centuries. Pushing through heavy doors and going over staircases that have been used over time, you discover different works of art and design in this context. And this becomes truly the unique experience of Nomad, because it is really a discovery on a different scale and in a very personal context.

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

FROM THE ARCHIVE / AURINKO SUNBED, FINLAND

Laying in wait

The sun is finally out in Zürich after a rainy few weeks and the Swiss are soaking it up with early morning dips in the lake and aperitifs on packed terraces after work. To complete the cheerful city setting, we’d ideally see a few of these fine Aalto-designed sunbeds from Artek’s early archives.

Part of the Aurinko (that’s Finnish for “sun”) series, this wooden lounger formed part of the original interiors of the duo’s iconic Villa Mairea from 1939. The garden-furniture line also included a matching table and chairs but the sunbed, which has small wheels and practical handles at the feet, is our favourite for a reissue. The lounger is easily moved into storage once autumn rolls around. Until then it’s a design we wouldn’t mind spotting on patios and Badis around town.

AROUND THE HOUSE / FRED RIGBY EVERYDAY COLLECTION

Making our day

British interior designer Fred Rigby has launched his debut line of furniture, the Everyday Collection. Inspired by the landscape of Rigby’s native Dorset, the collection includes a sofa, an armchair, a coffee table and a dining set, all fashioned in oak, wool and patinated steel. We’re especially fond of the round Tide dining table and matching chairs, which are tactile and compact, making them an ideal choice for a smaller apartment.

The Everyday Collection also exemplifies why we’re all for interior designers making forays into retail. Every piece is made to order in the UK before being finished and assembled in Rigby’s London workshop. It’s a level of service that’s usually available to only an exclusive sliver of homeowners. Investing in a piece of furniture presents a chance to tap into an interior decorator’s trusted network of suppliers while supporting small and sustainable businesses all along the way. fredrigbystudio.com

IN THE PICTURE / ‘SEASCAPES’

Oceans apart

French photographer and artist Paul Rousteau graduated from Switzerland’s esteemed Vevey School of Arts in 2010. In the decade since, he has made a name for himself by mixing fine art and fashion – his images and photographs have appeared in publications including The New York Times, Die Zeit Magazin and The New Yorker. But it’s his latest work, Seascapes, a 100-page book produced in collaboration with independent publishing house Loose Joints, that has caught our attention.

Created by Rousteau during an artist-in-residence experience on a boat in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia, it offers a surreal take on the ocean’s seemingly endless horizon. Every one of the book’s 60 photographs distils the sea down to its component elements – water, air and light – and then distorts them by playing with saturation and focus. Combined with wanderlust-inspired captions written by the photographer himself, it will leave readers wanting to escape reality and float off into the dreamlike seascapes. loosejoints.biz

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