Wednesday. 28/7/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Mixed media

I spent a good chunk of my teenage years obsessed with the American TV programme Scrubs. For the uninitiated, it’s an (admittedly silly) comedy-drama series that, in the eyes of a 15-year-old, made the life of an emergency-room doctor seem like an appealing career path, full of high-pressure situations and camaraderie. Thankfully, for the health of the general population, I didn’t apply for medical school – but it was a close call.

Which begs the question: would I have still flirted with the idea of becoming a doctor had there been an equally engaging drama about the life and work of a designer? Sure, Mad Men comes close and there are plenty of shows in which the job title “architect” points to a character with a sense of mystery. But why haven’t any production companies stumped up for a fictional series about a design studio, in which an industrial designer or landscape architect takes centre stage?

Perhaps it’s because they worry that long nights in the studio, brutal crits, difficult clients and seemingly endless tweaks to a design won’t make great television. But I would argue that triumphing over these very things is what makes the career most satisfying – and would make for compelling watching.

With pilot season five months away, there’s just enough time for an ambitious producer to pull together a crew and a room of writers to make it happen. Oh, and if you’re looking for a leading man, you know where to find me.


Comfort food

Pasadena has recently become one of the most vibrant dining spots in Los Angeles, thanks in no small part to Agnes, an all-day marketplace and restaurant from chef couple Vanessa Tilaka and Thomas Kalb. Angeleno design firm ORA is behind the impressive transformation of a 99-year-old former stable into a speciality food market, in-house cheese shop and restaurant. The studio worked with UK-based Another Country on the furnishings at the heart of the project.

Image: Yoshi Makino
Image: Yoshi Makino
Image: Yoshi Makino

Beyond the well-stocked shop at the entrance, there’s a welcoming dining area and an outdoor patio that seats 100. The building’s original red-brick walls and vaulted wooden ceiling have been left exposed but the restaurant’s comfy plaid seating and oak tables ensure that the overall effect is far from pared back. Much of the food on the menu is roasted on a large hearth that anchors the open kitchen and the design was influenced by the head chef’s midwestern upbringings. “There is this familial, more intimate aspect to Agnes, and many of our pieces of furniture appeal to that same sensibility,” says Another Country founder Paul de Zwart. “The design, furniture and food come together well.” We wholeheartedly agree.


Strong swimmer

On the shore of Austria’s idyllic Lake Constance sits Strandbad Lochau, perhaps the country’s best-designed public bathing house. It’s the work of Bezau-based Innauer-Matt Architekten, which used a mix of regional spruce and exposed concrete to form this angular, single-storey structure.

Image: Adolf Bereuter
Image: Adolf Bereuter
Image: Adolf Bereuter

It’s impressive in its simplicity, with a flat roof that links the lido’s two wings: the bathing section, with lockers and changing rooms, and the cafeteria area with its expansive, deck-chair-covered terrace. As it is located on a busy cycle route, the building has also been kitted out with parking spaces for 200 bicycles, allowing riders to take a refreshing dip after a long day of pedal-pushing.


Moving forward

Automotive giant Audi is set to offer design and car enthusiasts an insight into the future of travel, with the unveiling of three innovative concept cars. The first to be unveiled is Sky Sphere, a boldly designed vehicle that combines pleasure and practicality, and can be either autonomously or manually driven. To find out more about its design we took a sneak peek with Audi’s senior vice-president of brand, Henrik Wenders, for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design.

Why are concept vehicles important?
At Audi, we always have to communicate future experiences and explain ourselves in advance due to our lead times; that’s why concept cars have always been very important. In the past, this communication was mainly related to form and function. Audi is 112 years old and for most of that time it was pretty much about the beautiful hardware enabling people to move in a unique way from A to B. But in the next decade we are adding an additional experience level to it. The future is so exciting. We’re now talking about the Audi Sky Sphere, which is offering two experiences in one. On the one hand, we’re talking about a beautiful roadster, a driving machine that’s able to cater to a driver. But, thanks to autonomous driving, you can also decide that you want to be driven by it.

Despite advances in technology, the Sky Sphere keeps the form of a car you most definitely want to drive. Why is it important to retain these traditional ideas?
Of course, technology can be applied in different ways. And as you can see with the Sky Sphere, we are applying it in a way that appreciates and interprets a beautiful past while still tailor-making it for the future. We wouldn’t get rid of beautiful traditional proportions: when you’re drawing a tree, you don’t draw it upside down for the sake of it, because then it would not be a beautiful tree. We took the same approach with our design team for this car.

The Sky Sphere also takes design cues from the art deco movement. Can you tell us why?
Audi is a very progressive brand. It has always jumped into the future with revolutionary concepts. And now here we are doing it again. But looking back at past experiences still adds value. That is part of our DNA: leveraging design equity, in terms of technological competence and the opportunities that the current decade is offering us. Therefore there’s a link between the golden 1920s and the future-shapers of the avant garde. This is about jumping ahead and being willing to combine something progressive with something timeless.

To hear more from Henrik Wenders listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’.


On your marques

After Mac computers were first powered up by creative studios in the 1980s, graphic design changed dramatically. With their arrival came software that made it possible for designers to easily add 3D effects (think drop shadows, gradients and bevels) to graphics. For car-makers, this resulted in a complete revamp of branding across the industry.

Graphic designers were soon reimagining logos to replicate the glossy effect of actual metal car badges in a style that, by the mid-2000s, would become ubiquitous across almost every car company. But things have changed in recent years. Logos of many of the world’s biggest automotive firms – including Citroën, Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan – have now been simplified to 2D designs. The reason for the change? More advances in technology, of course.

The rise of smartphones and apps has meant that logos need to be legible at a small scale and, for that to happen, designs need to be simplified for clarity. But the benefits of this shift reach beyond application at a range of different sizes: when it comes to branding, clarity of communication should be a priority – and using a clean, flat, 2D logo ensures just that.


Outside chance

When New York-based designer Jade Akintola went to sun herself in the city’s parks and beaches last summer, she couldn’t see any chairs or picnic rugs that were to her liking. “I couldn’t find anything portable and with a design language that suited my aesthetic,” says Akintola, who took matters into her own hands and established Ita.

Akintola, who has a British-Nigerian background, chose to work with creatives from Africa and Latin America to establish the outdoor furniture and beachwear brand, which she says draws inspiration from regional craftsmanship by people of colour. Case in point: the newly released Leisure Chair and Table.

In collaboration with Mexico City-based studio Veta, Ita has produced a lightweight aluminium chair with a shape that draws on the forms of Veta’s existing timber furniture. Available in hues of blue, orange and cream, its woven-cord seat is an enticing perch – perfect if you, like Akintola, are looking to post up at a favourite park or beach.


Looming large

For an architect who once said he wanted “to make architecture disappear into its surroundings”, A-lister Kengo Kuma has gone on to create some of contemporary design’s most eye-catching buildings. From the ship-like façade of V&A Dundee to Japan’s new National Stadium with its thicket of cedar eaves, Kuma’s name has become inextricably linked with the natural materials he uses to such great effect: stone, soil, washi paper and, most of all, wood.

Newcomers, however, might be surprised to discover the experimental postmodernism of Kuma’s early work, long since left behind. All is revealed in Taschen’s new XXL monograph Kuma. Complete Works 1988-Today. Too large for most Japanese coffee tables, it shows Kuma’s complete works from 1988 to the present day on a spectacular scale. One to savour.


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