Wednesday. 4/8/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Divine inspiration

It was a hot day in the southern hemisphere when I first visited the Atlántida church just inland from Uruguay’s Atlantic coast at the end of 2019. There was no one around and we had to find someone to come and unlock the doors to let us in. But there was something immediately captivating about the curvaceous structure built entirely from red bricks between 1958 and 1960. The church was Eladio Dieste’s first commission. He might not be a household name to anyone apart from serious design nuts but that may soon change: Unesco has just added Atlántida to its World Heritage list.

The remarkable thing about Dieste was the elasticity of form he achieved using bricks. Though they are seen as a lowly material by some, he rendered them in a beautiful and entirely modern way to masterfully create wide-spanning, vaulted roofs. He was also sensitive to the power of light: at Atlántida, for example, the combination of stained glass and recessed windows makes stepping inside the church an almost otherworldly experience. And yet Dieste, who died in 2000, wasn’t even an architect. How many engineers end up becoming better known than the architects who worked on the buildings alongside them?

I travelled around Uruguay visiting Dieste’s works with his architect grandson Agustín for a Monocle article (see issue 136), taking in Atlántida and everything from a shopping centre to a grain silo. Let’s hope that the Unesco accolade will eventually encourage more people to pay them a visit. Who knows, in the near future people might visit Uruguay for more than Punta del Este or asado. State and tourism bodies should work together to promote Dieste internationally within a framework of architecture-based tourism. Today his ideas of functionality for all without reneging on aesthetics are more important than ever.


Full steam ahead

Just as London did with King’s Cross and Copenhagen with Nordhavn, Brussels has realised the exciting potential of long-neglected urban industrial areas. On the canal by the city’s Northern Quarter, the final touches are being put on Tour & Taxis, an ambitious redevelopment of an early 20th-century freight hub into a new city district. The project’s flagship building is the Gare Maritime, which was once Europe’s largest railway station. It has been laudably renovated by Rotterdam-based Neutelings Riedijk Architects to host shops, offices, event spaces and a food hall.

Tucked within the impressive steel frames of the old station, the new structure is entirely made from cross-laminated timber. Geothermal energy ensures that the building’s environmental footprint is kept to a minimum and rainwater is collected to maintain a number of indoor gardens. The architects conceived the floor plan as a city quarter, in which visitors can pop into a shop after a stroll along a leafy promenade – all in covered safety from the unpredictable Brussels weather. With a soaring central space reserved for public events and a food market opening soon, Gare Maritime looks set for success with residents and curious tourists alike.


Domestic bliss

For Jil Sander creative directors Lucie and Luke Meier, print is an important means of expression. The duo who currently helm the famous German-founded, Milan-based fashion label have published a magazine to showcase their creative ideas as well as a book with photographer Olivier Kervern focused on a Sicilian roadtrip.

The creative couple’s latest publication, Familiarity, sees them pull together some of their most trusted collaborators, including fashion photographers Mario Sorrenti and Lina Scheynius, to depict Jil Sander’s new collection in their own homes and gardens. These intimate, dreamy images have been put together under the artistic direction of Heiko Keinath to create an elegant, linen-covered volume that celebrates the muted elegance synonymous with the brand.


Time to shine

Justin McGuirk’s CV is impressive: Golden Lion winner at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, head of design curating and writing at Design Academy Eindhoven and one-time editor of Icon magazine. Now heading up London’s Design Museum as its chief curator, he’s responsible for overseeing exhibitions such as the current Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life, displaying the work of the French architect. To find out more, we took a tour with McGuirk for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design.

Why is Charlotte Perriand so important in the design world?
Perriand was one of the great designers of the 20th century. She was a pioneer of modern furniture, open-plan living and modular furnishings, and was really one of the first interior architects – a design legend. She worked in a world that was dominated by male architects and stood out as one of the great, if not the greatest, female designers of the 20th century.

Why is the world waking up to her significance now?
It has become clear more recently just how important Perriand was. So many of the issues she was thinking about are connected to the way we live now. We’ve all been trapped in our homes for the past year so it’s interesting to be exposed to someone who has thought so deeply about the way those homes should work. Also, importantly, she was a great collaborator and that collaborative spirit makes her such a strong role model for designers today. She’s getting a lot of credit now partly because she was somewhat overshadowed, at least in design-history terms, by some of her male peers and collaborators – people such as Le Corbusier, his partner Pierre Jeanneret and the designer and engineer Jean Prouvé. The history books possibly didn’t give her the credit she was due.

Are there any standout pieces in this exhibition that really capture her essence?
There are so many but an unavoidable one is the famous bookcase unit she designed, which does so many things at once – and that’s her genius. On the one hand it’s a modular system made from sheet-metal modules sandwiched between wooden shelves; the beauty of this is that it could be mass-produced within reason and gave the buyer a choice in how to assemble the unit, which was a very original concept. On the other hand, they’re not just bookcases or storage units, they’re also architectural elements. Perriand used them instead of walls to divide up spaces, making them more open and more porous, rather than closing space off with a solid wall.

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


Hot seat

One of Finnish design maestro Alvar Aalto’s most underappreciated projects is Paimio Sanatorium (which you can read about in the July/August issue of Monocle) in the southern forests of Finland. It’s also one of his most ambitious. Designed with his wife Aino and completed in 1933, its bold use of colour in the interiors and breezy architecture make it a world class example of functionalist design.

But it’s not just the structure itself that has contributed to the project’s reputation. It’s also the fact that every aspect of the interior was considered, with the Aaltos having a hand in the design of all the furniture and fittings. The result? A space filled with carefully designed modernist treasures, from tables and chairs to lights. All, understandably, are now coveted by collectors and one such piece is the Model No 75 Table. Called an “occasional table”, its two-tier laminated birch tops have edges that curve gently upwards, making it perfect for holding magazines and a drink. Occasional? We don’t think so. Try essential.


Don’t sleep on this...

Emeco has long made furniture with the ethos of “reduce, reuse and recycle” in mind. But its latest collection, called Run and created in partnership with Sam Hecht and Kim Colin of design studio Industrial Facility, should see another word added to the mantra: reconnect. The collaboration between the US furniture-maker and London-based creatives includes tables, benches, shelves and daybeds that take cues from items designed for collective use. “We were inspired by the congenial atmosphere you get from good public furniture, such as canteen tables, park benches and library shelves,” says Hecht.

The result is seats and tables made from recycled aluminium and a sturdy modified pine – perfect for gathering around. But it does raise a question: how does a daybed, fit for one person, work with a communal collection? “It’s a typology that has been a bit dormant recently,” says Hecht. “It works in the range because it can be used as a communal seat but if you need a nap, it’s there if you want it.” Ideal, then, for resting up before a big party.


Line of best fit

For Lion Feucht Wanger 61, an ambitious forthcoming residential project in Berlin, property developer Euroboden called upon Munich-based creative agency Herburg Weiland to deliver a different kind of approach to creating its marketing material. In the execution, Herburg Weiland’s art director Ingmar Spiller and creative director Tom Ising shunned the idea of predictable renders and brought the building concept to life with ligne claire illustrations – the drawing style made famous by Hergé, the Belgian creator of Tintin – by Paris’s Vincent Mahé. The result is a more playful depiction of how the building will look.

“There are certain things that an illustration can provide that renders or photography can’t because they are bound to reality,” says Ising of the selection of print materials that slot neatly into a linen-bound case. “Leaving reality opens up a huge amount of possibilities, including new and surprising perspectives.” Coupled with minimal design that’s low on text, the French illustrator’s cityscapes and building cross-sections portray what 24 hours in the development could look like, making the property a rather attractive looking place to live. “There’s a certain lightness and happiness around them, which is a great fit,” said Ising. “It’s ligne claire at its best.”

Images: Cristobal Palma, Romain Laprade, Tony Hay, Phil Sharp. Illustration: Anje Jager


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