Wednesday. 18/8/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Project permanence

Last week I met Moe Krimat, strategic creative director of Seen Displays, the design studio behind a host of high-end retail fit-outs in cities from Milan to New York. As we chatted over an espresso, he told me that “everyone is now trying to design retail environments that can be more flexible”.

It seems that retailers want furniture that can be reconfigured quickly and easily. But too often this results in display cases on spindly castor wheels and stock sitting on pegboard shelves. And while it’s the most adaptable shops that have been most successful in recent times, there’s something to be said for the assurance offered to both the shopper and the high street by permanent fittings. After all, retail spaces are at their best when they feel purposeful and have intent.

But that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be flexible. For proof, look to Krimat’s fit-out of Bally’s new Regent Street shop in London. At its centre is a rammed-earth-and-clay-brick table that folds over a chrome plinth, the robust and heavy material choice creating the illusion of a permanent, immovable installation. The table and plinth can, however, each stand alone and be shifted around the shop should its configuration need to change. The piece is a reminder that we can design flexibly without having furniture that screams, “I’m ready to move at the drop of a hat.”

More designers should be looking to create spaces like this: ones that look permanent but can be readily reconfigured; shops that exude confidence and remain ready for business changes too. And after the shake-up we’ve all had – especially those in bricks-and-mortar retail – I think we could all use a bit more of that.


Mist opportunity

Students at Switzerland’s ECAL university can now have even more fun on nearby Lake Geneva, thanks to one of their classmates. Trolle Rudebeck Haar has built a prefabricated floating sauna for his diploma project, though he tells us it wasn’t just to win Brownie points from friends. “After living in Finland for a while and experiencing the sauna culture there, I wanted to build my own sauna and explore the topic of micro-architecture,” says Haar. And that Finnish inspiration comes with a Japanese twist.

Löyly, the 2.2 sq m sauna, can seat three and is powered by a small wood stove, and its reduced size means that every centimetre of the space has been carefully considered to “create a cosy and intimate experience”. Made from Swiss douglas fir and finished with teak oil, the sauna draws on construction methods from Japan. Access is granted through a shoji, a sliding door that’s lightweight and easy to open but effective at blocking wind and preventing steam from escaping. It means that while sitting in the sauna, guests can remain toasty and still enjoy views through its translucent walls of the surrounding lakes and mountains.


In through the outdoors

This extension to the neoclassical Ordrupgaard Museum near Copenhagen cleverly weaves both below and above ground to maximise space in a style that Snøhetta, the architecture firm behind the project, has become known for. Launched last week, the work sees the addition of five subterranean gallery spaces that connect to an extension built by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2005.

To provide a seamless experience to visitors of one of Northern Europe’s most comprehensive collections of 19th- and early 20th-century French and Danish art, Snøhetta has used landscaping that enhances navigation around the site. This is especially felt in Himmelhaven (“heaven’s garden”), where the exposed, shimmering steel rooftop of one of the underground gallery spaces forms the centrepiece of a handsome new public space by the main entrance.


Culture clash

In 2017 the Swiss curator Gabriela Chicherio co-founded the Design Biennale Zürich, a month-long festival that aims to progress debates around design and put the spotlight on the industry’s cultural relevance in the country. This year’s biennale, held in the city’s botanical garden, is now in full swing and runs until 5 September. We caught up with Chicherio for this week’s edition of Monocle on Design.

Can you tell us about the theme for this year’s biennale – “Clash”? Was it rooted in the pandemic or did you want to get as far away from that as possible? While it fits quite well into the current situation, we already had the theme before the pandemic. Clashing is something that happens when things that are opposite come together – and [when they do] design becomes interesting. This is the case with or without a pandemic. Here in the botanical garden it looks like nature but it’s an artificial place, so we immediately have our first clash [at the biennale]. And then we have all these other clashes: the artificial and natural, the digital and analogue, the virtual and reality.

Who are the designers participating in this year’s event? We like to work with designers from all fields. So we have graphic designers, fashion designers, product designers, people who make stenography. We wanted to have a good mixture of disciplines. We like to push people who are maybe at the beginning of their careers, who are working in more conceptual fields of design. Take [the installation at the biennale called] “Infinity”. It’s a big, wooden sculpture, 8 metres high with stairs. But there’s a clash: the stairs don’t lead anywhere. You walk around and you always end up where you started. The structure is about the possibility of showing more experimental projects. We are not a fair; we are not selling anything. We want people who really accept this challenge of making special interventions.

Why is a biennale important to Zürich and Swiss design? I think we are at the very beginning [of our journey]. But we cover a field that normally is not covered in Switzerland: the research, the experimental and visionary projects. Very often events are economically driven. We wanted to create a platform where the meaning of design is a little bit larger than it often is at existing design festivals and fairs. At the moment I think the perception of design in Switzerland is that it should be about product development and economics. But there is this research part and there are projects that think about society that are not about selling or economics. This is not shown very often in Switzerland so we’re trying to do that.

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


Ring the changes

Ettore Sottsass is famous for spearheading the postmodern Memphis movement but it’s less well known that he was also a technology entrepreneur. In the 1980s, Sottsass, American designer David Kelley and photographer Jean Pigozzi founded Enorme Corporation, which marketed a single product: this landline telephone. Kelley was responsible for its technical engineering but the bright colour and angular form is recognisably by Sottsass.

Despite the ambitious name, Enorme Corporation was no start-up success story and only a small number of phones were produced. So why argue for their comeback in 2021? Though communication technology has undoubtedly advanced since the 1980s, gadget design has become far less adventurous. The Enorme serves as a simple reminder that there’s no reason why the technology we use every day can’t look fun. And we’d bet that, given the option, most creative firms would choose a Sottsass over their regular office landline.


Blanket coverage

The latest collection from Danish homeware and furniture brand Menu combines craft and design. Created in collaboration with textile expert Marie-Louise Rosholm and architects Mathias Mentze and Alexander Ottenstein, the line of cosy furnishings is set to convince even the most adventurous of homeowners to stay put.

Among these is the Battus, a stylish throw made from Italian wool and trimmed with silk. Available in earthy shades including ochre and ivory, the Battus is a timeless staple that can sit elegantly in any bedroom or living space. And because it’s made using pure materials rather than composites or blends, Menu says that it can also be recycled at the end of its life. While this is forward-thinking, we don’t expect it to come to that: this is one throw to hold onto for good.


Breaking the mould

How would you design a print publication that best communicates your brand identity and stands the test of time? For Mino Soil, a new Japanese ceramics brand, it involves Tokyo-based Swiss graphic designer Sebastian Fehr and a brochure that encapsulates the story of Mino ceramics (or Mino yaki), a heritage craft from the Gifu prefecture with a 1,400-year history.

The 10-page handbook, with its abstract cover illustration and beautiful pictures, guides readers through the depth and breadth of the traditional handcraft, capturing the feel, look and smell of soil. “I tried to make something that people might want to keep or collect,” says Fehr. But the brochure isn’t complete yet; it was designed for the first of a three-part exhibition series for which more pages and new stories will be added. Now that’s what we call design storytelling.

Images: Noé Cotter, Laura Stamer, Paul Skovbakke, Lukas Beyeler. Illustration: Anje Jager


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