Wednesday. 1/9/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

OPINION / NIC MONISSE

Built to last

What is it that makes for a worthy winner of the prestigious Golden Lion, the award given to the best national pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale? For me, it’s an exhibition with a message that can be embraced by designers everywhere – something that this year’s recipient, the UAE, has executed perfectly.

Announced as the winner on Monday, the UAE’s pavilion is curated by Wael Al Awar and Kenichi Teramoto of design studio Waiwai and looks at the development of an environmentally friendly cement made from brine. The new material has been used to create a structure that pays homage to the vernacular architecture of the UAE. Visitors who walk through the space in the Arsenale exhibition grounds find themselves surrounded by traditional coral walls – except that the coral is in fact this new concrete. There’s also a soundtrack recorded on the country’s salt flats, and complementary photographs by New York-based Emirati artist Farah Al Qasimi.

When I spoke to Al Awar for our special-edition Venice newspaper earlier this year, the Dubai-based architect explained that he chose to build the structure in a traditional style “to question the role of the architect and the building process”, not just to champion the new material. He hopes that it will underline the fact that a new building technology – even if it is environmentally savvy – still needs to be combined with structures that are respectful of place and in touch with the needs of the people who use them.The UAE’s pavilion is a reminder that while building materials might change, the principles of good design have stayed the same for hundreds of years – and this makes it a worthy winner of the award.

THE PROJECT / BARD COLLEGE, BERLIN

Eye of this dorm

Student living isn’t typically associated with fine architecture but those studying at liberal-arts university Bard College Berlin have been granted a remarkable exception in these new residences. Project management firm DBI Projects and architecture and interiors studio Civilian (both from New York), have channelled inspiration from the setting – the east Berlin embassy neighbourhood of Pankow – into a pair of progressively designed five-storey brick structures.

Image: Robert Rieger
Image: Robert Rieger

The striking exteriors reference the German and Dutch expressionist architecture of the 1920s, which is known for blocks of dense colour, while the interiors nod to modernist ideas of ample light and air. “The project shows that functional student housing can tackle sustainability concerns, be aesthetically advanced and act as a social hub all at once,” says Taun Toay, Bard College Berlin’s managing director. The highly flexible interior scheme is furnished with modernist-inspired pieces that can be easily assembled, disassembled, flat-packed and adapted for future use. This is student living that offers the world of architecture a lesson in sustainable design.
projects.dbinyc.com; civilianprojects.com

DESIGN NEWS / ‘CARVING A LOVE STORY’, ITALY

High art

Built in the early 20th century, Villa San Michele is a seriously splendid location for a contemporary design event. High up in the hills of the Italian island of Capri, with panoramic views of the glistening Mediterranean and laden with sculptures from times of antiquity, it is home to Carving a Love Story until 26 September.

The showcase is a collaboration between Bosnian design and furniture company Zanat, a brand spun off from a fourth-generation family furniture firm by brothers Adem and Orhan Niksic in 2015, and Monica Förster, its artistic director and a Stockholm-based independent designer. Förster has channelled the skills of the carpenters and craftspeople who make by hand the high-end furniture at Zanat into new works that “take a beautiful craft that was once very ornamented, and form something new”.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

“Our approach is to deconstruct this craft and work with the carvers to form a new kind of expression,” she says, pointing out the more minimalist decorative elements across pieces such as the timber Branco boxes that are on display at Villa San Michele. “The other aspect was working with sensitivity towards this villa, to make the pieces fit very well into this beautiful environment.” The decorative carving technique that Zanat specialises in was granted a Unesco heritage listing in 2017. Given a more restrained Swedish design treatment, the works on show here, from small objects to major furniture pieces, all sit well within this refined setting.

WORDS WITH… / JANE CUI, SINGAPORE

Into focus

Though German heritage brand Leica is best known for its cameras and photographic lenses, it has recently expanded its offering to include smartphones with the launch of the Leitz Phone 1. Named after the company’s founder Ernst Leitz, who revolutionised cameras in 1924 with the invention of modern 35mm photography, the new phone incorporates Leica’s photographic smarts. And while it’s sure to be hot property for shutterbugs and fans of the brand, the phone’s initial launch is confined to the Japanese market. To find out more about its design and distribution we caught up with president of Leica in Asia, Jane Cui, for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design.

From a design perspective, what sets the Leitz Phone 1 apart from any other phone?
There are three key differentiators. Number one is industrial design. Our designer Mark Shipard explains that it’s not only instantly recognisable as a Leica product, staying true to our values, it also looks for those elements from our design heritage and current design DNA that work best on such a simple device. Number two is the user interface and user experience. We have simplified this to really concentrate on taking pictures. And number three is software. We have created an experience that allows us to continually innovate, delivering Leica’s optical and image capabilities through a phone.

How does your design heritage play into selling the phone?
Our heritage is as an imaging and camera company, and we want to extend this experience to smartphone users. People are using smartphones as their cameras but they’re not designed for taking pictures. We also wanted to introduce our brand to what we call “smartphone photographers”. One of our key areas of interest in making this phone was to reach an audience who might not have experience with a Leica camera or the brand. The demographic of people using a camera is getting younger and our phone is building a bridge to that community who might want to use a Leica camera but have not had the opportunity to be introduced to one.

Why is your initial launch focused on Japan?
We picked the Japanese market as a starting point because its consumers have the highest requirement for quality. If we can make it in the Japanese market then we believe that we will be successful in the rest of the world.

For more from Jane Cui, listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

FROM THE ARCHIVE / 4706 CLOCK, USA

Don’t touch that dial

When was the last time that you checked the time on a real round clock? One unfortunate consequence of the boom in smartphone use is that analogue clocks are rarer in homes, offices and train stations. This has led to many great designs being sidelined, as this polished vintage timepiece attests.

Image: Anje Jager

Made by Gilbert Rohde for Herman Miller in the early 1930s, this table clock was one of several modernist designs by the US architect that helped to transform the struggling furniture firm into a success story. Slightly larger than a regular alarm clock and standing atop an elegantly brushed-chrome base, the Model 4706 was as equally suited to the office desk as the bedside table. We’re sure that there would still be demand for it, not least because it’s far more pleasing to wake up to an art deco dial than the sterile blue glow of a screen.

AROUND THE HOME / BERLUTI, FRANCE

Seats ahead

Specialising in shoemaking for more than 100 years and renowned for its production of fine leather goods, French menswear brand Berluti is expanding its growing collection of home objects. The Parisian house’s venture into furniture design dates to the 1960s, when third-generation owner Talbinio Berluti crafted the Club Chair as a comfortable armchair with footrests, designed to accommodate customers during shoe fittings.

This year the brand is enriching its collection with two new product lines, Marbeuf and Swann (pictured): armchairs inspired by Berluti’s early designs. Built with user comfort in mind, the pieces are upholstered with high-quality Italian leather and are available to buy with a series of matching items, ranging from marble side tables to office chairs and desks. What’s more, both can be customised with a variety of fabrics in a range of elegant hues.

IN THE PICTURE / ‘OF COMMON ORIGIN’, USA

Southern belles

It’s refreshing to open a book about residential architecture and be greeted by a world of poised interiors that surprise you not only with their beauty but also just by being, well, a bit different. Of Common Origin: New Architecture of the American South is written and edited by Barrett Austin, who once worked in our New York bureau before a stint as Monocle’s southern USA correspondent. His handsome linen-covered book is designed by Micha Weidmann Studio in London and the publisher, Wythe Press, is fittingly located in Montgomery, Alabama.

Image: Shin Miura
Image: Shin Miura
Image: Shin Miura
Image: Shin Miura

Barrett’s focus is on a group of contemporary architects who share several things in common: they started their careers in Alabama (though they now work across the US); most trained at Auburn University; they draw the plans for their projects by hand; and they strive to make buildings that are human-centric. “Much of their work has more in common with the great American architecture of the 1920s than the more commercial domestic architecture of the 2020s,” writes Austin.

Each chapter features an interview with an architect and a visual tour of one of their domestic creations. A home by Summerour Architects has echoes of Italy in its form and a restrained modesty in its furnishing. Another by Tippett Sease Baker has rifles mounted on sensual black timber walls. It’s not the South that we have seen in films, yet there is something of the well-mannered and poised air that we associate with the region in the homes that fill the book. And, as fitting of a Monocle alumni, it’s also elegantly written.

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