Wednesday. 3/11/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Wall accounts

It’s always disappointing to see great neighbourhoods and beautiful architecture covered in graffiti. For me, it has always seemed to be mostly reckless vandalism that adds nothing to the urban fabric. I’m also sceptical when I hear the term “street art” being thrown around, whether it is by those actively vandalising private property under this moniker or when the phrase is used by developers as a concept in place-making schemes to provide some sort of urban grit or edge.

But I am learning that not all street art is bad. On a recent trip to São Paulo I was able to see how, when applied correctly, it can actually enliven and improve the urban environment. Of course, this is a truly unique metropolis: a seemingly endless sprawl of concrete, with high-rise buildings – some beautiful modernist marvels; many mundane, characterless old blocks – cascading off in every direction.

Image: Alamy

The worst of the stock features what locals call empena cega (“blind walls”): massive, sheer, windowless concrete façades. Maybe at one time or another these walls were going to connect to a forthcoming high-rise building but this never erected and they stand forlorn, dirty and devoid of any character. Still, in São Paulo’s downtown neighbourhoods, you can spot another kind of empena cega – one that features the biggest spray-painted murals I’ve ever seen, executed with precision and beauty across these humongous surfaces.

Funded by the city and employing many a muralist – of a kind once outlawed as vandals – districts on the up and those still with a little way to go have been transformed into open-air galleries in a meaningful manner. Street art in São Paulo is raising a smile, while helping to raise standards of living in developing neighbourhoods. It has also taught me to be less narrow-minded.

The Project / Mud Residence, Belgium

Home from home

Warm Belgian minimalism, a style pioneered by designers such as Vincent Van Duysen and Axel Vervoordt, is exemplified in this new guesthouse from Antwerp interior designer Andy Kerstens. The emphasis has been placed on materials that invite the human touch: raw flagstone flooring to wander across barefoot and cosy varnished-timber elements to appreciate. Material rawness is offset by elegant, understated furnishings.

Image: Piet-Alber Goethals
Image: Piet-Alber Goethals
Image: Piet-Alber Goethals

All of this is housed in a renovated 1960s villa on the outskirts of the charming Belgian city of Leuven. The building’s architecture has been opened up by Kerstens to provide a more free-flowing layout for guests. References to its past abound in modernist furnishings such as Meribel chairs by Charlotte Perriand – but this isn’t retro design, nor a showroom-style affair. Owners Sophie and Frank De Jonghe (who live next door) have aimed to express their personal tastes as well as a desire for function across the retreat: there is an adjoined area for creatives to work in, as well as generous baths that you’ll want to linger in.

Design News / ‘No Fear of Glass’, Spain

In the clear

Side Gallery, a Barcelona-based outfit revered for its good taste in new and collectable design, is celebrating the work of Sabine Marcelis in a new book, No Fear of Glass. Inside is a visual retelling of the designer’s 2019 exhibition at the Barcelona Pavilion.

The title of both the book and exhibition reference a story about Van der Rohe in which he was warned to forgo using so much glass when he first designed the famous pavilion in the 1920s, since it was deemed to be too unruly. The book’s photos include a fountain of curved glass and a minimalist glass column, and the combination of the original architecture and Marcelis’ work prove that glass can be a dynamic material. “I like working with glass because I love playing with materiality: glass can be transparent or reflective, or it can filter light,” says Marcelis. “So it makes for endless possibilities.”

Words With… / Titi Ogufere, Nigeria

Giving voice

Titi Ogufere is a curator, interior designer and product designer based in Lagos. In 2019, frustrated by the fact that she had spent much of her career sourcing materials from outside Africa, she founded Design Week Lagos. Now a key event in the continent’s design calendar, it provides an important platform for emerging African designers, showcasing works that use regional materials and techniques. After the latest edition wrapped up in Nigeria’s largest city last weekend, we caught up with Ogufere on Monocle on Design to find out more.

Image: Luigi Fiano

Tell us about the inspiration behind Design Week Lagos.
If you think about African music, fashion, literature and art, you notice that they have all gained global recognition. But when it comes to African design, a lot of people don’t know much about what’s going on here – I live on the continent, so I see it every day. People are doing amazing things but no one outside Africa knows about it, so I thought that it was a gap that needed to be filled. There are so many creatives, such as interior and product designers, quietly designing for themselves. And even though there are so many issues – the fact that we don’t have much manufacturing, for example – they are still producing work. Something needed to be done to celebrate that.

What are some challenges associated with manufacturing?
In Africa we’re only selling the raw materials, not processing them. Most people can’t do anything with the raw materials. We have a few people struggling and trying to work with them but the lack of manufacturing is a constraint. The lack of budget is a constraint too. But we’re trying to change that: right now, we have a lot of funding and partnerships coming in. We’re taking designers to Milan next year for Salone del Mobile. It is about trying to promote the work of these designers and giving them opportunities.

What do you hope people take away from Design Week Lagos? We’re focused on Africa as a whole so it’s important that people see the rich history of African craftsmanship. It’s interesting because we’re trying to bring everyone together despite the language barriers. We had French-, English-, Portuguese- and Arabic-speaking designers from 21 countries taking part and we wanted them to be able to express, from all their different perspectives, what African design is.

For more from Ogufere, listen to ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

From The Archive / Acerbis, Italy

Craft from the past

Over the past year, Italian furniture brand Acerbis has been expanding its collection with designs from decades past – and setting an example for how its contemporaries can do it well. The company, which was family-run from near Milan for more than a century until it was acquired by MDF Italia in 2019, has mined its archives to reintroduce design gems to the modern market. Through quality reissues, the brand is championing good design from lesser-known Italian luminaries, such as Giotto Stoppino and Lella and Massimo Vignelli, as well as celebrated names including Vico Magistretti.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Our favourite update so far is the Florian table, designed by Magistretti in 1989. This small two-level side table features a clever folding mechanism that allows it to be flattened quickly. With a handle at the top of the frame, the lightweight piece is then effortlessly tucked away into storage or even hung up on a wall. While Magistretti’s original design has been gently adapted for contemporary use (there are more secure brass hinges and three new colours to add to the original black), the Florian looks just as good as it did 30 years ago. We’re excited to see what Acerbis revives next.

Around the House / Poiat, Finland

Soft launch

Monocle has had its eye on Finnish furniture firm Poiat for a number of years due to its quality designs in timber and the emerging Nordic talent it champions. Last month it released its first sofa and armchair through the Unio collection – and it is stunning. The collection, designed by founders Timo Mikkonen and Antti Rouhunkoski, features armchairs and settees of various sizes.

One piece is perfect for smaller apartments, while the whole family of designs, which are slender in form and constructed using fine carpentry, can work cohesively across larger rooms. Poiat has chosen to collaborate with top fabric suppliers Dedar and Pierre Frey on peerless, high-quality upholstery. The designs will be available to buy later this year.

In The Picture / ‘Lever les Sages’, France

Costume drama

The rich culture of Benin in West Africa is brought to life in Lever les Sages by French photographer (and Monocle contributor) Benjamin Schmuck. Published by Entorse Éditions and available via its website, the book explores the unique masks and costumes of French-speaking Benin through bright, colourful images that pop off the page without any need for artificial enhancement.

It joyously celebrates the cloaked and masked Egun, who are said to possess the voodoo spirit of their ancestors. If you touch one, it could lead to your untimely demise. Thankfully, just leafing through the glossy pages of this title and staring with wonderment at the outfits is a completely safe and utterly inspiring experience.


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