Wednesday. 17/11/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Designs for life

Coming from the sleepy suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, I’ve always been fascinated by neighbourhoods with buildings that are five to seven storeys high, of which the city has very few. It continued when I moved to London; on a stroll, I’m quick to point out why I think that one such building is an eyesore (it’s out of scale, perhaps, or has a blank façade) and another not. You can tell that I make quite the thrilling walking – and romantic – partner.

It was also the case on a visit to Oslo this weekend. Staying in Frogner, just beyond the city centre, it struck me that its ’hoods with these medium-density buildings, particularly the mid-century ones, were much more appealing to look at (and presumably live in) than their British counterparts. In my pocket of east London, when buildings of a similar stock rise above five storeys, they’re often set back from the street in a barren field of turf. By comparison, in Frogner, the buildings are fringed by garden beds and smartly trimmed hedges, offering a buffer between the building and the street, while framing details – a window, a door. Mature trees are also allowed to spread their boughs without being pruned within an inch of their lives. Benches provide resting spots along paths. And communal spaces and interiors (OK, I peeked in a few windows) are lit with a warm light, illuminating the spaces in a way that doesn’t evoke the feel of a crime scene or make you want to create one.

These are features that are too often missing in London. In the British capital, it feels as though landscape and interior architects, as well as lighting and furniture designers, were completely forgotten when completing these buildings, or at least have had their work altered beyond recognition. The stark comparison between the two approaches is a reminder that better outcomes are almost always delivered when design disciplines across the spectrum are engaged in a project. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m back in London this week; drop me a line if you’d like to go for a walk.

The Project / Headstream, Indonesia

Hit the decks

Desa Potato Head is a breezy, oceanfront hotel in Bali run by Ronald Akili, co-founder of Indonesian hospitality group PTT Family. Opened in 2010 as an environmentally minded destination for designers, musicians and artists, the hotel’s latest development is an on-site live-streaming studio.

Called Headstream, the intimate lounge-like space hosts live sets from DJs and has an adjoining record shop and listening bar, where new vinyl releases, zines and jamu (an Indonesian concoction of turmeric and ginger) can be found.

Image: Putu Sayoga
Image: Putu Sayoga
Image: Putu Sayoga

Designed by Bali-based architect Zhi Xiong Chan, the project uses responsibly sourced and recycled materials in line with Potato Head’s push for environmental sustainability. This includes an impressive 564kg of plastic waste retrieved from households and waterways across Bali, which have been used to craft elements such as the console for the mixer and turntable; both have a distinctive speckled appearance thanks to the bottle caps they’re created from.

Chan also worked with eco-conscious producers in Bali on the studio’s interiors. The panels were produced by Karfa YKKS, an organisation that makes prosthetics from recycled plastic. And the studio’s rubber floor, which acts as an acoustic dampener, came from a gym floor supplier who uses rejected material from tyre factories.

The outcome? A studio that’s perfectly in tune with Desa Potato Head’s motto – “Good times, do good” – and a picture-perfect setting for artists performing live.
headstream.potatohead.co

Design News / Momu Café, Belgium

Salad days

Antwerp’s Mode Museum, or Momu, was founded in 2002 to collect, conserve and champion Belgian fashion design. Located underneath the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Arts, it’s a space where visitors can view works by the likes of Dries Van Noten and see a procession of aspiring designers heading to their studios to study. It’s the latter crowd that inspired the design of the new Momu Café.

Image: Frederik Vercruysse

Opened alongside Momu’s newly renovated exhibition space, it is the first outpost of Graanmarkt 13, the city’s popular concept store-cum-restaurant. And according to the shop’s co-founder Ilse Cornelissens, it has a youthful vibe as a result. “We call it the younger sibling of Graanmarkt,” says Cornelissens. “This is in terms of both the food – a healthy buffet, perfect for students – and atmosphere. It’s a warm and laidback environment, thanks to all the green.”

Art director Bob Verhelst’s green tones combine beautifully with robust teak chairs and custom-made tables (whose green tops are the exact hue of the walls of the original Graanmarkt 13’s basement) by Mumbai-based studio Casegoods.

The resulting space is perfect for poring over lecture notes while someone pours you a coffee – and, of course, an ideal spot for re-energising after a tour of the museum.
momu.be

Words with... / Maria Smith, UK

Clean lines

The UN’s climate change summit Cop26, which dominated headlines this month, wrapped up in Glasgow last week. While much of the limelight fell on the heads of state in attendance, there were also plenty of designers on the ground in Glasgow. In that number was Maria Smith, director of sustainability and physics at Buro Happold, who presented the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Built for the Environment report at the event. We caught up with Smith for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design to ask about the role of designers in shaping a greener and cleaner built environment.

Why is it important for designers and architects to attend events like Cop26?
I attended two panel discussions: one was about how we can adapt our homes to the changing climate and the other was about new materials for the construction industry. They both had great line-ups but there weren’t any architects on either of them. Those of us who have been trained as architects have a unique skill set around bringing together lots of information and making it coherent. That kind of systems thinking and connecting together the environmental and the social is a huge asset. So we need to get more involved in events such as Cop26.

How can architects do that?
It has to go both ways. We architects need to speak out and show that we have skills that are relevant and helpful. But those who are making policy about how we live, our urban environments and what materials we use, need to know that there’s probably an architect not very far away that has something really valuable to contribute.

What are some simple steps that architects can take to start building better?
Our impact is most significant when we consider what we specify and the kinds of materials that get put on and in the ground. It’s with these design decisions that we really need to work so much harder to reduce the carbon emissions associated with the built environment. And that’s thinking about the emissions that come from heating, cooling and operating the buildings we design, as well as the emissions that are released into the atmosphere because of the kinds of materials that we specify.

To hear more from the designers at Cop26, tune in to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’.

From the Archive / V-75 wall lamp, Sweden

Perfect blend

Believe it or not, this pair of elegant, mid-century brass lights were made by a company that specialised in electric mixers and ice-cream machines. Swedish brand Bergbom & Co (also known as Bergboms) was founded in 1940 as a kitchen-appliance manufacturer before expanding into interiors. Although it eventually collaborated with celebrated names such as Italian sculptor Aldo Londi and American furniture designer Edward Wormley, many of the designers it employed remain almost completely unknown. Eje Ahlgren, who designed these wall-mounted lamps in the 1960s, is a perfect example.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Ahlgren was a trained architect who was responsible for Bergboms’ lights for almost 20 years. Across the course of his career he also worked with Swedish manufacturer Luco and Amsterdam-based Raak but hardly any other biographical details are known. This points to the fact that at the time, the job of an industrial designer – whether working on kitchen appliances or furniture – was not considered especially prestigious. And while a 1950s electric whisk sounds like a safety hazard today, we’d be glad to see any of Ahlgren’s timeless pieces back in people’s homes.

Around the House / Lisboa Lounge Chair, Portugal

Sit back

Furniture brand Mor has launched the latest addition to its range of made-in-Portugal designs: the Lisboa lounge chair. Though it bears the name of the brand’s home city, the piece is in fact the creation of Milan-based designer Keiji Takeuchi. His intention? To make a chair that is as laidback as its namesake destination.

“I was inspired by the early tubular metal chairs from Bauhaus, which introduced lightness to our daily space,” says Takeuchi. “I wanted people to be able to move it effortlessly from one place to another.”

A wide band of leather is strung across its sculptural metal frame, forming a low-slung seat. With its padded headrest and reclining form, the chair lends itself nicely to weekend lazing with a good book in hand. “I really enjoy this low-to-the-ground seating position,” says Takeuchi. “When we sit low, our viewpoint shifts and the world we see seems somewhat different.” In the Lisboa chair, we can assure that the world seems very relaxed.

In the Picture / ‘Paparazzi’, France

Star attractions

As celebrities expose their private lives on social media it might seem that the work of intrusive paparazzi has become less and less relevant. But many people are still eager to see the photos on gossip pages and websites that give readers an unfiltered take on the high life. It’s this work that is the main subject of Paparazzi, a new book by French artists Elise Mazac and Robert Drowilal.

Published by RVB Books, its pages are adorned with a series of collages featuring photos of celebrities taken by streetwise snappers. Arranged by place or activity – from “The Beach” to “Bike Riding” – cut-outs of musicians and actors, such as Britney Spears and Alec Baldwin, are pasted onto images of the desert and outer space. Other stars find themselves on colourful abstract backgrounds. Wavy, distorted typography can be found throughout.

The effect of this absurdist, graphic approach is a book that captures society’s glorification of celebrity to the point of, well, absurdity.
rvb-books.com

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