Wednesday. 1/12/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Shoot for the moon

Like many people who have spent a night in Las Vegas, I’m relatively confident I had a good time when I was there, it’s just that I can’t recall much after 20.00. What I do remember is that the very thing I loathe in cities elsewhere – unchecked development and buildings that show little regard for context or quality – was the feature I loved in Vegas.

It shouldn’t have been surprising: Sin City is an important architectural destination, which has played a seminal role in the development and understanding of everyday architecture (see Learning from Las Vegas). It’s a place where designers and developers are more or less free to build whatever they like, and that’s a good thing: we need places to experiment architecturally without the prospect of ruining a street, neighbourhood or city.

It’s with this ethos in mind that I hope newly emerged plans to build a “moon” in Las Vegas see the light of day. Proposed by Moon World Resorts, the Canadian developer’s blueprints would see a giant, 224 metre-tall celestial sphere built on the Strip. This monstrosity’s centrepiece would be a 10-acre “active lunar colony” that mimics moon-based communities planned by the likes of Nasa. It’s a brief that would allow its designers the opportunity to test – for no other reason than they can – celestial living standards on the public, not just astronauts or those willing to fork out to fly to the moon.

The only issue from my perspective? There are plans to build similar structures in Spain, China and the Middle East too. If this is the case, Moon World Resorts would be wise to follow the old adage that what gets approved in Vegas should stay in Vegas.

The Project / Helsinki Airport, Finland

Taking flight

The new timber face of Finland’s main airport is one that the country hopes will leave a lasting impression on visitors. A wavelike outer ceiling, made from spruce by Finnish carpenters, flows from the outside to the inside of the building, leading passengers first to the new check-in counters and then through the state-of-the-art security screening, looking like an inverted topographical map. It’s made up of 500 wooden elements, some over a tonne in weight. “Modern airports are engineering marvels that process passengers in an efficient yet anonymous manner,” says Samuli Woolston, one of three partners at ALA Architects, the studio that designed the new entrance building. “We believe that airports should be more than that. Great design can cultivate a sense of place and bring an element of romance and adventure back to modern air travel.”

Image: Juho Kuva
Image: Juho Kuva
Image: Juho Kuva

The new entrance is part of a nine-year, €1bn expansion to the airport that aims to accommodate rising passenger numbers. And Finland’s design heritage plays a key role. The ceiling was inspired by the plywood sculpture “Ultima Thule”, which was made for the 1967 World Expo in Montréal by Finnish mid-century designer Tapio Wirkkala. On the arrivals floor the passengers are greeted by a stone garden, which combines motifs from the Finnish archipelago and the Japanese garden tradition, underlining the airport’s role as a hub connecting Europe with Asia. Finnish design and natural elements are found elsewhere too, from the wooden handrails to the granite floors.

“Architecture and design are used to guide the passenger through the building,” says Juho Grönholm, a partner at ALA Architects. A great deal of thought also went into designing the way in which light and colours affect the passenger experience. Light flows in through the large glass walls and diamond-shaped skylights, hitting the undulating wooden ceiling at different angles depending on the time of day. The subtle tones of the white walls and wooden surfaces stand in clear contrast to the blue security hall. “Blue is a colour that calms,” says Grönholm. “But it is also used to clearly mark the ritual of moving from the landside to the gate area, of transforming from a traveller into a flight passenger.”

Design News / Mater Design pop-up, Denmark

How it’s made

Since its foundation in 2006, Copenhagen firm Mater has been investigating the possibilities of circular design by creating handsome items for the home from upcycled waste. Where possible, production is carried out nearby to source materials. And, in a bid to share this process of turning waste material into functional design pieces, Mater recently inaugurated a pop-up gallery in central Copenhagen.

Image: Jan Søndergaard

Opened in August and located just off the city’s main shopping street, the showroom and gallery space is spread across a large single room. Here, Mater’s latest designs are showcased alongside a selection of bestsellers and a temporary exhibition that walks users through the brand’s making process, displaying raw materials alongside descriptions of its circular-manufacturing process.

“Mater was founded on one principle: if a product can’t be produced sustainably, we won’t produce it at all,” says brand manager Amanda Walther, who led the shop’s design. “Now we want people to know our story and hopefully be inspired by our work.”

Words with… / Doryun Chong, Hong Kong

Scale of ambition

Asia’s art and design landscape changed dramatically in November with the opening of M+, Hong Kong’s new museum of visual culture. Under the direction of chief curator Doryun Chong, who joined the project in 2013 from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the museum’s Herzog & de Meuron-designed building will be home to extensive collections of visual art, design, architecture and moving images. To find out more about the building’s design and how it fits into the city’s cultural scene, we caught up with Chong for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design.

Image: Getty Images

Tell us about the role the building will play in the city.
It’s a really monumental, iconic building by Herzog & de Meuron [designed in partnership with TFP Farrells and Arup]. It’s M+’s biggest design object and like no other structure in Hong Kong – maybe in all of Asia. In a city that is known for density and scarcity of land, the fact that it’s an expansive and radically horizontal podium is significant. There’s a sliver of a tower, which doesn’t feel narrow even though it’s only 10 metres wide, from which you can see out of both sides. From the south side there is a view of Victoria Harbour and to the north you can see the skylines and mountain ridges of Kowloon. It’s just an incredible, almost unprecedented building.

What’s your favourite design feature?
It has these horizontal louvres and vertical mullions that are covered in dark-green, glazed ceramic tiles. They make the building more environmentally friendly and sustainable, keeping the structure cool in a hot and humid climate.

What sort of impact do you hope the museum has on its corner of Hong Kong?
The closest precedent is the Centre Pompidou. When it opened in 1977 in the heart of Paris, it completely transformed that part of the city – a legacy that has continued ever since. It also had the vision of not just being a national museum of modern art but also a museum that had a very significant part of its programming and collection dedicated to design, architecture and cinema. We see it as a sort of older sibling that we look up to – and, dare I say it, we think we will have the same kind of impact domestically and internationally with M+.

To hear more from Chong, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle on Design’.

From The Archive / Ib Kofod-Larsen daybed, Denmark

Shrouded in mystery

If you think about Danish mid-century design, a handful of names – Panton, Jacobsen, Wegner – immediately come to mind. In fact, the era’s individual designers are so well known that many of the companies that actually produced the furniture can be difficult to recall. Despite this, it’s still uncommon for a vintage piece to pop up for sale without any manufacturer’s attribution at all, which is what happened last week, when this walnut-and-cane daybed by coveted designer Ib Kofod-Larsen went under the hammer at Parisian auction house Artcurial.

Illustration: Anje Jager

“While we have proof that it was designed by Kofod-Larsen, there’s just no literature to back up a producer’s name,” says Aldric Speer, a Scandinavian design expert at Artcurial. It is likely that the wicker was woven in a smaller, independent factory that didn’t spend much time on marketing. And while the Danish design industry looks quite different today, with brands such as Frama and Takt just as famous as the individual auteurs, we’re hoping that one of them might be keen to add a remake of this lightweight, leisurely daybed to their collection.

Around The House / Alessi Bulbul kettle, Italy

On the back burner

When it comes to injecting playfulness into everyday homeware, Alessi is hard to beat. The Italian brand’s latest creation, an Achille Castiglioni-designed kettle shaped like a curling stone, is a prime example. The late Castiglioni came up with the hob-top design in 1995 and named it Bulbul (Milanese dialect for “it’s boiling”) but it remained filed away in the brand’s archives until now.

Its release comes as part of Alessi’s centenary celebrations this year, which it is marking with the production of 12 new items that each represent a different part of the brand’s identity. The kettle represents “irony”, complementing a golden toilet brush representing “paradox” and a Woo Lee-patterned corkscrew that stands for “hybridisation” – the brand’s mixing of different cultures and disciplines. Castiglioni’s sleek, stainless-steel design stands out as a particularly fun representation of Alessi’s unique vernacular and has all the makings of a future classic.

In the picture / ‘Muller Van Severen: Dialogue’

Total recall

Belgian design duo Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their studio with the release of a book chronicling their work. Launched in October to coincide with an exhibition on the studio at Ghent’s Design Museum, Muller Van Severen: Dialogue is a 360-page publication designed by Atelier Sven Beirnaert. The Antwerp-based graphic studio created a canvas cover, available in three colours, as well as pared-back layouts that allow images of Muller Van Severen’s furniture and homeware to take centre stage.

The text features conversations between curator Jan Boelen, Muller and Van Severen, covering subjects that include the designers’ approach to their work and their family backgrounds. Also included are tributes from the likes of former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Beatrice Galilee. Overall, the book serves as an uplifting retrospective while also providing inspiration for established and emerging designers alike.


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