Wednesday. 29/12/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Life lessons

In this limbo time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, many of us inevitably reflect on the previous 12 months. Here are the five big design themes that were in the spotlight for me in 2021.

  1. Events matter. While I was lucky enough to visit the odd design event in 2020, the past year marked a return to the big time, with the Venice Biennale of Architecture kicking things off in May. Speaking to its curator, Hashim Sarkis, for our Venice newspaper reminded me that the haptic and experiential aspects of events – touching and feeling – are crucial. “Those dimensions of design are irreplaceable,” he says.

  2. Whether it’s for an event or not, getting out in the world matters. While this might seem obvious, designers told me again and again that their work can’t happen in a box.

  3. Where you return to matters too. We published The Monocle Book of Homes earlier this year and leafing through its pages reinforced the need to have a space with ample natural light and honest materials.

  4. When furnishing your home, don’t settle for less. Seek out pieces that speak to you. This was the consensus of the likes of Alison Brooks, Ini Archibong and Fernanda Canales, who told us about their favourite chairs.

  5. Finally, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. At Salone del Mobile, we saw many brands revive archive pieces to great effect. My favourite? Molteni’s reimagining of Gio Ponti’s Round D.154.5 chair.

Thanks, as always, for reading. And happy new year.

The project / Shaw Auditorium, Hong Kong

Cultural capital

The newly finished Shaw Auditorium at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology will function as an arts hub at an institution dedicated to Stem subjects. Designed by Danish architecture studio Henning Larsen, the building is composed of three concentric white ovals that are stacked between glazed windows, breaking the architectural mould on a campus dominated by hard lines and orthogonal forms. “It’s a modern interpretation of the kind of subtropical colonnade building that we had a lot of in Hong Kong in the past,” says Claude Godefroy, partner and design director at Henning Larsen.

Image: Kris Provoost
Image: Kris Provoost
Image: Kris Provoost

The auditorium is designed so that it can adapt to the diverse requirements of live orchestral music, theatre and ballet, while 368 of its 1,300 seats can be stored in the floor so that the ground level can be opened up for exhibitions. “The main purpose of the building is to help people meet around cultural events,” says Godefroy. “There are a lot of musicians, a lot of cultural activities at this university. This auditorium, with its extreme multifunctionality, will be able to cater to that.” Here’s hoping that, in Godefroy’s words, it becomes a “living room” for campus socialising and culture.

Design News / New Nordic School, Finland

Young at heart

How should a creative studio approach the design of a kindergarten? If you ask Fyra, the design consultancy behind the New Nordic School in Helsinki, it’s the same as with any other project: by talking to its users. To help it engage with the one-to-seven-year-olds who would be attending the school, Fyra turned to Arkki, an organisation that runs architecture workshops for children, which helped to facilitate dialogue. “The school reflects the specific needs of children [as a result],” says Fyra’s partner Niina Sihto. “There are dedicated areas for daytime naps, handicrafts and playing.”

These areas are complemented by elements devised to suit small statures: a low-lying built-in couch and “child-only” doorways. “A space for children needs to be built in their scale and in a way that helps them to perceive how everything works,” says Sihto. Despite all of this focus on the children’s needs, Fyra didn’t neglect the adult teachers who will also be using the school. Timber is used throughout, offering an element of warmth but also bringing acoustic calm to what will inevitably be a noisy workplace.

Words with... / Lilli Hollein, Austria

New beginnings

In 2007, as co-founder of Vienna Design Week, writer, critic and curator Lilli Hollein cemented her status as a leading voice in Austrian design. In September, after more than a decade at the helm of the event, she left to take up a new role as director of the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts (Mak), where she now oversees its many exhibitions and its permanent collection. On a recent episode of Monocle on Design we spoke to Hollein about building a design scene in a city and taking on new challenges.

Image: Stefan Olah

What was the creative scene like in the Austrian capital when you started Vienna Design Week?
When we founded the event there was simply nothing. There was no event focusing on design or bringing the scene together. Vienna Design Week was and is a platform to think and exchange ideas about the subject. It is very international. We were criticised in the beginning; people said, “Why don’t you only do something for Austrians?” But we thought that we were doing something for Austrians by making them compete with their international colleagues. And by inviting journalists from around the world to look at our scene, we managed to open doors for a lot of talented Austrian designers. This is something that would not have happened without Vienna Design Week.

What was it like to move from Vienna Design Week and start at Mak?
I knew what I was leaving behind but I was sure that the people in charge could push it forward. I'm a mother and I will have tears in my eyes when my child eventually leaves; she is only 14 but I’m already afraid of that moment. At the same time, I will be happy and feel that I have prepared her for the world. And it’s the same with Vienna Design Week. Years of my life have gone into the project but it was the right moment for me to leave. I can’t continue to change things from the ground up if I’m in charge as the director.

What does the future hold for Mak?
My plan for Mak is to open it up to a more diverse public, even more than it has already, and to engage people emotionally. This is so important, especially at the moment, when doors are so often closed. The feeling of connection with a museum reaches far beyond the physical visit. We have to engage people emotionally so they stay in contact with us.

For more from Lilli Hollein and others, tune into ‘Monocle on Design’.

From the archive / Pileino lamp, Italy

In sharp focus

Italian architect Gae Aulenti is remembered primarily as the designer of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris but she also designed some remarkable lamps. One of her table lights from the 1960s was shaped like a tugboat and simultaneously functioned as a vase, candlestick and ashtray; while that is best left as mid-century memorabilia, we’re particularly keen to see the revival of the Pileino, one of her more streamlined designs from the 1970s.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Rendered in enamelled metal, it can be planted on a table or attached to the wall and was a staple of lighting brand Artemide’s collection throughout the 1970s. Thanks to a shade that pivots 180 degrees around its axis, the direction and intensity of the light – and so the atmosphere of a room – can be easily customised. The Pileino might be one of Aulenti’s most pared-back works but it proves that instead of cramming many things into one, sometimes the best designs fulfil one function perfectly.

Around the House / Carl Hansen & Søn, Denmark

Opal fruit

Danish furniture brand Carl Hansen & Søn has stayed true to its mid-century roots, a commitment to old ways that has been key to its continued success. Many of its best-known creations have been in production for more than 70 years and its recent additions have seen the brand delve into its archives to find previously unrealised designs.

Earlier this month, the brand added to its lighting range with the EK61 Opal Pendant. Designed by Danish architect and cabinet-maker Esben Klint in 1961, its lantern-shaped form is made from mouth-blown opal glass, with oak elements that hark back to the brand’s woodworking origins. Given that few countries do lighting better than the Danes (it’s a central part of hygge traditions that sustain them through long winters), expect this new release to fill homes with warmth and elegance on dark winter nights.

In the Picture / ‘Peter Marino’, France

Back to mono

Featuring more than 300 images, including architectural plans and original sketches, Peter Marino: The Architecture of Chanel examines the longstanding relationship between the US architect and the French fashion house. Over 25 years, Marino designed 16 of the brand’s shops in locations ranging from Miami to Osaka. The book includes interviews, photography and insightful project descriptions.

Enveloped in a bespoke plexiglass sculptural slipcase, its look and design serve as a nod to the brand’s classic black-and-white aesthetic. Marino believes that both colours have played a significant role in the history of architecture and design. “They are the basis of more than a quarter of a century of architectural variations for both exterior and interior design,” he says. “Together, both are the signature of Chanel.”


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