Wednesday. 5/1/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Call for entries: Monocle Design Awards

The year might be young but Monocle is already deep into the process of whittling down the world’s best new designs to determine the winners of our annual Monocle Design Awards. This year we’re planning something bigger and better. After all, creativity tends to thrive in difficult circumstances and over the past year we’ve seen incredible examples of great design. From clever approaches to combating infectious diseases via industrial design to airport overhauls celebrating all that we love (and have missed) about international travel, there are a lot of projects to sift through.

For those who missed the 2021 edition, the awards cover all aspects of good design, from the most eye-catching book covers to the best architecture for education. We also delve into urbanism and retail design, scope out special brand collaborations and, of course, make room in the rankings for the cosiest furniture releases and the best works of graphic design.

For the designers, architects, creative directors and budding builders out there, there’s still time to submit your entries to jostle for contention. If you think that your work nails the brief, you might want to check out our film highlighting the winners from last year and then put together a summary, which can be sent to me at I look forward to hearing from you.

The Project / Llabb, Italy

Field work

Architects spend most of their working lives in front of a computer, with the building happening elsewhere. Italian duo Luca Scardulla and Federico Robbiano, founders of Genoa studio Llabb and partners in life, took a different approach for their mountain getaway in the remote region of Val Trebbia.

The pair’s practice started in 2013 as a carpentry workshop inside a converted garage. Even as the studio moved into renovation and interior design, they felt that it was important not to lose touch with the art of making things. “We believe that before learning to draw, it is important to learn how to build,” says Scardulla. So when he decided to construct a holiday property near his ancestral home in the village of Tartago, they took on the task themselves.

Image: Gaia Cambiaggi, Anna Positano
Image: Gaia Cambiaggi, Anna Positano
Image: Gaia Cambiaggi, Anna Positano

With four co-workers, they spent two weeks of last summer building a wooden cabin. Set on a sloped plot among maple, cherry and chestnut trees, the structure is made from layers of West African okoumé plywood. “We left the exterior untreated, so over time its patina will blend delicately into the surroundings,” says Scardulla. The one-room home sits on four wooden legs against the hillside. Inside, a long counter provides a work desk, bookcase and storage area. “We wanted a place for contemplation; a sanctuary,” says Robbiano. “One that is very much back to basics and off the grid.”

News / Hôtel des Académies et des Arts, France

Creative inspiration

With an eye on the 2024 Paris Olympics, the city has become something of a haven for new, beautifully designed hotels. The latest is Hôtel des Académies et des Arts, just south of the city’s Luxembourg Gardens. Contrasting classic design with a pared-back modern approach, it takes inspiration from the belle époque era, with the twist being its styling to resemble a modern artist’s studio.


The French architecture studio responsible, Lizée-Hugot, was founded by Raphael Hugot and Stéphanie Lizée (pictured), and has made the most of the grand historic site, introducing elements such as warm timber panelling to provide a rustic, cosy feel with rougher touches, including trowelled plaster walls, revealing traces of the building’s history.

Words With… / Moshe Safdie, Canada

Taking shape

The past year has contained a number of firsts for celebrated Canadian-Israeli-American architect Moshe Safdie. In January 2021, patients started to be accepted at his first hospital commission, at the Serena del Mar urban development in Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Another medical complex designed by his practice, the Albert Einstein Education and Research Center in São Paulo, also welcomed its first students in April. And, thanks to some advice from his friend Samantha Power, the US’s former ambassador to the UN, he put pen to paper during lockdown and wrote a memoir, which will be published in September 2022.

Still, says Safdie, doing something for the first time is perhaps easier than revisiting an existing project. His studio’s recent commission to expand the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art complex in Arkansas, which opened more than 10 years ago, is just one example of how revisiting an existing design requires a nuanced, careful approach. Speaking to Monocle from his studio in Boston, Safdie discusses his current projects, why he’d like to design a stadium and why the architectural ideals conceived for his Expo67 residential complex in Montréal haven’t been fully realised – yet.

Image: Jake Dockins

Your first hospital commission in Cartagena opened last year. Have you been able to visit it yet?
I’m hoping to go soon. They’ve opened phase one – the operating rooms and that kind of thing are functioning – and I am very eager to see it because they are thrilled. Everybody says that they feel as though they’re checking into a resort; the rooms look into the garden spaces and some of them have balconies. Urban hospitals have the problem of being very tight for space, so they end up being taller, very high-density buildings. It’s a matter of starting with the premise that you owe daylight to every space and that the sense of orientation should not depend on coloured stripes on the floor. It’d be harder to do with a dense hospital but the same principles apply.

Is there something particular to the process when you’re designing a new kind of building?
Our practice actually looks for the building types that we have not yet done, because the experience of doing the first one is so exciting. Like the first library in Vancouver. Or the first airport, Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. You’re just thinking from your principles. It’s hard work; you have a lot to learn. And there are no shortcuts. But understanding it and questioning why certain things are done in particular ways: that process of getting to know a kind of building is very exciting.

Is there a building type that you haven’t yet done?
It would be interesting to do a stadium. I’m sure that they have a rich, complex set of requirements, including sightlines and weather protection. For one thing, stadiums are about big crowds – moving them in and out. So what does that mean? How would you make them flow? I don’t even know what all the issues are because I haven’t done one. But I’d be fascinated to get into that world.

And are there any that you’d revisit?
I’ve talked a lot about the three-dimensional city. Not in the way that Habitat67 was actually built but its original design. That was a system of streets in the air and the public realm underneath it; the total three-dimensional integration. And I have built pieces of it, at Marina Bay Sands and in Chongqing, and in my new residential complexes. But the opportunity to do it on the scale of a whole district, as I proposed originally for Expo67 but the government didn’t have the resources or the time to do – I hope that I have the opportunity to do that in some way.

From The Archive / Tage Frid stool, Denmark

Steady on three

This three-legged stool from 1979 is homed at Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum but its inception can be traced to a less majestic situation. “There’s an anecdote that Tage Frid was sitting on a fence to watch a horse race and thought that it was surprisingly comfy,” says Helena Kåberg, curator at the Nationalmuseum. The woodworker started experimenting with chairs and found that it was possible to forgo a leg and much of the backrest and seat without sacrificing stability. “The design is unassuming at first but when you look closer, it’s really a fantastic work of art,” says Kåberg.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The stool has been on show as part of Scandinavian Design & USA: People, Encounters and Ideas, 1890-1980, which traces the design influence of the Nordics on the US and vice versa. Frid is a prime example: the Danish-born designer was a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and his handbook, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, has never gone out of print. But since many on both sides of the Atlantic still struggle to construct anything stable even on four legs, we’re hoping that Frid’s masterpiece might become available as a finished product too.

Around The House / Sebastian Marbacher shakers

Spice is right

For those whose salt and pepper shakers were looking a little shabby on the Christmas dinner table, Monocle is proud to provide the perfect upgrade. Stocked in our shop in Zürich, these Swiss-made beauties come courtesy of industrial designer Sebastian Marbacher.

They’re big and bold enough to make a statement in the dining room, yet subtle enough in form not to steal focus from the dishes they were designed to help season. The ash-wood numbers are available in a range of tasteful colours to mix and match, or provided in a more pared-back unvarnished model.

In The Picture / ‘Carlo Mollino’, Switzerland

Master builder

Carlo Mollino is a maestro of Italian design whose architectural work, from mountain retreats to opera houses, has stood the test of time. And while we’re keen to push you to visit his pioneering sites such as Turin’s Teatro Regio and his funky adaptation of a 17th-century timber refuge in the Italian Alps into a modernist retreat, you can now enjoy his work from the comfort of your own home thanks to this new book.

Image: Sergio Cavallo, Pino Musi
Image: Sergio Cavallo, Pino Musi
Image: Sergio Cavallo, Pino Musi

Despite having more than 30 years of work to his name, Carlo Mollino: Architect and Storyteller is the first in-depth study of his architecture. Featuring archival research, vintage drawings and photographs, it provides a refreshing new platform from which to present his creative feats to a new generation of architects.


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