Wednesday. 19/1/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nolan Giles

No fair

Last week, industry contacts confirmed to me a rumour that Salone del Mobile, the world’s biggest design event, would move its Milan showcase from April to June due to the pandemic. I was, ironically, making my way around a huge Italian trade fair. Pitti Uomo, one of the most important fashion showcases on the global menswear calendar, had braved cancellations from big brands and international travellers to put on a safe – and genuinely well-received – event that went off without a hitch. And it did it in Florence, in the first half of January.

Milan Fashion Week began immediately afterwards on Friday, with a classic Prada show featuring actors Jeff Goldblum and Kyle MacLachlan, stunning a live audience and setting the media abuzz. On Monday, Salone del Mobile quietly, officially, announced the postponement. I’m sure the design industry let out a collective sigh – but how many of these were sighs of frustration rather than relief? I imagine it’s more the former.

“Moving the event to June will ensure a strong presence of foreign exhibitors and professionals, which has always been one of Salone’s strong points,” read the official line behind the move from event president Maria Porro. “It will give the participating companies time to plan their presence at the fair as thoroughly as possible.” On the idea that the event could be a more international one, it makes sense – although it seems like pure guesswork that more people will travel from abroad to Milan at this delayed juncture. The preparation part, however, is nonsense.

Most brands involved in the event, many of them small businesses, will have already spent significant sums on venue hire, staff, travel and accommodation, all in preparation to be in Milan in April. I know of many small and medium-sized companies that have worked extremely hard to meet this deadline, shelling out on everything from building leases for new showrooms to multiple flights and transport to move furniture across Europe, which is not cheap. All of their plans will now go into disarray.

Organising a global event around a pandemic is an unimaginably tough task. But two years in, there are lessons to be learned from other events that have gone ahead successfully. I’m hoping that organisers such as those at Salone can learn to be brave and stand behind their initial plans.

Obituary / Ricardo Bofill, Spain

Grand designs

It was perhaps inevitable that Ricardo Bofill would end up being an architect. The revered Spanish designer, who has died at the age of 82, was the son of a property developer, architect and builder. That he ended up working with the built environment was no surprise. But what was unexpected was the legacy he would ultimately leave. One of the great postmodernist architects, he created monumental works that combined design ambition with a strong appreciation of place and utopian ideals.

Image: Salva López
Image: Salva López
Image: Salva López

Over an almost 60-year career, Bofill created some of the 20th century’s most impressive structures, notably the community-minded Walden 7 apartment building near Barcelona (pictured) and his nearby home and office, La Fábrica, which consists of a group of concrete silos and a cavernous space that was once a cement factory. The latter development was emblematic of his style: ambitious in scale, grounded in the site’s history and finished with postmodernist concrete flourishes.

“The beginning of the 20th century was a successful time for my country’s industrialisation,” said Bofill, when speaking to Monocle in 2019 about his decision to retain and reimagine the original buildings at La Fábrica. “Keeping this type of building alive is important for our memory – the memory of young people.” In much the same vein, we hope and expect his legacy to be treated with equal measures of joy and reverence.

The Project / S-Lab, Italy

Research and design

In northern Italy, Stefano Pujatti of architecture studio Elastico Farm is trying to turn the model of dull, boxy, concrete science buildings on its head. His initial effort is the newly built National Institute of Nuclear Physics – or S-Lab – in Turin. “Traditional industrial research buildings are generally made in the cheapest way,” says Pujatti. “They look like barns and [the architects] don’t worry about the people in them. With S-Lab we want to use the same [construction] strategy but bring in something else to communicate the importance of the institute and make it a nice place to be.”

Image: Anna Positano, Gaia Cambiaggi, Studio Campo
Image: Anna Positano, Gaia Cambiaggi, Studio Campo
Image: Anna Positano, Gaia Cambiaggi, Studio Campo

That something else takes the form of prefabricated concrete walls coloured in uplifting red and orange hues. Commissioned by Pujatti and his team, some of the panels also have the institute’s name concealed in their façade, with the words only revealed under certain climatic conditions. There’s also a canteen area and central courtyard, which is unusual for the building type. “We had to fight to have the courtyard,” says Pujatti. “The directors thought that the only space they needed was a place to sit and work. Our aim was to create a welcoming research building; we want it to be something that’s easy to replicate.” For the sake of scientists elsewhere, here’s hoping that’s the case.

Words with... / Shantell Martin, USA

Artistic licence

For many designers and makers, collaborative projects are vital in developing a broad and exciting practice. Such multidisciplinary endeavours might involve architects partnering up with biologists to create biophilic buildings, or artists working with furniture-makers on bespoke pieces. An example of the latter is New York-based visual artist Shantell Martin’s recent collaboration with B&B Italia. Martin’s canvas was the Camaleonda sofa, a seat designed in 1970 by Mario Bellini and re-edited in 2020 by the Italian furniture brand. She embellished a one-off version of the couch with her signature black-and-white linework. To find out more about the collaboration and the benefits of practising in such a way, we caught up with Martin for a recent episode of Monocle On Design.

Image: Catalina Kulczar

How do you personally start a collaborative project?
By asking, “Where do we meet in the middle?” With any great collaboration, you’re coming from very different places, with very different aesthetics or obsessions. But you can cross over in the middle to see where the similarities are and where your unique styles come together. As an artist, from a clothing perspective, I always want to be comfortable. So, I’ll be in sneakers and maybe a dress shirt that’s been drawn on. Working with B&B Italia on this iconic piece of furniture, our crossover is that the sofa is super comfortable too. It’s quite simple as it’s not being constructed from a whole bunch of different materials; it takes a less-is-more approach. I started with that as the crossover.

Where do you go from there?
After that initial layer of contemplating and making comparisons, the second layer is just coming in and doing my thing: drawing, having fun, being spontaneous and allowing my language to unfold in the way that it wants to unfold.

What are some of the benefits of cross-discipline collaborations?
It’s where magic can happen. You can create something completely new and unexpected. That doesn’t often happen when you’re working by yourself so there are definitely a lot of positives that come out of it. It can be more fun than working on your own and you get exposed to a different demographic. There’s also a chance to make a product or products that you might not have been able to do by yourself.

For more from Shantell Martin, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Domus floor lamp, Finland

Study buddy

Paavo Tynell is known for his brass lights, which regularly sell for five-figure sums at auctions. It might be a surprise, then, to learn that some of the late Finnish designer’s fixtures were originally commissioned for a student dormitory. In 1947, Tynell’s company Taito Oy supplied the lighting for Domus Academica, a student housing complex in central Helsinki. In the common rooms, alongside furniture by a young Ilmari Tapiovaara, stood Domus floor lamps, a custom-made piece with a delicate perforated shade.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Its form is perfectly representative of Tynell’s simple and pragmatic approach to design – one that saw his streamlined and affordable pieces become commonplace in Finnish post offices, bureaux and homes in the 1950s. So why not reissue the Domus at a price point accessible to cash-strapped students? Its warm glow would no doubt still do wonders for even the dreariest dorm-room decor.

Around The House / Takt Cross Bar Chair, Denmark

Raising the bar

Danish furniture brands are on the rise – literally. Takt’s Cross Chair was launched in 2019 and has proven to be such a hit with customers that the range has continually expanded and has been issued in different materials and colours. Now the design, by London-based studio Pearson Lloyd, has evolved into a versatile bar stool that’s available in two sizes, called the Cross Bar Chair.

“The extension to a high seat was a natural development for the collection,” says Pearson Lloyd co-founder Tom Lloyd. “Bar-height meeting and eating spaces are now a regular component of many kitchen, dining and working spaces. It makes perfect sense to create a new partner for the chair that can be used in projects alongside the original.” Like all previous iterations of the design, the stool is delivered in flat-pack form and its parts are recyclable and replaceable – a key tenet of Takt’s sustainability mission.

In The Picture / Yves Saint Laurent Museum, Morocco

Building an icon

Completed in 2017, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech is an impressively crafted landmark in the Moroccan city. Designed by French creative practice Studio Ko in collaboration with Saint Laurent’s partner Pierre Bergé, it was a significant undertaking, which Phaidon has explored in a new book.

Yves Saint Laurent Museum Marrakech: Studio Ko gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the 1,423 days in which the museum, dedicated to the French designer’s life and work, was planned and built. From finding the right type of brick to plotting the building out on the ground with chalk, every step of the process is outlined in detail, with each chapter highlighting a different set of challenges. The result is a powerful, visually compelling publication that documents the construction process. It will naturally appeal to fans of fashion, design and architecture.


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