Wednesday. 26/1/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nic Monisse

No wonder

When a designer strikes out on their own, it’s very easy for them to say “yes” to every piece of work that comes their way, particularly if that work is large in scale and will pay the bills. What’s more, it’s a habit that’s hard to break; saying “no” is scary, even once you’re established.

It’s a sentiment that industrial designer Jay Osgerby, of Barber Osgerby fame, agrees with. When I spoke to him this week at the London outpost of Galerie Kreo, where Barber Osgerby is showing its new, limited-edition lighting created in collaboration with the Parisian gallery, he explained that, for a long time, he and business partner Edward Barber said “yes” to most projects. Naturally, they were keen to keep as many doors open as possible – and it led to prizes including the Jerwood and Compasso d’Oro. But with the industry having slowed over the past two years, they’ve inadvertently re-evaluated.

“As creative people, we always have a compulsion to make things but we were forced to slow down,” says Osgerby. “We do a lot of mass production but with Galerie Kreo we’re producing a small run. And because it’s limited, we’re now getting to realise these incredible objects without the downside of making tens of thousands of units that then get shipped all around the world.”

The move has freed the designer up to be more hands-on, to introduce details that wouldn’t otherwise appear and tinker (almost) endlessly. Now it’s a direction that the studio will pursue as part of its business model. This move is a reminder for all of us, designer or not, that saying “no” on occasion to a commercially lucrative project – and taking on smaller ones instead – can be refreshing and inspiring. And, who knows, it might even be good for business.

The Project / HH Apartment, Singapore

Less is more

In Singapore’s leafy Holland Hill neighbourhood, design firm Right Angle Studio has transformed a compact space into a pared-back, minimalist home for a young family that it calls HH Apartment. It’s an aesthetic approach that the studio, which is run by brothers Alex and Jay Liu, brings to all of its work. “With minimalism, God is in the details,” says design director Alex.

Image: Studio Periphery
Image: Studio Periphery

In the HH Apartment, these details include gaps intentionally built into bespoke furniture in order to cast shadows that introduce depth and drama to the home. There are also timber-clad walls and subtly hidden storage, leaving shelves available to display art pieces collected by the residents. “In a small home, space is a luxury,” says Alex. “Not having storage on display immediately gives a feel of spaciousness.”

Adding to this feeling is a “wooden portal” in the centre of the living area, where moveable, pivoting screens allow the dining and lounge area to be connected to or separated from an office. “The portal separates the rooms visually but doesn’t actually cut them off,” says Alex. “Instead it maintains a visual flow between the two zones.”

Design News / Icaro Hotel, Italy

Lofty ambitions

The Icaro Hotel, which is high up in the Dolomites, nestled in an interlinked web of ski runs and hiking trails, has always attracted visitors. Now it is enjoying its first winter season since being revamped and significantly enlarged by South Tyrol firm Modus Architects. “Every time you come up here, it’s hard to believe,” says Egyptian-born lead architect Sandy Attia of what she calls the “fairytale landscape”.

Image: Gustav Willeit
Image: Gustav Willeit
Image: Gustav Willeit

The project includes separate staff quarters, a new guestroom and the reorganisation of shared spaces including a pool area and a sweeping colonnade of tall wooden pillars along the main façade. By neatly tucking the carpark underground, the new Icaro is an addition to the pristine landscape rather than an infringement on it. This is Modus Architects’ first hotel project and, according to Attia, that helped the studio to bring something unique to the project. “We tried to work outside the standard confines of what a hotel is,” she says. “For us, first and foremost, it’s a piece of architecture and a celebration of craft.”

Words with... / Jonny Klokk, Norway

All together now

The Norwegian building tradition dugnad dates from the 14th century and involves all the members of a community pitching in to erect a structure. Despite the ancient origins of the approach, Oslo-based design studio Mad Arkitekter feels that it is very much relevant to the way we build today, so much so that it has opened a new exhibition on the topic at Berlin’s Aedes Architecture Forum. Mad About Dugnad: Work Together, Build Better showcases four of the firm’s projects in which dugnad processes have been applied. To find out more, we caught up with Mad Arkitekter partner Jonny Klokk on this week’s episode of Monocle On Design.

Image: Klaudia Koldras

What does ‘dugnad’ mean to you?
It’s a mindset in which people come together and share their knowledge and try to improve the world. We chose this topic for our exhibition because we see that the building industry is going the other way and, in doing so, playing a major role in the climate crisis. We chose to share four of our projects in which we incorporated sustainability in different ways, hoping to inspire and engage people so that we can move towards building and thinking more sustainably. It’s our contribution to dugnad. And we hope that others will bring this mindset into their own work too.

Can you tell us more about how Mad Arkitekter incorporates the concept into its practice?
Through sharing. Architecture is a competitive field and sometimes we have these big business secrets about how you do one thing or another. At Mad, however, our doors are always open. And our ideas are always open to be shared with others. That’s how we integrate it into our own practice: sharing with other people including our competitors. We also try to integrate the mindset within our company; we have a very flat hierarchy and it’s always the best ideas that win in our office, regardless of whether it’s an intern or partner who comes up with it. It means that all of our projects look completely different.

Can you tell us about one of the projects featured in the exhibition?
There’s a planning project for an eastern part of Oslo. It’s based on the circular economy and the idea that we can’t plan for how a building is going to look, because it’s not going to be built for another 10 years when we will use whatever materials are available at the time. It raises the question of how to make something aesthetically beautiful using a limited range of materials. That’s important because even though we are pragmatic and want to find great solutions for architecture, the most sustainable thing we can do is to build something that is so beautiful and well done that no one wants to tear it down in the future.

For more from Klokk, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Pastoe EE02 desk, Netherlands

Surface appeal

In the late 1940s, Cees Braakman, the imminent heir to the design department of Dutch furniture company UMS, was dispatched to the US to learn the latest industry trends. The three-month tour included a visit to Herman Miller, which stocked the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, and the 30-year-old was clearly impressed with what he saw. Back home in Utrecht, Braakman quickly revamped the firm’s tired collection and UMS, later renamed Pastoe, became one of the first manufacturers of modernist furniture in the Netherlands.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Looking at this EE02 writing desk, which was produced throughout the 1950s, it is easy to see why Braakman’s novel designs became popular. While there is plenty of storage space, the oak desk itself is small enough to fit snugly into even the smallest apartment. What’s more, the legs are made from bent plywood, a technique he picked up from the Eameses that still, much like the EE02, remains appealing some 70 years later. It’s why we think that Pastoe should once more find room for the desk in its collection.

Around The House / Spark lounge chair, Sweden

Light touch

A fine piece of Nordic design, Spark takes inspiration from a traditional winter snow sledge, yet the piece from Stockholm’s Massproductions looks lovely in the sitting room all year round. The construction of the lounge chair and footrest also offers a masterclass in combining several materials.

“I wanted to create as much air as possible around the chair without sacrificing comfort,” says designer and Massproductions co-founder Chris Martin, who completed the original design in 2016 and has tweaked it for better function for this 2022 re-issue. “I had an idea to design Spark in a steel wire construction as you can create a lot of structure and strength in that material. I chose to combine the steel with organic materials such as leather and wood to give it a softer feel.”

In the picture / Bulgari façade, Shanghai

Green light

Bulgari’s new Shanghai shop melds European and Asian influences. Designed by Rotterdam’s MVRDV, the project features a façade inspired by the intricate art deco windows of Bulgari’s first boutique on Rome’s Via dei Condotti. Here, the designers created a faceted pattern referencing the original shopfront, featuring brass formwork filled with recycled champagne bottles, and illuminated with warming lights.

Image: Bulgari

The jade-coloured design is a nod to both Bulgari’s jewellery and China’s most precious stone. “Our collaboration with Bulgari has yielded some fascinating material experiments,” says Jacob van Rijs, co-founder and principal architect of MVRDV. “The Shanghai store encapsulates the values of these experiments. Given the right treatment and detailing, leftover champagne and beer bottles, which would otherwise be thrown away, become a jewel for the city.”


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