Wednesday. 16/2/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nolan Giles

True to life

Here’s an idea for the construction industry that will never take off: realistic renderings of forthcoming architectural developments. I’m not talking about super-photorealistic visualisations that show off all the very best aspects of a proposed project; just renderings that genuinely reveal what the finished article will look like. They would show the project’s potential but also provide room for a few inevitable wrinkles and maybe even the odd wart.

What prompted the idea? A mesmerisingly beautiful video by Hungarian visualisation company Zoa Studio that features renderings for Viva Virgolo, a cultural development set high up in the South Tyrolean hills above Bolzano that is set to open in 2026. The serene film showcases the sci-fi-like architecture of Norwegian practice Snøhetta, all set amid an unimaginably lush landscape. Simply put, the scene is otherworldly.

Let me start by noting that beautiful Bolzano claimed the top spot in Monocle’s Small Cities Index for 2022 and Snøhetta’s projects, from the Paris headquarters of Le Monde to prefabricated Norwegian holiday cabins, regularly grace our pages. However, I also know Italy pretty well and even in beautiful South Tyrol, the vision presented on-screen was unrealistic.

A realistic render might have shown a queue of impatient tourists waiting to ride the sleek funicular or cleaners mopping up a dropped gelato. Perhaps even the odd pickpocket could be painted in – making their way around the unsuspecting but well-groomed digital crowd.

It might be a half-baked idea but I’d be interested to dig more into this dialogue with architects and developers. I’m sure that, like me, they also play spot-the-difference in comparing the utopian render, for say, a housing block in an “up-and-coming” neighbourhood to the completed project (the latter no doubt featuring additional graffiti, failed landscaping and neighbouring car-clogged streets).

Architects today are practising in a profession in which social media and image-laden design blogs often judge their craft at face value. But what they don’t show is real life.

The Project / Bloqs, UK

Helping hand

If you harbour fears that the rise of automated machinery and 3D printers presage the death of handicrafts, then Bloqs, a new industrial facility in north London, should dispel them. The so-called “open-access factory” was designed by architecture practice 5th Studio and provides professional makers and those keen to learn new skills with workshop classes and spaces for hire. It is the largest of its kind in Europe. “It demonstrates that room for physical making is actually a growing need in the city,” says Tom Holbrook, director of 5th Studio.

Image: Timothy Soar/Claudia Agati
Image: Timothy Soar/Claudia Agati
Image: Timothy Soar/Claudia Agati

But aside from being a boon to craft in the UK capital, Bloqs is also showing that industrial buildings don’t have to feel dark and crowded. In a former vehicle-testing facility connected to a new, steel-framed building clad in aluminium and translucent polycarbonate, the interiors of the two hangar-sized workshops are generous and bathed in natural light.

It means that Bloqs’ spray-finishing booths, sewing machines and woodworking and metalworking facilities are set in an inviting environment in which people want to spend time. Indeed, the team behind the project is so confident in this notion that they’ve set up a café in the facility, expecting people to stay for a drink long after they’ve finished on the bandsaw.
buildingbloqs.com; 5thstudio.co.uk

Design News / House of Music, Hungary

Note perfect

In Budapest it’s best to know your Liszt from your Bartók, or your csárdás from your nóta. The Hungarian capital has a vibrant tradition of both classical and folk music, and going to a concert is almost as common as heading to the cinema (read more in our Hungary survey in the forthcoming March issue of Monocle). Celebrating this cultural heritage with a space for performances, exhibitions and education is the newly opened House of Music, which was designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. The building is nestled in the city’s central Városliget park and offers an important lesson in urban development.

Image: Palkó György
Image: Palkó György
Image: Palkó György

Its main functions are divided across three levels: exhibition areas are below ground; an auditorium and open-air stage host live performances on the park level; and classrooms and a library sit on the top floor. It’s covered by an organically shaped roof which Fujimoto designed to evoke both nature and musical soundwaves. There are 100 skylights and the glass outer walls provide visitors with plenty of sunlight and a great view of the surrounding greenery. “I envisioned the open floorplan, where boundaries between the inside and outside blur, as a continuation of the natural environment,” says Fujimoto.

The result is an unimposing building that sits lower than the tree canopy, a fact that helped the building win approval from a city hall that was concerned about new structures being built in the park. For architects and property developers, the House of Music is a reminder that working in harmony with nature pays off.
sou-fujimoto.net

Words with... / Daniela Elbahara, Mexico

On show

Daniela Elbahara has been challenging the status quo in Mexico’s design and art scene for more than 10 years. The Mexico City-based curator set up art gallery Yautepec in 2008 before co-founding the Material Art Fair and then launching her own namesake gallery. And since last year she has directed operations for Salón Cosa, a fair showcasing pieces of collectable design. To find out more about the most recent iteration of the show, which wrapped up last week, we caught up with Elbahara on this week’s episode of Monocle On Design.

Tell us about Salón Cosa. What’s the show’s ambition?
Cosa means “thing” in Spanish, so that’s what we’re showing: beautiful things, made with attention to craft by more than 20 different creators for each show. What makes the fair different is that we try to push our creators out of their comfort zones. For example, if one is a graphic designer, we might ask them to make a 3D-printed object; or if you’re a fashion designer, we might ask you to make a chair or a lamp.

So you’re asking people to work in a different discipline. What do you think this achieves?
First off, it generates an exercise for them to try something out and means that what they produce is really unique. It might be that the fashion designer creates a beautiful bedside table and because it’s so different and special, it’s going to be much more precious than the shirts or vests that they’ve already designed. This year I was really excited about Cecilia Barreto’s contribution. She’s an artist from Michoacán who does beautiful gradient paintings. When we first talked to her we were thinking that maybe she could create a mirror for the show. But then she said, “No, I’m going to make a lamp and it is going to have the gradients that I usually use.” The result is very characteristic of her work but is a different sort of object. So that’s what we’re trying to do – we’re trying to make things that are one of a kind.

Finally, what’s the next big focus for artists and designers at Salón Cosa and in Mexico more broadly?
A big move in art and design here – and abroad as well, I believe – is a shift towards ceramics and textiles. Of course, there is a lot of the more negative, apocalyptic work brought on by the pandemic. But we try to bring a bit of joy to people with Sálon Cosa. We never put anything boring in the show; we want to surprise everyone who comes to visit. And I think we do a pretty good job.

For more from Daniela Elbahara listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Kreuzschwinger, Germany

Off balance

If your seat started to sway, you would probably take it as a sign that it is about to collapse. But the Kreuzschwinger (roughly translated as “cross-swinger”) provides the exception to this rule. Part of a range of spindly steel chairs designed by the German architect Till Behrens in the 1950s, its unique selling point is that the legs give way ever so slightly when sat on, creating a small rocking movement.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Behrens, who patented his invention, argued that the swinging chairs had superior ergonomics because they adapted to changes in posture. Despite this assertion, the company that manufactured and marketed the chairs, Till Behrens Systeme, went bankrupt in 2017. Perhaps when it comes to seating, too many people have toppled off even regular, firm-legged chairs to give wobbly ones a try.

Around The House / Poeme Shelf, Finland

Double vision

When Nordic and Japanese influences come together in design, the result is usually compelling – and this is certainly the case with Poiat’s Poeme Shelf. Made for longevity by Finnish carpenters and coming in various sizes and colours, it’s suitable for both grand homes and cosier apartments. The piece also sits smartly on the floor, meaning that home installation is an easy task.

The Japanese influence is clear in the form, which takes its cues from the nation’s traditional architecture. Timo Mikkonen, co-founder and head of furniture design at Poiat, says that the clean lines of Japanese architecture allow for a design that focuses on “creating meaningful details through skilled craftsmanship”. We couldn’t agree more.
poiat.com

In The Picture / ‘Growzine’, UK

Taking root

If the newly launched Growzine is anything to go by, then industry-specific publications are blossoming. This new magazine from Good Earth, a community-led organisation run by gardeners and green-fingered volunteers, is the first in a series of biannual releases. Printed with vegetable inks on compostable paper, the issue contains seasonal gardening advice that readers are invited to test with a complimentary packet of leek seeds.

Good Earth’s ambition is to make growing food at home an inspiring and fun experience. That ambition has been perfectly played out in the publication’s design, thanks to the bright and bold page layouts of London-based designer Kate Rogers and playful illustrations from Jethro Haynes. The next issue will feature both their work again and will be available from 25 February. We’ll be keeping our trowels at the ready.
planetgoodearth.com

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