Wednesday. 23/2/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nic Monisse

High hopes

I’m always drawn to smartly designed multi-use developments that have elevated pedestrian plazas, such as the newly opened Pau Republic Complex in Paris or Hibernian Place in my hometown of Perth. These open-air spots, well above street level, are typically lined with coffee shops and restaurants that serve the tenants of a new building. Frustratingly, however, they often lack public life.

Why? Well, people don’t exactly find trudging up stairs or getting on an escalator enticing, especially when they can’t see what’s at the top. And herein lies a potential solution for attracting people to such areas, one that I observed on a recent trip to Stockholm.

In Södermalm, where staircases are used to navigate the hilly neighbourhood, there’s often a clearly visible destination at the peak (I observed a viewpoint, small park and church topping several staircases). Architects building elevated public plazas could take a leaf out of this borough’s book by always providing a visual incentive for people to venture from the bottom, whether that’s a grand building’s entrance, restaurant, public artwork or simply a bench with a view. If they do, public life could start looking up.

The Project / The Future Perfect, USA

All in hand

A sunny 1971 Beverly Hills home is a fitting location for a design exhibition that encourages us to slow down and appreciate the craft of making. Momentary Pause runs until 18 March at the Los Angeles outpost of The Future Perfect, a US collectable-design gallery. The show features a lengthy list of artists whose work emphasises natural materials. “The works presented in the exhibition are all expressions of labour, or the act of making by hand, as a form of care for nature, or as a way of understanding oneself in relation to the environment,” says gallery director Laura Young.

Image: Elizabeth Carababas
Image: Elizabeth Carababas
Image: Elizabeth Carababas

Highlights include the Pan table by Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek, which is made from recycled wood that is formed in a patchwork-like style across the artful piece. “The exhibition opens a discourse of contemplation for design that many of our artists and designers consider very close to their hearts,” says Future Perfect co-founder David Alhadeff. “Great design lives in the details and so often, designers take pride in the things you don’t see.”

Design News / Konstantin Grcic, Germany

Evolution theory

German industrial designer Konstantin Grcic creates chairs, sofas and lights that stand the test of time. As a result of their longevity, his pieces often come to be used in ways that he could never have imagined. And it’s this notion that Grcic explores in his current show, New Normals, which runs until 8 May at Berlin’s Haus am Waldsee museum.

Image: Florian Böhm
Image: Florian Böhm
Image: Florian Böhm

Grcic worked with curators Ludwig Engel and Anna Himmelsbach to display a selection of his best-known pieces being used in unexpected ways. The most prominent display is his iconic Traffic chaise longue for Magis, here surrounded by selfie sticks. When it was designed in 2013, Grcic certainly wouldn’t have expected it to become a setting for “influencers” taking countless pictures of themselves. Visitors will also find radio and TV antennae protruding from his Stool-Tool chair for Vitra and, suspended from the ceiling, his Myto chairs for Plank.

The show serves as a reminder for designers that their works evolve with society – and for visitors, that their relationships with treasured possessions will change over time.

Words with... / Nikki Linsell, UK

In the city

Public Practice is a UK-based social enterprise that arranges placements for architects with city councils. The organisation’s ambition is to provide designers with an insight into bureaucracy and ensure that some of the industry’s brightest minds get a taste of decision-making at the municipal level. To find out more about the initiative, we caught up with the organisation’s chief operating officer, architect Nikki Linsell, for a recent episode of Monocle On Design.

Image: Lucy Ranson

What are some of the advantages of having architects in government roles?
The built environment is where the symptoms and solutions to a lot of society’s problems are played out. Working in local government or in a public-sector role is a really great place for architects to have the agency to influence every aspect of the built environment – especially in the longer term. At Public Practice we realised that this wasn’t talked about and that there wasn’t a specific career route to support people moving from the private sector into the public sector. So we developed a placement programme specifically for people with a few years of experience coming from the private sector.

What’s the ambition of this programme?
It’s about giving designers the opportunity to work within the council for six months, to actually see the mechanisms of it and what it’s like to work on bigger strategic decisions, where you see the whole project. Public bodies, such as The City of London Corporation, actually used to employ architects to build housing. But that has dropped off. We’re trying to re-establish that, bringing the designer’s skills back to councils. We’re focusing on reigniting what was once quite familiar.

Finally, what’s the appeal of public practice for architects?
There’s a lot of interest from people with design backgrounds who are looking to work in roles in which they can have a meaningful impact. Over the past 20 years there have been so many publications talking about designing like you give a damn and so many conversations about people trying to seek a slightly more influential role. At Public Practice, we’re trying to show that local government is a place where people can actually have that type of career.

For more from Nikki Linsell, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From the archive / Vico Magistretti side table, Italy

Marble to behold

This might be the world’s only marble table that’s readily portable. Vico Magistretti’s glass-topped design has a sturdy base made from the white stone but, thanks to a steel leg that doubles as a handle, it can easily be picked up. It’s a characteristic work from the Milanese architect, whose furniture often came in bright colours and had quirks that were as practical as they were eye-catching.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The side table was one of the first pieces produced by Cattelan Italia, a manufacturer that was founded in 1979 by Giorgio and Silvia Cattelan. The company still exists and keeps a busy factory in Vicenza but this Magistretti still stands out. A reissue of the small, cheerful table would be a surefire way to bring the brand back to the fore.

Around the house / Volum suspension lamps, Italy

Lighting the way

Not all of us are lucky enough to spend our lives enjoying buildings designed by Norwegian starchitects. Thankfully, courtesy of a new collaboration between Oslo's Snøhetta and Italian lamp manufacturer Lodes, it’s now possible to bring a little bit of its work into your current home.

The Volum collection was inspired by Snøhetta’s need for calming pendant lighting that could be adapted to different rooms. To cater to this, the two firms created a series of glass lamps, now available in four different sizes, that emit a uniform glow in all directions, thanks to a single transparent power cable and a translucent glass “lid” covering the bulb. Now that’s what we call a bright idea.

In The Picture / Modern Forms, Germany

Taking shape

Award-winning Swiss photographer Nicolas Grospierre has been snapping modernist buildings around the world for almost 25 years. His ever-expanding archive has already resulted in two photograph-led books. The second, Modern Forms, has just been updated with an expanded line-up of striking structures that looks beyond Europe to Southeast Asia, Australia, Africa and South America.

Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay

Published by Germany’s Prestel, this new edition features large-format photographs of 250 buildings, which have been grouped in the book according to their shape. Both iconic and pedestrian structures feature, with Grospierre covering everything from brutalist housing estates in St Petersburg and a flying-saucer-like museum in Lebanon to an elegantly minimalist gas station in Marrakech. The result is a celebration of the varied interpretations of modernism’s utopian ideals, which makes the book well worth a read.


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