Wednesday. 9/3/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Northern delights

Inspired by good design in the Nordics, we check in at a handsome new hotel in Copenhagen, visit a unique school named after the founder of Sweden’s Svenskt Tenn and enjoy a beautifully packaged Scandi brew. But first, Nic Monisse on preservation.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Welcome homes

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) has called for a retrofit of 3.3 million homes that were built in the UK between the 1920s and 1940s. The aim is to reduce the environmental footprint of these almost 100-year-old structures by improving their insulation, windows and boilers. According to Riba, the process could cut the nation’s overall carbon emissions by 4 per cent.

But it’s not the only reason that the call should be embraced by Whitehall. The interwar period might be celebrated for its art deco buildings and for paving the way for modernist works but its everyday architecture also had some outstanding examples. Many of them are two-storey townhouses, which are perfect for compact urban living. They were constructed at a time when housing standards were improving, quality materials were de rigueur and minimum-space requirements were introduced, creating homes that are cosy but not small.

The motion from the institute, then, is about much more than environmental impact. It’s also about preserving good architecture that already serves everyday people and reducing the temptation for owners and developers to pull the houses down in favour of newer – and no doubt cheaper – builds.

If the government follows the advice, the net result would not only see improvements to the climate but also the maintenance of characterful, quality homes. And it might even tempt other countries and cities to follow suit.

In my hometown of Perth, where beautiful 1930s bungalows are regularly torn down to be replaced by characterless suburban homes, such a move would be appreciated. All the more reason for me to hope that the institute is listened to.

The Project / Vipp Pencil Case, Copenhagen

Test suite

No matter how beautiful a furniture brand’s showroom might be, it’s hard to gauge what its products are like until you actually live with them. This is part of the reason Danish design company Vipp has been so active in creating environments where potential customers can linger a little longer with its wares, including its five accommodation offerings. The latest is Vipp Pencil Case, a generously sized apartment within a former 1930s Viking pencil factory in the centre of Copenhagen.

Image: Rasmus Hjortshøj
Image: Rasmus Hjortshøj
Image: Rasmus Hjortshøj

“Vipp Pencil Case is not your average hotel room,” says Julie Cloos Mølsgaard, the interior designer who led the project. Other Danish fixtures are also incorporated into the apartment, including Dinesen flooring and Kvadrat-fabric curtains. “It’s more like a studio or atelier. It evokes an artistic ambience and holds a rare quiet in the heart of the Danish capital.”

Indeed, while enjoying contemporary works from Danish artists, guests can relax in Vipp lounge chairs and enjoy the glow cast by its handsome pendant lights. This urban retreat joins a Vipp accommodation line-up that also includes a cabin on a Swedish lake and a converted 1775 Danish farmhouse, and points to the brand’s commitment to physical marketing. It’s also a nice little side business: the venues are typically booked up, so get in fast and make your reservation.

Design News / Estrid Ericsonskolan, Sweden

Life lessons

The name Estrid Ericson might not be known to many of us but, in her hometown of Hjo in Sweden, she’s hailed a hero. It’s for this reason that a new primary school here, Estrid Ericsonskolan, has been named after the founder of Swedish design brand Svenskt Tenn. And, in line with the creative values she championed, the timber-and-brick school has been built with an artisanal touch, courtesy of Link Arkitektur.

Image: Felix Gerlach
Image: Felix Gerlach

“She began her journey as a drawing teacher in Hjo, which I think ties the story together in a nice way,” says Maria Veerasamy, CEO of Svenskt Tenn. The company rose to international prominence as Swedish design was popularised in the 1920s. “Women didn’t even have the right to vote when Estrid Ericson started Svenskt Tenn,” says Veerasamy. But Ericson certainly had a knack for business and a sharp eye for talent. In 1934 she hired Austrian architect Josef Frank, who brought bold colours and prints as well as a modernist viewpoint to the firm’s creative output, bolstering its success.

Svenskt Tenn will turn 100 years old in 2024 and it shows no sign of slowing down or losing its relevance to the creative industries. And with students in Hjo being educated in a building formed with Ericson’s ideals in mind, her influence won’t wane any time soon.;

Words with… / Julie Bargmann, USA

Staying grounded

Julie Bargmann is the most recent – and inaugural – winner of the Oberlander Prize, landscape architecture’s answer to the Pritzker. The jury, which included Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao, recognised Bargmann for her efforts in rehabilitating dilapidated public areas and post-industrial sites. Over the course of her 30-year career, she has become renowned for turning such places into healthy and hospitable green environments. To find out more about this practice, we caught up with Bargmann for this week’s episode of Monocle On Design.

Image: Barrett Doherty/The Cultural Landscape Foundation

What was the landscape architecture industry like when you set up your practice, Dirt, in 1992?
At the time, many landscape architects did only what their client said; they were doing what I call commercial practice. But what I was keen to do was critical practice. I still wanted to fulfil the wishes of the client but with a larger agenda, one that benefits the world at large. Clients aren’t necessarily going to tell you to do the best you can for the environment, so I started Dirt out of a desire to do that. I wanted to work on contaminated sites, even though there was no commercial appetite to deal with those kinds of landscapes.

You mentioned that clients aren’t always going to do the “right thing”. Is it up to designers to find ways to introduce broader environmental improvements into projects?
Absolutely. And over the years, I have become sneaky. I would learn how to speak my client’s language and understand their values. And I would then work out a way to sneak mine in. For example, rather than telling a client that we’re going to reuse existing or recycled materials, I would talk about the fact that those materials are beautiful. I felt as though I was working in sustainability through the back door.

For more from Bargmann, tune into ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / August Chair, Japan

Palatial perch

In the late 1980s, Japanese interior architect Shigeru Uchida was appointed art director of a hotel development called Il Palazzo in Fukuoka. And while the designer seized the opportunity to commission an outstanding list of postmodernists to work on the project alongside him – Ettore Sottsass and Gaetano Pesce each designed a hotel bar – he also created plenty of outstanding work on his own. Case in point: the August chair.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Comprising just nine wooden parts that can be disassembled easily when needed, the playful and practical seat was originally found throughout the hotel. Sadly, however, this is no longer the case. Despite being revered by design enthusiasts, the hotel’s interiors now look worse for wear, with many of the original furnishings, including the August chair, replaced. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t make a comeback. In fact, with such a simple design, it lends itself perfectly to a revival.

Around the House / Offset, New Zealand

Irregular choices

Furniture design is a competitive business. Not only do today’s makers have to compete with their contemporaries but a host of historical figures are still vying for attention too. Just ask Canadian-born, London-based designer Philippe Malouin. “These days it’s hard to do better than the likes of [mid-century US designers Charles and Ray] Eames,” he says. “So what I try to do is create something that looks interesting and makes you wonder how it works.” A case in point: his Offset collection for New Zealand brand Resident.

Image: Resident
Image: Resident

Originally consisting of a coffee table and stool, the range has been expanded to include a bench and shelf. Available in a dark or light finish, every piece is made from oak and features, as the name suggests, legs that are offset from the top surface. The result is furniture that, though sturdy, playfully gives off the impression that it might fall apart.

In the Picture / Depanneur Beers, Denmark

Bare necessities

Effective packaging design needn’t be all bells and whistles, as this eye-catching box of brews from Denmark demonstrates. A simple sans-serif typeface applied to a pink backdrop draws attention to the cleverly titled Girl from IPA-nema without bombarding the senses with other information. “We wanted to strip everything back to the bare essentials,” says Mike Wittrup, co-founder and creative director of Barkas, the Copenhagen-based branding agency behind the project.

In terms of creative freedom on the brief, it helps that the client is Depanneur, another business that Wittrup co-founded. The shop and beverage label operates in the Danish capital and Aarhus. “We work with Depanneur on everything, from what product to make to how it should taste,” he says. This level of authorship has resulted in a smart range of products that look as good as they taste.


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