Wednesday. 16/3/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Kéré Architecture

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We select a few favourites from Melbourne Design Week, before discussing how to perfect the playground and looking back at a smart solution for coffee-table clutter. First, this year’s deserving recipient of the Pritzker prize.

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Assume form

“Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury and everyone deserves comfort,” were the words spoken by architect Diébédo Francis Kéré on receiving the prestigious Pritzker prize yesterday. “We are interlinked and concerns in climate, democracy and scarcity are concerns for us all.” The annual prize, which was inaugurated in 1979, is the bellwether that indicates the current concerns of the architecture industry. Through rewarding the work of Burkina Faso-born, Germany-based Kéré, it is championing progressive design attitudes to ease climate change and empower societies that the Western world can overlook.

Image: Erik Jan Ouwerkerk, Kéré Architecture
Image: Erik Jan Ouwerkerk, Kéré Architecture

There’s plenty to pore over in Kéré’s body of work that supports this argument, although progressiveness doesn’t necessarily mean turning away from tradition. For a 2004 primary school in Gando, Burkina Faso, on a very tight budget, he convinced those commissioning it to work with locally sourced clay reinforced with cement, to form a latticed brick roof that allowed the building to remain cool on baking summer days. The primary school’s beautiful form and Kéré’s ability to do a lot with a little cast him into the global design spotlight, and his architecture has followed along similar lines ever since.

After wowing London crowds with a 2017 Serpentine Pavilion commission that brought nature to their attention by funnelling summer rain dramatically into the building’s centre, he used a similar technique to irrigate mango plantations on the premises of the Burkina Institute of Technology in 2020. Here, another cooling clay-walled structure elevated humble, readily available materials such as eucalyptus wood and corrugated metal to form an environment that not only tackles the harsh climate but also improves the wellbeing of those occupying the building. “Kéré is pioneering architecture, sustainable to the Earth and its inhabitants, in lands of extreme scarcity,” says Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the awards. “He is equally architect and servant, improving upon the lives and experiences of countless citizens in a region of the world that is at times forgotten.”

The Project / Melbourne Design Week, Australia

Bringing it all back home

Melbourne is known globally as a creative hub and it’s home to some of the world’s most interesting architecture firms, art directors and product designers. This talent is on show at Melbourne Design Week, which kicked off today and continues until 27 March. There is a wide array of events and offerings, including the mega Melbourne Art Book Fair, and we are particularly intrigued by the Melbourne Design Fair, Australia’s first major showcase of collectable design.

Image: Sean Fennessy
Image: Sean Fennessy

The fair was initiated by the National Gallery of Victoria in collaboration with the Melbourne Art Foundation. It offers Australian design studios and galleries, who are already used to highlighting their wares at global fairs such as Design Miami and PAD London, an opportunity to get in front of a growing home market. After our sneak preview of the event, we would point visitors toward highlights such as the Anthropic Bench by James Walsh, which is composed of rammed earth and recycled materials. Another highlight of the fair is a showcase of pieces from Modern Times, a Melbourne furniture institution that’s sure to impress fellow residents.

Design News / Kasama Collaborations, UK

Making history

The rural Japanese town of Kasama is home to some of the nation’s top potters and artisans, making it an inspiring destination in which international designers can connect with the nation’s rich craft history. With this in mind, a cast of UK-based creative talent has worked with Kasama’s best potters to form Kasama Collaborations, a charming body of work that is now on display in London.

Image: Mark Cocksedge/KASAMA

All the wares come from collaborations between a UK practitioner and a Japanese artisan, melding personalities and styles to form impressive outcomes. We’re particularly fond of the quirky animal-laden creations of East London designer Donna Wilson and Kasama potter Akiko Ozutsumi. Those in London can enjoy this cute offering alongside a wide range of other winning collaborations on Islington Square until 20 March.

Words with... / Dakin Hart, USA

Child’s play

Over the course of a 60-year career, Isamu Noguchi became well known for his sculptures and furniture, and many of the designer’s works, such as the iconic Noguchi Table for Herman Miller, remain in production today. The Japanese-American designer also formulated many plazas, parks and, perhaps to the surprise of some, playgrounds. The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in New York documents much of this work. To find out more about the designer’s lesser-known projects, we caught up with Dakin Hart, the museum’s senior curator, on Monocle On Design.

Image: Levi Mandel

Can you tell us how Noguchi’s training as a sculptor influenced his public space designs?
Everything, from his point of view, was sculpture. Noguchi was somebody who really redefined the medium in the 20th century to include the making of public space and shaping of civic life. He believed in art for art’s sake but also wanted sculpture to play a vital role in our everyday lives. He was about environment-shaping and he did that in ways large and small, from individual sculptures that attempt to inform the environment they are in, to making gardens and playgrounds. His playgrounds fit into a whole spectrum of interactive environments that he developed in order to shape a wider awareness of our environment.

Can you tell us more about Noguchi’s playgrounds? What defined his approach?
He said that making things for children is really about making an environment that’s open to all of the possibilities that they see in the world. As a result, his playgrounds were open-ended and non-directive. There’s the old joke that if you can give a child a fancy robot toy for Christmas, they’ll tear open the cardboard box, pull out the robot and play with it for two minutes before tossing it aside and spending the rest of the day playing with the cardboard box. Noguchi was very, very good at making the cardboard box.

Do you think he had a youthful imagination?
He was once asked this and said, “I don’t have to consult the children because I am a kid, I’ve stayed a kid and [designing for them] is just a matter of scale.” He believed that when you’re making things for children, you have to accommodate both their physical size and the size of their imaginations. Our horizons narrow as we get older but the scale of a child’s imagination is huge. Noguchi was always trying to broaden horizons but he realised that you don’t have to try very hard with kids. And that’s really exciting. So while the physical scale was smaller, his work for children was aspirationally vast.

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

From The Archive / Maxime Old coffee table, France

Storing issues

In 1954, when this coffee table came into production, French designer Maxime Old was on the rise. In that year, he was awarded France’s highest presidential order of merit and had recently overseen the completion of interiors for both Tunisia’s presidential palace and luxurious ocean-liner salons. But despite this stardom and impressive portfolio of works, this piece shows that Old was still committed to solving that most everyday of furnishing problems: how to organise your magazines.

Illustration: Anje Jager

While many people like having a few well-chosen publications and beautifully bound books on living room tables, Old observed that they often end up in a cluttered pile, bringing joy to no-one. His solution is a slanted system of racks that jut out like small wings; there are four shelves, so the day’s paper can be kept separated from the coffee-table books, while the transparent glass top is an encouragement to keep things tidy. It’s a practical solution for storing print and that’s reason enough for it to still be gracing people’s homes.

Around The House / Beosystem 72-22, Denmark

In the groove

Danish brand Bang & Olufsen has long been celebrated for its expertise in imbuing high-tech home audio equipment with elegant, yet functional design. The Beogram 4000 Series turntable was one such triumph. Released in 1972, the easy-to-use head-turning turntable made record-playing a joy for users and homes more handsome, due to its cool, timber-lined design.

Image: Serax
Image: Serax
Image: Serax

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the product, Bang & Olufsen has just released 30 collectable new versions of its hi-fi systems including the record player, dubbed Beosystem 72-22. Coming complete with a pair of modern speakers and a walnut cabinet in which to store your precious vinyl, the piece brings the golden era for vinyl listening up-to-date.

In The Picture / Serax pots, Belgium

In it together

In recent years, Belgian homeware and furniture brand Serax has collaborated with figures including fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester, chef Yotam Ottolenghi and architect Vincent van Duysen. The company draws inspiration from a wide range of disciplines and its most recent collaboration, with Portuguese artist Bela Silva on a series of earthenware plant pots, continues this trend.

Image: Serax

Silva, who splits her time between London and Brussels, is known for her colourful ceramic sculptures which often take organic, plantlike forms. These shapes are evident in this new Serax collaboration, which is named Look At Me and comprises five glazed pots with chunky, geometric relief patterns. "I was inspired by the energy and resilience that plants radiate,” says Silva. “They love being the centre of attention. Hence the name of the collection.”


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