Wednesday. 30/3/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

In full flower

With spring in the air in Europe, we’re celebrating mother nature this week while keeping our feet planted in the city. From admiring some timeless mid-century Italian planters that should never have gone out of production to checking out a well-watered urban intervention in Spain, this newsletter flourishes with good design ideas. But first, Nolan Giles is in Paris.

Image: Alex Cretey Systermans

Opinion / Nolan Giles

City growth

Four years ago, Monocle reported on Paris’s “licence to vegetate” initiative, which was backed by mayor Anne Hidalgo. Residents of certain neighbourhoods were provided with seeds and soil, and given the all-clear to construct planters on the streets. Those plants are still there, bigger and bushier than ever. And judging by the number of lusciously overgrown balcony gardens, it seems that the movement has inspired those living in apartments too. Many residents on the sunnier top floors have allowed their fulsome foliage to cascade down to their neighbours below.

Local businesses have also joined the movement, including edgy alfresco bars blocking out the traffic noise with bamboo hedges and upmarket restaurants decorating their pavements with olive trees. This group must pay for the pleasure of colonising the streets with plants, which has not deterred them. It’s haphazard but Paris is haphazard even without on-street planters. Anyway, you’re more likely to trip over the low-lying e-scooters that are strewn across pavements than a chest-high bamboo plant.

Hidalgo has received a lot of flak for her progressive policies but the greening free-for-all going on here is worthy of praise.

The Project / Climate Islands, Spain

Sea breeze

Spanish architecture and landscape studio Scob has given Barcelona’s Port Vell waterfront a revamp. In an approach it has described as “urban acupuncture”, the studio has restrained itself from completely overhauling the seaside public space. Rather, taking inspiration from archipelagos in the Mediterranean, Scob has dotted the existing landscape with small interventions intended to make the area more appealing to pedestrians.

The new works are pared back and aesthetically simple: tiered chestnut-timber seating areas invite people to lounge and socialise, while misters spray water vapour when it’s hot during periods of intense heat. Mediterranean trees and plants, such as pine and tamarisk, also dot the waterfront; white-resin and red-asphalt surfaces reflect light and pave the way for walkers and joggers. The result is a location that’s perfect for a stroll or for taking a seat and watching the waves roll by. It’s also a reminder that, sometimes, public spaces only require simple tweaks to make them extremely appealing.

Design News / Carl Hansen & Søn, Denmark

In through the outdoor

As spring gets into full swing, balconies and gardens across the northern hemisphere are being spruced up. For those looking to inject a level of sophistication into their patch, as our editorial director noted in Monocle’s Sunday newsletter, we’d suggest turning to Carl Hansen & Søn and its outdoor furniture range.

The Danish brand’s collection of garden tables, chairs, recliners and benches, which includes works from master 20th-century architects such as Morten Gøttler and Bodil Kjær, is crafted in Denmark using untreated teak. A highly durable and weatherproof timber, it’s capable of withstanding even the harshest weather conditions – a necessary consideration for unpredictable Scandinavian climates. The line also includes works created by Børge Mogensen in the 1960s, which were originally conceived for the furniture designer’s own balcony. His slatted, wooden chairs are collapsible, which is particularly handy for space-starved urbanites as they can be easily folded up and stored on specially designed wall mounts.

Words with... / Hannah Beachler, USA

Making room

Hannah Beachler is a production designer who is best known for her Academy Award-winning work on the film Black Panther and her contributions to Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade. It’s a CV that caught the attention of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, who recently asked Beachler to lead the curation of its newest installation. Called Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room, it reflects on the 19th-century African-American neighbourhood of Seneca Village in New York City, by merging a historic kitchen with a futuristic-looking living room. To find out more about the show and Beachler’s process, we caught up with her for a recent episode of Monocle On Design.

Image: Rozette Rago

Tell us about the process of designing this installation.
I started with a story. As a creative person, you have a process that works for you. I call it a process – just waking up in the morning is a process – but I’ve been working as a production designer for almost 18 years now, so I’m kind of attuned to how to tell a story. That’s how I work: I visualise, create and see things as stories, no matter what it is that I’m doing.

What’s the story you’re telling in ‘Before Yesterday We Could Fly’?
I started with a woman who lived in Seneca Village, with a focus on her kitchen, which we turned into a lab with spices, symbols and spiritual items from her past. In African-American culture, there’s more to the kitchen than just cooking; it’s about culture, music and community too. But the kitchen was just one part of the story. We have a time-machine element, which is about bringing these artefacts from the past together with future artefacts in the living room. The story is that this woman is keeping important objects in a timeless place for her culture, living between the future and the past.

As an independent production designer, what was it like to work with seasoned curators at The Metropolitan Museum of Art?
It was really wonderful to have its curatorial team – Ian Alteveer, Sarah E Lawrence and Ana Matisse Donefer-Hickie – guiding me through the process. They were really knowledgeable about which artworks and time periods to focus on and include, looking at the specifics, logistics and technical aspects of curating. It meant that I could be my own little production-designer self, while also learning a lot, observing, taking it in and being a student of the curators. That’s the great thing about doing things outside your field: it allows you to be a student.

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

From The Archive / Poltronova wood planters, Italy

Hot pot

While Carl Hansen & Søn might have contemporary-design enthusiasts covered for outdoor furniture, there’s a gap in the market when it comes to smartly designed pots for spring planting. Many modern planters are made from unsightly grey plastic or finished with uninspiring glazes so, for those looking to welcome the return of flowers and greenery in an exciting potted form, we’d suggest turning to this 1960s design by Italian master Ettore Sottsass.

Illustration: Anje Jager

First put into production in 1961 by Poltronova, the avant garde Tuscan furniture company where Sottsass served as art director, the jagged wooden design came in a range of different sizes and hues. It’s a classic example of the architect’s habit of taking a bland everyday object and making it playful. Compared to the options available today, a reissued version would do a far better job at matching the sunny springtime mood.

Around The House / Axor taps, Germany

Flowing shade

German bathroom brand Axor is making waves thanks to a new collaboration with London-based design duo, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. The Black Forest-based company, which has a history of working with world-leading design talent, enlisted the help of the British industrial designers to come up with a new colour palette for its Axor One tap range.

The result is a departure from the polished chrome that has reigned supreme in contemporary bathroom design for decades. Instead, the chosen hues are inspired by the ocean and range from warm coral to vivid aquamarine. All are available in a glossy lacquer finish and are designed to stand the test of time. “We created a palette that would last,” says Barber. “The six selected colours have longevity through the subtle hues of the blues, pinks and greys, and will work alongside a wide range of different bathroom materials.”;

In The Picture / ‘Japan’s Best Friend’

Taking the lead

Dogs are man’s best friend. And, as this book’s title suggests, it’s a relationship that’s particularly special in Japan. This is explored across its pages with archival images, photography and playful illustrations. Written by Manami Okazaki and published by Prestel, the book showcases Japanese objects designed for canines across the centuries. There are woodblock prints from the 17th century and a kennel designed by leading contemporary architects Toyo Ito and Shigeru Ban.

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

Interviews with craftspeople, illustrators and stylists also cover the way in which Japanese people express their love for their four-legged friends. In short, the publication is a reminder that people from Tokyo to Toyohashi show respect for our canine companions through more than just walkies – they design smart objects for them too.


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