Wednesday. 20/4/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Introduction / The Monocle Design Awards

Better by design

It’s back. A year on from the successful launch of The Monocle Design Awards, we’ve reset, retooled and rigorously scoured the globe to highlight the industry’s biggest successes this year. In Monocle’s May issue, which hits newsstands tomorrow, all 50 winners will be revealed.

This week’s edition of The Monocle Minute on Design offers a sneak preview of the awards, showcasing the work of five winners and highlighting how we judge good design. Design, after all, is a broad discipline – and this is reflected in the recipients of these accolades. There’s world-beating urbanism from Estonia, architecture from Africa and glass manufacturing from Japan. What brings this disparate selection together? Well, each winner has created works that make our lives easier and more enjoyable, and the world a better place to live in.

Comprising reporting from our editors and journalists around the globe, The Monocle Design Awards look at where design stands in 2022. So set aside some time to peruse our preview and be sure to pick up the full feature in the new Issue 153 of Monocle. If you can’t get to a newsstand, order your copy here or subscribe so that you never miss an issue.

Release of the Year / Japan

Time & Style

Picking a favourite piece of furniture from a wide and inspiring variety of entrants is no easy task. But there is something instantly iconic about this release from Japan’s Time & Style. The timber chaise-longue was originally designed by Peter Zumthor in 1996 for his celebrated Therme Vals baths project in Switzerland. And, while our chosen model does have time on its side, it’s the expert craftsmanship on this updated version that makes it a winner. After all, Time & Style has made this sleek and purposeful design available to consumers worldwide for the first time.

Image: Philippe Fragnire

Manufactured in Akita, the wooden frame of the elegant Valserliege Type 1 is steam-bent, which means that no timber is wasted in the process. With a curved form shaped to naturally cocoon the human body and a comfy, leather-lined headrest to sink into, the piece makes you feel as though you are floating in mid-air.

It’s part of a broader collection from Time & Style that revives multiple masterpieces from Zumthor’s back catalogue and we are sure that the firm has a global hit (or two) on its hands. With a showroom soon to open in Milan and one already trading in Amsterdam, the brand won’t be confining this fine piece of design to its home country.

Best Education Building / Kenya

Startup Lions Campus

This campus for entrepreneurs was designed by Burkinabè-German firm Kéré Architecture, led by this year’s Pritzker prize winner Francis Kéré, and aimed to blend with the natural landscape. The three terracotta-coloured ventilation towers cool the campus by drawing hot air out of the site’s lower levels, a technique borrowed from termites that burrow vents into their mound-shaped nests.

Designers of the Year / UK

Industrial Facility

This year is the 20th anniversary of Industrial Facility and founders Sam Hecht and Kim Colin are still hands-on. “The more digital the world becomes, the more manual the way we seem to work becomes,” says Hecht. He compares the enjoyment of good design to good cooking, where an appreciation for how produce is grown is as celebrated as the meal it is used to make. It’s an approach that appeals to Monocle. Design to forge better connections with the physical world is valuable. Creating these connections – and making them enjoyable – is what Industrial Facility does best. From ergonomically perfect coffee-making machines for Muji to cosy portable workspaces for Herman Miller, their body of work is inspiring.

Image: Benjamin McMahon

Take us through your design process.

Sam Hecht: It starts with conversations and discussions, tearing ideas apart and putting them back together in words. Noodling, thinking, contemplating and arguing.

Kim Colin: Through this we solidify a point of view. And this point of view has to carry the whole project, from material choices right up to the end result. We find the form and the shape from this point of view.

You deliver projects for different budgets. How can affordable design still be good design and why does this matter?

SH: Danish flat-pack furniture company Takt promotes important values about authenticity and contributing positively to our homes and workplaces but with an aim to make these values more democratic, more affordable and accessible. They don’t simply want to make cheap furniture and they came to us to develop a product that channels these values. With the Sling Chair we developed, we wanted to make the assembly as beautiful and elegant as enjoying the finished product. This is because it creates a relationship with the customer. The aim was to break the equation between what something costs, what it’s made from and how long it should last. This piece is affordable but it should also last for generations.

How do you encourage people to think more deeply about design?

KC: We like to talk about the design process, because it’s so engaging for us and because so much goes into our work. Hopefully, people reach for our final products for the right reasons but the product can’t say everything about itself. As designers and teachers, we have responsibilities to explain what can’t be seen. We try to reveal this not just to design students but to our clients. We want everyone to understand that design is a lot more than you think it is.

The Award / Italy

Harry Thaler

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

As we’ve learnt putting together The Monocle Design Awards, mastery in this field is all about the careful refinement of a great idea. So we’ve applied this philosophy to creating our trophies. For this update of our inaugural trophy from 2021 – designed by South Tyrol’s Harry Thaler and manufactured in the north Italian province – the size and the finish have been optimised. The timber is now cherry, which visually harmonises with the brass elements, and the size has been reduced to create a more compact, cosy feel. Designed to double as a paperweight, Thaler delicately balances function and form in what we feel is a worthy prize for our inspiring winners.

Best Preservation Effort / Spain

Paco Graco

Signage speaks volumes about the history and character of a neighbourhood. But due to quickly homogenising high streets, cities are losing this vital part of their visual identity. That’s why we’re grateful for the work of Alberto Nanclares, co-founder of Paco Graco.

Image: Víctor Garrido

It’s an initiative that strives to preserve Madrid’s historic shop frontages, run by Nanclares and fellow signage enthusiasts. If they hear of a historic sign that’s at risk of being destroyed, they’re straight on the scene to rescue it. Their collection now comprises some 250 pieces salvaged everywhere from cinemas and bakeries to dry-cleaners. It’s the kind of guerrilla urbanism we’re fond of.

Top Design Retreat / Italy

Borgo Santandrea

Image: Leonardo Magrelli
Image: Leonardo Magrelli
Image: Leonardo Magrelli
Image: Leonardo Magrelli

Last summer a luxury hotel opened on the Amalfi coast and shot to the top of our vacation wishlist. Built into the cliff in Conca dei Marini, Borgo Santandrea has the amenities of a five-star hotel: three top-notch restaurants, infinity pools and a private beach. Still, it is the interior architecture that makes the difference. The eight floors are filled with Gio Ponti loungers faithfully reissued by specialist Molteni&C. Classic touches continue via tiles hand-painted by local artisans and vintage mid-century furniture from the owners’ collection. We’d happily move in.


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