Wednesday. 27/4/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: TV2

We visit an exhibition of furniture by Finland’s Made by Choice, try to take a seat on new benches in Copenhagen and talk urbanism in Accra. First, Nic Monisse reflects on industrial buildings.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Industrial revolution

Battersea Power Station, a heritage-listed building from the 1930s, is undergoing a major renovation that is expected to make it London’s latest “regenerated” icon when the main building opens later this year as a retail, residential and commercial hub. Visiting the site last week with David Hills, a partner at Roger Mears Architects, who is leading the transformation, I was enamoured with the use of speckled-blue, glazed terracotta tiles in the power station’s turbine halls. These have clad its interior walls since the building first opened and I was fascinated by the fact that they appeared too expensive for a structure that was erected during the Great Depression and too nice for one dedicated to industry. But Hills explained that the selection was a deliberate move by the London Power Company, the building’s original owners.

“They were out to sell their product, electricity, and to get investors, much like any other business,” said Hills. “The building was meant to represent their work. That’s why they put a focus on creating [a quality place].” It’s an approach that makes sense. If you run a shop, you want it to be attractive to potential customers – and a factory, in the minds of the directors of the London Power Company, was no different.

Today few industrial structures follow this logic (think metal sheds with little natural light) but those seeking to build such spaces would do well to take a leaf out of Battersea’s book and invest in quality design and materials. Not only would this make for a more welcoming environment when clients visit and a nicer spot to work (no doubt attractive to potential employees) but it would ensure the building’s longevity too. And that’s proving to be true at Battersea.

The Project / Sieni Collection exhibition, Finland

Taking root

Sieni means “fungus” in Finnish so it should come as little surprise that the Sieni Collection, a new collaboration between Brooklyn-based designer Michael Yarinsky and Finnish furniture-maker Made by Choice, draws inspiration from the patterns and forms of fungi. “Our idea was to grow the collection’s pieces like branches,” says Yarinsky.

Many of the pieces – which range from mirrors and stools to lounge chairs and lamps – are made from wood shaped to resemble upholstery and metal, a feat made possible by Made by Choice’s expertise. Since its foundation in 2016, the company has won a reputation for balancing traditional craft with an innovative approach to woodworking. The result? Pieces of furniture that are, in Yarinsky’s words, “begging” to be touched. “They are curiously soft and hard at the same time,” he says. For those who want to get hands-on with the collection, Glasshouse Helsinki is holding an exhibition showing pieces from the collaboration until the end of the month.

Design News / Copenhagen benches, Denmark

Sit up and listen

Danish broadcaster TV 2 has always set a high benchmark when it comes to quality programming but it has recently taken the expression to a whole new – and very literal – level in Copenhagen. The broadcaster’s art director, Kristian Vestergaard, has overseen the creation of 10 new benches that look almost identical to the city’s cast-iron designs, which have been a fixture on its streets since the late 1800s. However, the new benches, which have popped up across the city, aren’t designed for comfortable urban lounging.

Image: Kristian Vestergaard

The seat on each perch has been elevated a metre higher than the original designs, in line with the projected rise in sea levels by the year 2100. Created as part of TV 2’s “Our Earth – our responsibility” campaign, which aims to draw attention to climate change, the benches serve as a striking visual reminder of the potential calamity that faces us. It’s also a reminder of the thought-provoking potential of clever design.

Words with... / Limbo Accra, Ghana

Building better

Dominique Petit-Frère is co-founder of Limbo Accra, a design studio that’s on a mission to develop better building practices in Africa. The New York-born creative studied international development in Sweden before moving to Ghana and establishing the firm with her partner, Emil Grip, in 2018. Their first project was an installation that highlighted the problem of incomplete developments across Africa and set the foundation for a practice that has resulted in Limbo Accra winning the gong for best community builder in this year’s Monocle Design Awards.

Image: Carlos Idun-Tawiah

How did studying international development in Sweden lead to you becoming a designer in Ghana?
I have Ghanaian heritage – my mother is from there – and I have always wanted to contribute to the development of the nation. I thought that the best way to do this was to become an international-development specialist in some capacity. While studying in Sweden, I came to Accra to conduct some research for my thesis and I became very involved with the city’s creative economy. [I realised that] there’s a bustling art and design scene in West Africa and I became curious about how it could be used as a catalyst to enact change within the region’s built environment. That’s how Limbo Accra came about.

What’s the state of the built environment in African cities? And how has this informed your work?
African cities have many incomplete buildings that private owners and commercial developers haven’t finished. In places like Ghana, there’s so much money and so much investment but many of the projects are not able to be finished. At the same time there’s also not a lot of access to public space. So we saw this thriving creative economy and the potential to use it to transform spaces into something that’s of use and a benefit to society. Our first project involved partnering with nine Ghanaian artists to create artworks in an unfinished luxury estate and we’ve just completed the initial phase of Ghana’s first public skate park.

Many of your projects, such as the skate park, aim to serve the community. Why is this important to you?
I’m interested in the ideas of legacy and impact. To me, community involves legacy-building and ensuring that whatever you create is not anchored so much to what you want but to what the wider public needs. I like imagining what the city will look like when my kids are living here and experiencing these spaces.

For more from Petit-Frère, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Strip Chair, Netherlands

Six easy pieces

Dutch designer Gijs Bakker created the Strip Chair nearly 50 years ago but he can’t find anything to improve about it. “I’ve tried to alter it over the years but I’ve never succeeded,” he says. “You can’t take something off or add an element without making it ridiculous.” Crafted from six bent plywood planks without the use of screws, the chair was produced by furniture-maker Castelijn for more than a decade, starting in 1974, before going out of production.

Illustration: Anje Jager

A resurgence of interest in Bakker’s early designs, which now fetch high sums at vintage dealerships, has prompted a reissue of another of his earlier works for Castelijn at Salone del Mobile in June. Could the Strip Chair join it? The 80-year-old Bakker, who still works from an Amsterdam studio, hopes that it will. “I see that the time is slowly getting right for it,” he says. “But I’m not in a hurry. I can wait.”

Around the House / Moebe Shelving System, Denmark

Colour and the shape

Here at Monocle we’re fans of Danish design studio Moebe’s modular shelving system for several reasons. It’s a fine-looking timber storage solution that’s easy to assemble and extend, with a clever joining system that lets you lock pieces into place without the need for tools. Now the brand has given us another compelling reason: it has introduced three new colour shades for the unit’s timber support beams.

Image: Moebe

The new options of pine green, deep blue and warm grey add some extra spark to the minimal design and allow the system to complement a range of new environments. And they will allow more daring interior designers to go bold by configuring multiple colours together.


Pure escapism

Rocky Mountain Modern by US-based writer and Monocle contributor John Gendall is a beefy volume that delves into residential design that rivals the breathtaking beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Through lush photography and reportage, the title looks at residences that rely on natural materials and architecture that is sympathetic to this rugged region. And while the book pays tribute to the work of modernist greats, such as Herbert Bayer and Eero Saarinen, it also puts the spotlight on more recent projects adhering to good design principles from years past.

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

Look out for buildings from US firms Selldorf Architects, Olson Kundig and Allied Works and enjoy how the handsome forms they’ve created blur effortlessly with their unique surroundings.


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