We find balance with a new coffee table by Another Country, take to two wheels with an e-bike-maker in France and talk quality architecture with Dorte Mandrup. First, Nolan Giles on why he’s all ears...
For this instalment of the Monocle Minute On Design, I’ve put together some observations from a few weeks spent on the road, observing architecture, urbanism and the furniture industry.
Recently reporting for Monocle’s forthcoming June issue, I visited a venue that was designed around sound. Creating an environment where live music can be appreciated, while conversations between patrons can be clearly heard, imbuing the whole place with a proper sense of ambience, is no easy task for designers and architects. We rarely stop to appreciate how good the acoustics are in a venue that we like or think about the engineering and technical wizardry that goes into making such a great vibe.
Trying harder to discern what can be classified as smart sound design from what is just noise, I’ve come to realise that many of the most enjoyable cities pour money into making themselves more enjoyable to the ear. For example, the soothing sound of the bubbling water fountains placed across the urban fabric of Zürich and the fact that its trams glide around the city with the gentlest of hums are two reasons why I like the place so much.
The jury is still out on whether the strange sci-fi whir made by most electric cars is one that will stick around in our cities but I’m certainly warming to the sound. It’s a factor that the automotive industry is investing a lot of time and money into and something that will change the pitch of urban life in the years ahead.
Finally, some design industry news that was heartening to hear: at the end of April, Danish furniture firm Ferm Living toppled retailer Coop in a copyright case. The ruling upheld a previous verdict that a handsome Ferm Living planter had been mimicked by the retail group, which had been selling its own version for a tenth of the price. The amount of copycatting that goes unchecked in the design and furniture industry is something that we need to pay more attention to.
With the northern hemisphere now heading into a warm spring, this sunny Californian home (pictured) would make for a fine source of inspiration for interior design that makes the most of the natural elements. A restoration project from Los Angeles-based architecture firm OWIU, it gives new life to a mid-century Californian home by stripping back its internal spaces, while adding tactile furniture and design elements for warmth.
OWIU’s Joel Wong and Amanda Gunawan drew on their network of vintage furniture dealers in sourcing pieces to fit perfectly with the space. These include a 1980s six-piece modular sofa by Vladimir Kagan, Isamu Noguchi lamps, George Nelson pendants and a 1980s Bernard Vuarnesson Hexa coffee table.
Yet it’s the overwhelming sense of calm that is the home’s most powerful design asset, achieved by a neutral colour palette and a fit-out that channels inspiration from peaceful Japanese ryokans. “If you go in strong with design, it energises you quickly and then promptly dies out,” says Gunawan.
In the UAE pavilion (pictured) at the recently opened Floriade Expo 2022 in The Netherlands, 3D-printed design has reached new heights of aesthetic sensibility. At the horticultural exhibition, which runs until October, visitors can see this unique pavilion, which uses panels printed from plant-based plastic, made by Dutch company Aectual, in a breezy modernist style. The resulting wall, dubbed the “claustra”, creates a shady, well-ventilated space for the UAE showcase, which focuses on where the land meets the sea and highlights the salt-tolerant plants that are central to the country’s natural environment.
Ahmed Khadier, the co-founder and principal of Pragma, the Dubai-based architectural firm that designed the garden, says that the work blends tradition with innovation. “The ‘claustra’ wall that defines the perimeter of the garden was integral in delivering an immersive experience of a very specific type of landscape,” he says. “We wanted to capitalise on the inherent qualities of 3D printing as a construction method that promotes a transition to a more circular way of making buildings and cities of the future.”
The best-known buildings by Dorte Mandrup are in places that few would visit by chance. The Wadden Sea Centre is by a nature reserve on Denmark’s west coast, while the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre sits next to a glacier in Greenland: both are near Unesco-protected grounds and respond sensitively to the landscape and culture. It’s this approach to work that earned Mandrup our vote for Architect of the Year in this year’s Monocle Design Awards. To find out more about her design outlook, we caught up with the Danish architect for Monocle On Design.
What defines your approach to design?
Our approach is very much about addressing context and trying to understand the potential of a place. It’s not about blending in with what’s there necessarily but trying to understand the social and economic context, and the larger context of the site’s landscape and history. There are many parameters that you need to understand. We spend an awful lot of time trying to grasp the broader context and we start by doing research and collecting data around our subject.
Tell us how this translates to a project such as the recently completed Ilulissat Icefjord Centre.
In Greenland, it was important to us to create a building that had the potential to be part of the landscape but was also a beacon. We designed it to function as a hill, part of the path of the Unesco Heritage Trail, where you could go up onto the roof and look over the vast area that you can hike across. The building is a great success. The community has absolutely embraced it. People use it as part of their everyday routes and even have weddings on the roof. It addresses social sustainability and has a positive impact on the local community.
How does your approach change from project to project?
That comes back to context. There’s a lot of knowledge that you can gain from understanding an area’s building heritage. If you look at our Wadden Sea Centre project on the North Sea, it’s in an area that’s very flat and has an ever-present wind. Here, it’s important that buildings have an interior outdoor space; otherwise, it’s difficult to be outside most of the year. So we introduced one in our building. There’s this relationship to tradition, not in a sentimental way, but in trying to understand why the local building culture exists. You then need to interpret that in a modern way. I’m not interested in tradition for tradition’s sake but I'm interested in why things look like they do.
For more from Dorte Mandrup, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.
In cities across the former Yugoslavia, this kiosk is a common sight. Designed by Slovenian architect Saša J Mächtig in 1966, the K67 is made of fibreglass and was produced to house newsagents, ticket vendors and fast-food shops. Though many now stand abandoned on streets in Serbia and Croatia, the design has gained admirers further abroad: K67s can be found in Japan, New Zealand and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
While it might sit nicely in a gallery setting, the K67 is at its best when it’s put to work – for example, at Kioski in Berlin, which is used as a hub for a courtyard café serving beer, buns and coffee. Monocle stopped by to find out how this mid-century marvel landed in Germany’s capital. “I thought it was an amazing design and had the idea to find one and reuse it,” says Martin Ruge von Löw, who runs Kioski with his wife, Ann-Marie von Löw. “So, we just got in touch with Mächtig and proposed the idea.” The couple are now collaborating with the 81-year-old designer on K67 Berlin, a company that restores and rents out the iconic kiosks. Anyone planning a design-savvy summertime pop-up would do well to get in touch.
Homes should be a place of calm and respite, so the furniture we select should reflect this. Those on the hunt for a coffee table would do well to turn to UK furniture company Another Country and its newly unveiled Purbeck. Composed of three parts – a smooth strip of maple resting atop a cylindrical marble leg and a square wooden one – the components appear to be in perfect harmony. “It expresses balance,” says Paul de Zwart, founder of Another Country. “It’s a concept that we are yearning for: to create harmony between our natural and urban environments.”
The calming and harmonious composition is complemented by the rugged aesthetic of the materials: the oak leg is finished in a natural oil, while the maple top and marble, sourced from an 11th-generation family quarry in Dorset, are left raw. The Purbeck coffee table is manufactured in small batches to minimise waste. Those seeking to bring some balance into their home would be wise to move quickly.
When electric bikes first appeared on city streets more than a decade ago, the biggest challenge for urban commuters was their weight: often exceptionally heavy, they were hard to navigate. But progress has been made in recent years, notably at French manufacturer Angell. The Paris-based e-bike-maker has recently unveiled its lightest model yet: the Rapid/S.
The model, which weighs less than 16kgs (some e-bikes come in at double that), is perfect for nipping around tight corners and down busy roads. And while it’s kitted out with bells and whistles – from automatic lock-up and geolocation to a touchscreen displaying speed and battery levels – it’s the Rapid/S’s visual appeal that pulls us in. The work of French industrial designer Ora Ïto, the bike’s ultra-light “gooseneck” frame looks smart, with its inclined crossbar making mounting easy and leather seat and grips ensuring comfort. It’s the first bike with front and rear turn signals too. That’s what we call road ready.