Wednesday. 11/5/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Ambre Jarno

Take it all in

This week we look at why Burkina Faso’s craft traditions are built into the country’s culture, check out the renovation of Finland’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and explore the importance of inclusive typographic design with Sharp Type CEO Chantra Malee. But first, here’s Nic Monisse on why a bit of friendly competition is good for cities...

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Sizing up the competitions

I have architecture-competition fatigue. My inbox is overwhelmed by emails announcing winners of commissions for projects with idealistic visions that, more often than not, are never likely to be built. I find myself wondering, “Why do we even bother?”

That question was recently answered by Julia Zapata of Swiss architecture studio Bonhôte Zapata, who took me on a tour of her competition-winning project in Chêne-Bougeries, on the outskirts of Geneva. Here she showed me that, when winning designs are erected, they are often of a substantially better quality than the buildings that surround them.

In Chêne-Bougeries, prompted by a design contest run by the council, Zapata and her team ambitiously dreamed up, then built, 49 timber-clad apartments with big windows and generous balconies, surrounded by welcoming shared spaces. When we visited on a Tuesday afternoon, it was buzzing with people. This was a marked difference to the complex nextdoor, which seemed to have been developed at about the same time and with a similar budget but was far from inspiring. A featureless cluster of apartments, the neighbouring property was a boxy structure with small windows, with little consideration for quality of light or materials. In short, the developers behind it – not pushed to dream big by a competition – had simply opted to keep the status quo.

I’m not suggesting that every new commission needs to be backed by a contest but I hope that this little diatribe might help someone else experiencing competition fatigue. Zapata’s story is a reminder of the importance of design competitions in encouraging better built outcomes when projects are eventually realised.

The Project / Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Finland

As good as new

The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by US architect Steven Holl, has been one of Helsinki’s most recognisable landmarks since it opened in 1998. It has been infamous too: the curved zinc roof quickly started leaking. But now the museum has undergone a renovation that involved replacing its entire outer shell, with Holl’s original design followed in painstaking detail. “If no one notices that there has been a renovation of about €30m, then we’ve succeeded,” says architect Simo Freese, who oversaw the nearly two-year process.

Image: Getty Images, Pirje Mykkänen
Image: Getty Images, Pirje Mykkänen
Image: Getty Images, Pirje Mykkänen

Kiasma’s interior galleries opened to visitors this month with Ars22, a blockbuster contemporary-art survey; the remaining exterior work will be completed by the end of the year. The brushed-up museum can then stand proudly alongside another example of the country’s cultural investment: the new central library, Oodi. Finland’s Parliament House and the headquarters of national newspaper Helsingin Sanomat are also nearby. “When Kiasma was built, it was next to a railway goods yard,” says Freese. “The environment has changed into a place where lawmakers, the media and the cultural crowd all meet.”;

Design News / Maison Intègre, Burkina Faso

Perfect imperfections

NYCxDesign, a citywide event in which galleries and showrooms swing open their doors to debut new collections and exhibitions, kicked off yesterday in New York. It’s an ideal precursor to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which opens in the city on Sunday. We’re enamoured by the NYCxDesign launch of these limited-edition bronze works by Burkina Faso-based studio Maison Intègre at Les Ateliers Courbet gallery in Chelsea.

Image: Sophie Garcia/Hans Lucas
Image: Sophie Garcia/Hans Lucas
Image: Sophie Garcia/Hans Lucas

To create the organic forms of these metal lamps, chairs and tables, Maison Intègre’s founder, Ambre Jarno, worked with French designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance and a team of West African craftspeople. The artisans used beeswax to create moulds into which liquid bronze was poured, the natural casing adding to the imperfect, unique shapes of the designs. Jarno says that these pieces reflect the culture of Burkina Faso, where craft is a part of life and everyday objects are “reused, repaired and transformed with grace and without compromise to function”.;

Words with... / Chantra Malee, USA

Just your type

With a background in branding and a degree in design and management from Parsons School of Design, Chantra Malee has the perfect background for her job. As CEO and co-founder of digital type foundry Sharp Type, alongside her partner Lucas Sharp, Malee is responsible for the strategy and management of the business, which produces custom and retail typefaces for print, digital and environmental designs. Its clients include the Royal Danish Theatre, Italian daily La Repubblica, Samsung and Discovery Channel. To find out more about the importance of type and Sharp Type’s efforts to create a new font that can be used across different writing systems, we caught up with Malee on Monocle On Design.

Image: Ryan Young

To start with, why does type design matter?

It’s like any other art: it’s a form of expression. People have been designing type since humankind started writing. So it’s something that is both incredibly important and a historical marker, representing movements and moments in time. If you look at the 1960s, for instance, it was defined by the “acid type” [featuring abstract swirls of intense colour], which really articulated the feelings of that period. Now we see that we’re moving into a much more digital type world.

You’re currently developing a font that will remain graphically similar across Latin, Arabic and countless other writing systems and letterforms. Why are you developing this?

Sharp has been in this industry for a long time and we have identified how many different people from all over the world are interested in our type. So we’re building a global family of scripts. It’s a form of respect to acknowledge that there are plenty of other markets that are equally as important as our Latin letterforms. We have to be very mindful of how we approach it, as some styles do not translate across all countries and all language scripts. We’re working with people for whom the language that we’re designing for is their native tongue, in order to ensure that we’re being respectful. This means that when we enter a market with this font, we’re literally and figuratively speaking the language of the people using it.

What do you hope to achieve with this font?

First, we hope that we’re adding something new and exciting to those individual markets. Second, from a tactical point of view, in this globalised world many companies operate in lots of different markets. We want them to be able to come to one place, our type foundry, and say, “I need a font that speaks to all of these different people.” We can give them that capability, which is really important.

From The Archive / Sergio Rodrigues Bar Cart, Brazil

Propping up the bar

Sergio Rodrigues is sometimes called the father of modern Brazilian furniture. When bossa nova, the New Cinema and abstract art were sweeping the country in the 1950s, he founded furniture shop Oca (the name for a traditional Brazilian house) in Rio de Janeiro to supply modernist interior furnishings. A case in point: this rosewood bar cart, an Oca piece from the late 1960s. The design is robust but feels informal, cheerful and contemporary.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Today Rodrigues’s archival designs are made exclusively by Sergio Rodrigues Atelier, a small Rio-based manufacturer run by designer and carpenter Fernando Mendes de Almeida, a second cousin of Rodrigues who worked at his studio for many years. “The bar cart is well considered in terms of shape and the way the doors open,” he says. “It’s a piece that I have my eye on remaking one day.” Here’s hoping that he does.

Around The House / Ton 822, Czech Republic

Bending the rules

From the vases designed by Alvar Aalto for Helsinki’s Savoy restaurant to Thonet’s classic Viennese café chairs, some of the most iconic pieces of modern design were made for specific settings. Take Czech furniture-maker Ton’s new 822 collection: it was created after Swedish design studio Claesson Koivisto Rune approached the company to make bentwood seats for Norwegian restaurant Frescohallen. The brand has now decided that the pieces are worthy of more than a limited-edition run, so a selection of armchairs, bar-stools, dining chairs and loungers is now available for purchase.

Image: TON
Image: TON
Image: TON

As the world’s oldest known bentwood furniture manufacturer, Ton was the obvious choice to produce the designs, which are a contemporary Nordic update of Viennese architect Josef Hoffmann’s classic A811 chair from 1930. “After more than 150 years of development in chair-making technology, steam-bent wood is still unsurpassed in strength and durability, especially for bars, cafés and restaurants,” says Mårten Claesson of Claesson Koivisto Rune. “Then there’s the tactile beauty of wood.” We agree – and it’s a beauty that will be at home in any setting, whether that’s a fine Norwegian restaurant or around a domestic dining table.

In The Picture / EU Alexanderplatz ads, Germany

What’s in a name?

Many place names across Europe are derived from the same moniker: Alexander. This fact lies at the heart of the European Union Commission’s new graphic campaign that has taken over Berlin’s Alexanderplatz train station to celebrate the European Year of Youth. The campaign, which runs until 15 May, sees quotes in various languages from more than 30 imaginary Xenias, Sándors and Alexises (all names derived from Alexander), splashed across blue-and-yellow banners. These represent the perspectives of young Europeans who have something in common but also live very different lives. The project seeks to serve as a monument to the European sprachenkultur (language culture) of talking instead of fighting.

Image: Michael Donath
Image: Michael Donath
Image: Michael Donath

The campaign is also almost completely devoid of logos or explanations. If it seems a little mysterious at first, that’s the point: it addresses the frequent criticism that the union tells people what to do, encouraging viewers to stop and think for themselves.


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