Wednesday. 25/5/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Luca Piffaretti

Strike up the band

This week Danish furniture maker Form & Refine shows us why showrooms still matter and Switzerland’s Studio Seitz reflects on the qualities of a good mirror. We also pay a visit to Ukraine’s Kharkiv Architecture School and the refreshed headquarters of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. First, here’s Nic Monisse on plans for Prague’s new concert hall.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Talk of the town

Since it opened in 1997, the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao has prompted plenty of other cities, from Denver in the US to Avilés in Spain, to erect similarly grand architectural statements. The hope is always that such buildings will function as cultural hubs, bringing life and reviving the fortunes of neighbourhoods. But many, unfortunately, have failed to live up to these expectations.

It’s with this in mind that I met Prague’s announcement of plans to build a new music centre and concert hall on the Vltava river – to the design of Danish architecture firm, Bjarke Ingels Group – with some trepidation. The project, like the Guggenheim Bilbao, is to be constructed on a brownfield site and is hoped to be a boon to culture in the Czech capital, which is home to the Prague Symphony Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic. But as I read more about the plans for the site, any concerns eased. The team at Gehry have over the years been keen to stress that many of the “Bilbao spin-offs” have fallen short because they only replicate the dramatic architecture, missing the fact that Gehry’s building established close ties to the city’s 19th-century streetscape and its river – pitfalls, that Prague seems likely to avoid.

In the Czech capital, the ambition is for the hall to attract music fans and the general public, by ensuring that the building is embedded in the fabric of the city. Equal emphasis is being placed on the architecture and the public spaces surrounding it: a new park will abut one side of the building, while the previously inaccessible waterfront will be opened up to passersby. All this means that even if critics might debate the building’s aesthetics (as they still do in Bilbao), it will be a boon to Prague’s public life, certainly fulfilling its promise and playing an integral role in stitching a city together.

The Project / Form & Refine Showroom, Germany

Real thing

While online furniture sales have boomed over the past couple of years due to the pandemic, a photograph of a product certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s partially for this reason that Danish furniture-makers Form & Refine recently opened a showroom in Munich to “provide customers in this important market with a more intimate opportunity to get familiar with its well-made timber products", says the firm’s co-founder Lasse Lund Lauridsen. “The look and feel of our products are good in photos but can only be conveyed to a limited extent,” he adds, “In our showroom, you can now experience them yourself with all your senses." The sprawling space is also home to interiors studio Innenarchitektur Federleicht, whose pared-back aesthetic is a good match for Form & Refine's minimalist approach to design.

Design News / Bafta HQ, UK

Setting the scene

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) has occupied a storied, heritage-listed building built in the heart of London in 1883 since 1974. A refit was long overdue. As such, the academy appointed Benedetti Architects to oversee a £33m (€39m) expansion and redesign in 2019, which the UK-based studio has now completed. “Bafta has a very high recognition factor in British society so we wanted something that was classic,” says architect Renato Benedetti, who gave the venue a look that harks back to the glory days of 1930s cinema.

The overhaul has seen the addition of a new learning centre and an extra floor by raising and restoring two large Victorian roof-light structures, which had been hidden for more than 40 years. Travertine, marble and European oak are found throughout the building’s interiors, creating a soft and welcoming feel. “The whole thing is quite cosy," says Benedetti. “Young people and those who have been members for almost 50 years both say that it still feels like Bafta. But everything's better.”

Image: Luca Piffaretti
Image: Luca Piffaretti
Image: Luca Piffaretti

Words with... / Iryna Matsevko, Ukraine

Laying the foundations

Founded in 2017, Kharkiv Architecture School is one of Ukraine’s leading design institutions and, until the outbreak of war, had called its namesake city home. However, heavy shelling from the Russian military in February forced the school to relocate to the western city of Lviv. There, its deputy vice-chancellor, Iryna Matsevko, has been hard at work establishing a semi-permanent base for the institution, with students and faculty returning to classes and the school making plans for its eventual return and the rebuilding of Kharkviv. To find out more about this process, we caught up with Matsevko for this week’s episode of ‘Monocle On Design’.

Image: Vira Agureeva

Despite offers of support from abroad, you relocated the school to Lviv. Why did you make the decision to keep the school operating in Ukraine?
While we are very grateful to those in European countries and the US who offered our students and teachers grants and fellowships, we decided that it was very important for our teachers, administration and students to be here. It’s important to keep intellectual forces together and in Ukraine because, in the future, we will need them to think about how we shape our new reality and how we reconstruct. We are afraid of a brain drain because a lot of educated people, who we need to shape this new reality, have gone abroad. I believe that some of them will come back but not all.

How important is the architect’s role in rebuilding Ukraine?
I was joking with a colleague that before the war our admissions office had to explain why architecture matters and what role it plays in society. Now we don’t need to because everyone understands its importance. However, we have never experienced war here, so we are working on adjusting our programme to respond to this new challenge and the new needs of our society. We have great intellectual support from colleagues from abroad, who have experience dealing with this sort of situation and are helping us to develop a sophisticated programme that gives students the architectural knowledge that we need in Ukraine now.

What do the first steps in the rebuilding of Ukraine look like?
People want to return to a normal life as soon as possible. So some things should be done very quickly. But other things should be discussed, with a long-term strategy for a new life and a new Ukraine. We don’t even want to use the word “rebuilding” because we can’t rebuild the past – that’s the wrong the way to go about it. There’s a chance for us to rethink our 31 years of independence in Ukraine and our approaches and standards of living. We can now ask questions such as, “What is a comfortable city?” and, “How can we involve different stakeholders and actors in the process of rethinking?”

For more from Matsevko, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle On Design’ or pick up a copy of Monocle’s June issue, which is out now.

From The Archive / Missy Lounge Chair, Netherlands

Chance encounter

The story of this lounge chair starts with a mishap at a party in Milan in 1999. German students Sven-Anwar Bibi, Mark Gutjahr and Jörg Zimmermann, who had recently founded design collective Kombinat, had been invited to exhibit at the Salone del Mobile for the first time. “During one of the parties, I spilled a glass of red wine all over the shirt of this tall guy who turned out to be the founder of Dutch furniture brand Hidden,” says Bibi. The two struck up a conversation, got along well and Kombinat was soon invited to create designs for Hidden.

One of the products was Missy, a lounge chair made from a curved sheet of aluminium and moulded cubes of polyurethane foam that vary in hardness. The result is a chair with a soft backrest and firm seat. But despite its comfort and bold look, production ceased after just a few years, when Hidden went bust. “In a way, it’s a success story,” says Bibi. “They imprinted the design scene at that time with bold works that were really far away from everything else that you would see.” This chair could do the same again.

Image: Anje Jager

Around The House / Studio Seitz, Switzerland

Top of the glass

Studio Seitz is a Swiss firm specialising in beautifully made timber furniture. This handsome wall mirror is the studio’s latest release and takes inspiration from a unique carving technique native to its home nation. Composed of 16 individual “facets”, it is bound together to form a hardy design that will stand the test of time.

The craft continues via hand-formed intricate patterns, which grace the European ash mirror frames. Made to order from the firm’s sixth-generation family workshop in Berneck near St Gallen, the piece is available in a natural or darkened finish and suitable for various types of interior design.

Image: Stephen Kent Johnson
Image: Stephen Kent Johnson

In The Picture / Mutina X Nathalie Du Pasquier, Italy

Choice cuts

Looking to make your home feel a little sunnier as summer approaches? We suggest turning to Nathalie Du Pasquier and Italian ceramic company Mutina’s Mattonelle Margherita, a collection of 41 uniquely patterned tiles. The Milan-based French designer and co-founder of the Memphis Group has created floral and geometric patterns in shades of blue, green and terracotta.

While the number of tiled patterns is immense, they’ve been designed to be mixed and matched, forming a seemingly infinite number of possibilities in an interior. We’re particularly fond of the funky, button-like patterns deployed on this bar wall – suitable for those looking to make their homes more hospitable.

Image: Delfino Sisto Legnani
Image: Delfino Sisto Legnani


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