Wednesday. 13/7/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Cyrille Weiner

Away days

This week, we marvel at a treetop Zen retreat in Japan, consider the importance of craft with Lebanese designer Nada Debs and take a closer look at Naples’ modern architecture (pictured) – before making ourselves comfortable on the Pagoda chair, which combines influences from the East and West. First, Nic Monisse on the secrets to a perfect summer house.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Ground rules

Summer in the northern hemisphere is in full swing. After putting our seasonal newspaper to press last week – it’s on newsstands across the Mediterranean and beyond from Friday or available to buy here – the team at Monocle plans to take a well-earned break. A certain editor in chief will be ducking off to Palma and Nolan Giles, our executive editor, has already spent some time poolside in South Tyrol. As for me, I’ll be heading to the Great Lakes of the US.

While our holidays will be markedly different, we’ll all be putting up our feet in buildings that will help us to enjoy the best that the season has to offer. Inspired by this, here’s a list of features that you should include when you’re commissioning an architect to build your dream summer house.

Embrace the landscape: you’ve escaped the city and headed to the coast or mountains. Rooms should be designed to allow the indoors and outdoors to merge, with a grand balcony or large doors that open onto nature.

Big windows: make the most of those long daylight hours. Ideally, any aperture should be shaded and positioned to face cooling breezes, making air-con far from essential.

Cool materials: inside, choose surfaces that are cold to touch. There are few better feelings than coming back from the beach and walking across stone floors or tiles.

Relaxed furniture: fit out rooms so that you can readily recline with a good book (I’m enamoured of Time & Style’s recent reimagining of Peter Zumthor’s Valserliege chair).

Easy access to water: if you’re not within walking distance of a beach, dig a pool. Frivolous shapes will date quickly, so go for something more sober and let the water do the talking.

The Project / Zenbo Seinei, Japan

View from the top

Zenbo Seinei is a spectacular new retreat on Awaji, a rural island of about 130,000 people in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate Shigeru Ban for recruitment company Pasona Group, the mostly wooden structure is a startling sight: thanks to a 90m-long top floor that cantilevers out from the lower levels, it appears to float above the trees. Amid the breeze and birdsong, this upper deck offers 360-degree views of nature and is intended to be used for Zen meditation.

Image: Shigeru Ban Architects
Image: Shigeru Ban Architects
Image: Shigeru Ban Architects
Image: Shigeru Ban Architects

Pasona Group’s ambition is that employees and visitors can leave the daily grind behind for a few hours of yoga and the kind of food that Buddhist monks eat – or stay overnight for a deeper delve into meditation. For all its sense of seclusion, though, the centre is less than a 40-minute drive from the bright lights of Kobe. In short, it’s a good spot for a quick reset.

Design News / ‘Napoli Super Modern’, Switzerland

Building material

Naples is so well known for its ancient ruins and crumbling palazzos that more recent additions to the cityscape tend to pass unnoticed. But Benoit Jallon and Umberto Napolitano of design studio Lan are aiming to change that with a new research project called Napoli Super Modern. Initially published as a book, it has now been transformed into an exhibition (pictured) for the Swiss Architecture Museum in Basel, surveying a series of modern buildings constructed between 1930 and 1960 through contemporary photographs, drawings and film.

Image: Tom Bisig
Image: Tom Bisig
Image: Tom Bisig

The show effectively captures the chaotic everyday lives of these structures. Lively photographs by Cyrille Weiner and a film by French duo Bêka & Lemoine, for instance, show how sober modernist buildings can end up with unexpected uses.

“What’s nice is that the modern period, which was very dogmatic in Naples, has been totally challenged by the very strong identity of the city,” says Napolitano. “We learn that, as architects, we should not be too fixed in the way we design.”

Words with… / Nada Debs, Lebanon

Crafted to perfection

Lebanese designer Nada Debs is celebrated for her finely crafted furniture and objects, and large-scale interior-design projects. Both draw on her international background: raised in Japan, Debs studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before working in the UK and then establishing a globally renowned design studio in Beirut. Now splitting her time between the Lebanese capital and Dubai, Debs has become a champion of regional craftsmanship in the Middle East. To find out more about the region’s craft heritage, we caught up with her for a recent episode of Monocle On Design.

Image: Alex Atack

You’ve lived in many different places and worked across various cultures. How has this influenced your design outlook?
I see myself as a craft custodian in the Middle East. When I moved to Lebanon 20 years ago, I felt that there was no interest in the craft of the area – there was almost a shamefulness about it. But it began to be sold to tourists on the street and in the souks. I saw this happening and thought that it would be really nice to elevate it, to make people in the region proud of it. I’ve achieved that over the past 20 years and so I feel a responsibility to now do this for every kind of craft in the Middle East.

How do you elevate a craft?
To me, craft is a very beautiful way of working. But, over time in Lebanon, it had lost some of its attention to detail as craftsmen worked quickly or were rushed. Growing up in Japan with its master craftsmen, I learnt that attention to detail is key to this work. I brought this outlook to Lebanon and would say to the craftsmen there, “Can you make this a little bit better?” Initially it felt as if I was trying to teach a sense of perfection in a part of the world where people were quite laissez faire. But gradually I found that there are individuals there who are willing to work towards perfection and they became my entourage of craftsmen.

How do you work with them? What comes first, your designs or their craft?
It comes from them. My process involves observing them work and then sometimes stopping them because I like what they’re doing and I want to try it in a new material to make a sample. Then I might keep that sample on my desk – sometimes for a year or two – until an idea comes to me to create a collection around that technique. So my furniture designs always come from a craft style.

For more from Nada Debs, listen to Monocle On Design.

From the Archive / Coupe aux Nénuphars, France

Super bowl

A garden feels more complete with a refreshing surface of water but if you’re not lucky enough to have room for a pond or pool, there aren’t many easy and stylish design solutions to choose from. Pierre Paulin must have been thinking the same thing when he designed Coupe aux Nénuphars in 1955. When filled with water, this three-legged aluminium bowl is the ideal environment for waterlilies.

Illustration: Anje Jagerr

Coupe aux Nénuphars was one of the famed French designer’s first pieces of furniture, made in collaboration with Parisian manufacturer Meubles TV. It would still be a stunner on the lawn of any garden today – the only issue is that just three were produced, including the one that Paulin kept for himself. Finally putting this simple modernist piece into wider production would be welcomed by design-conscious gardeners, as well as many thirsty pollinators and birds.

Around The House / Pagoda chair, USA

East meets West

American design studio Bassam Fellows has teamed up with Shanghai-based furniture-maker Stellar Works to create the Pagoda chair. Made in Shanghai and available in carved wood or aluminium, the design has a rounded seat reminiscent of chairs in 19th-century Viennese coffeehouses, while the winged backrest subtly references the shape of a Chinese pagoda gate. “Shanghai has always had an atmosphere of East meets West and Stellar Works as a brand is based on that too,” says Scott Fellows, creative director of Bassam Fellows. “It felt natural to design something that blends those influences.”

While inspired by the simplicity of café chairs, the Pagoda is well-suited to a home: with the option of woven cane or padded textile for a seat, it can be adapted to any interior. “It’s very compact but it doesn’t sit small,” says Fellows. “In urban environments, where space is precious, it’s perfect as a dining chair.”

In The Picture / Le Crans brand identity, Switzerland

Peak revamp

Sitting among the steep, snow-covered slopes of Switzerland’s Crans-Montana is Hotel Le Crans. The timber building, which serves as a popular base for hiking in summer and skiing in winter, has recently refreshed its 16 rooms, suites and apartments. Naturally, some new branding was in order too. Enter creative studio Base Design, whose Geneva team has managed the creation of a new logo, bespoke typeface and merchandising.

“We wanted to represent that, for us, Hotel Le Crans’s luxury comes from getting away from it all,” says Hervé Rigal, partner at Base Design. As such, inspiration was drawn from the rugged Alpine landscape and rustic architecture of Crans-Montana. A green-and-gold colour palette reflects the verdant forest scenery and the typeface is inspired by the carvings typically found on wooden chalets in the area; the hotel’s logo is derived from this unique Alpine alphabet too. The result? A rebrand that feels contemporary, while paying tribute to the hotel’s mountain heritage.


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