Wednesday. 27/7/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Kamila Lozinska

Illuminating discussion

This week, we visit a Nordic design exhibition in London, marvel at a reissued lamp by Joe and Gianni Colombo and learn about the architecture scene in Lagos with Tosin Oshinowo. We also take a new trolley bag by Spain’s Rolser for a spin. First, Nic Monisse on Open House Melbourne.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Inside track

Residential architects should be like my busybody aunt in the US: a bit nosy. Why? Well, given they’re in the business of creating spaces tailored to a client’s specific (and often unique) habits, it’s important that they have an interest in people’s day-to-day behaviours. As such, architects should relish the chance to be in people’s homes – client or otherwise. And it’s why residential designers in Australia will be eager for the return of Open House Melbourne this weekend.

The first in-person festival in three years offers locals the chance to walk through residences designed by some of the city’s finest architects, such as Park Life house by studio Architecture Architecture, and hunt for pointers on how these spaces are being used on a day-to-day basis. Those in the know will be looking at where owners have carefully placed a chair, where carpets or floorboards have a little extra wear and which curtains have been left open to let light pour in. All of these provide clues about human behaviour – where people want to sit, read, eat and talk – offering insights that can inform an architect’s own practice and future blueprints and plans.

Oh, and if you’re not in Melbourne, could I suggest taking a leaf out of my aunt’s book: invite yourself over to a friend’s place (preferably a design-savvy one) and, while you’re there, enjoy a good sticky beak – all in the name of becoming a more informed designer, of course.

The Project / Modernity gallery, UK

Modern matters

Stockholm and London-based design gallery Modernity has, for the second time, taken over an 18th-century mansion in London’s Cavendish Square to highlight fine mid-century Nordic furniture and more contemporary artworks. Open until October, the showcase is a stunner, displaying a range of classics and more unique pieces from the Nordics’ golden age of design. Pieces that immediately command attention include the rare ‘Flora’ model 852 cabinet designed by Josef Frank for Sweden’s Svenskt Tenn in 1937 (pictured, middle) and a set of six handsome 1949 Finn Juhl dining chairs in teak and cognac leather (pictured, top).

Image: Kamila Lozinska
Image: Kamila Lozinska
Image: Kamila Lozinska

Modernity’s UK director Sebastien Holt says that 14 Cavendish, the organisation that leases out the listed 1770 building to the creative industries, welcomed the gallery back after a successful first pop-up event, which ran in 2020. He adds that for collectors (these pieces command a handsome price tag), having the opportunity to see the designs within this stripped-back yet elegant residence is a unique and valuable opportunity. “People say that buying furniture is becoming increasingly digital but we feel that with beautiful vintage pieces like these, customers want to see them, touch them and use them before they pay for them.”

Holt adds that the market for Nordic design from the 1920s to the 1970s is becoming an increasingly tough arena to find a bargain in – and most purchases are only going to increase in value. “It’s always going up,” he says of the market. “If you’re buying a Finn Juhl chair or a lamp from Paavo Tynell, they’re never going to date.”

Design news / Acrilica table lamp, Italy

Light fantastic

Founded in 1945, Oluce is one of the oldest Italian lighting companies still in operation. It has, across its 77-year history, produced some outstanding pieces, including the Acrilica table lamp from 1962 by Italian industrial designer Joe Colombo and his brother Gianni. To celebrate its 60th anniversary, Oluce has issued a limited-edition version with a base made from precious Portoro marble. Like the original design, the body of the lamp is made from methacrylate, a plastic whose conduction properties enable light from the bulb in the lamp’s base to travel through it and illuminate the head of the Acrilica.

Image: Oluce

“Crafting the curve of the methacrylate into the exact signature shape proved highly complex and involved several months of experimentation,” says Antonio Verderi, president of Oluce. “Joe Colombo was a true visionary in seeing this material as a means to conduct light. Because of this, Acrilica marked a real turning point in the world of appliance design.” Part lamp, part kinetic art, the Acrilica should have pride of place on any design lover’s shelf.

Words with... / Tosin Oshinowo, Nigeria

Making a mark

Nigerian architect Tosin Oshinowo founded her Lagos-based practice, CM Design Atelier, in 2012, after earning a master’s degree in urban design from the Bartlett School of Architecture in London and working at the likes of SOM and OMA. Now one of the leading architects in west Africa, she’s also worked as co-curator of the Lagos Biennial and will oversee next year’s Sharjah Architecture Triennial. To find out more about the design scene in Lagos, and her forthcoming projects, we caught up with Oshinowo for this week’s episode of ‘Monocle On Design’.

Image: Spark Creative

Rather than emulating work from beyond the continent, designers in west Africa seem to be embracing their heritage. Is this a fair assumption?
Broadly, and specific to architecture, there is a faction of designers in Lagos who emulate global contemporary architecture for clients who want work similar to a beach house that they’ve seen in Florida or a country home in France. But there are also designers who are consciously evolving – and I use this word very sparingly – the local vernacular. When it comes to vernacular, contextuality matters; it’s about using materials and designing buildings that are intended for the environment and cultural use. For example, Francis Kéré is contextually relevant and uses locally available materials, combined with slightly more advanced technologies. Everyone knew he was a big architect but now, with global recognition from his Pritzker Architecture Prize win, he’s received like a god. That’s the power of doing things right and setting precedents. Recognition can elevate and amplify everything you do.

Is there a broader appreciation, thanks to the likes of Francis Kéré, for architects practising in west Africa?
There is now more awareness of what architects in this part of the world are doing. Ten years ago, there was little acknowledgement that there were any architects here at all. The Guest Artists Space Foundation and the Abijo mosque are beautiful examples of what has been happening here. They tick all the boxes: they’re about experience, design, materiality and durability.

How does the design community work together in Lagos?
In business and design, there is often a desire to develop a competitive advantage by not sharing work or processes with others. But in Lagos, if people don’t give away their secret sauce, the design industry can’t move forward. To patent and become very wealthy is the model of the global north but in the global south – considering where we’re coming from and our context – it’s important to share and support each other as much as possible. My grandmother says, “When birds fly, their wings don’t touch.” That’s an apt observation for the direction that design is heading in Lagos: we can all do well here; there’s no need to be selfish.

For more from Tosin Oshinowo tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Margherita dining set, Italy

Fresh as a daisy

There is hardly a piece of furniture that better captures the cultural outlook of the 1960s than the Margherita dining set. Designed in 1966 by artist Ugo Nespolo and Giuseppe Raimondi, the then-25-year-old creative director of Turin-based brand Gufram, this floral-shaped table is covered in a glossy vinyl and comes with six matching chairs that fit snugly around each petal. Melding the flower power and space-age influences of the era, the design has been featured in several recent auctions and exhibitions, including at the latest Design Miami fair in Basel in June.

Illustration: Anje Jager

“We don’t have any record, explanation or story about the Margherita and no more than 10 were ever produced,” says Charley Vezza, creative director of Gufram. “It’s definitely one of the most mysterious pieces in our archive.” Although he doesn’t rule out one day reissuing the Margherita, it might be best left as a beloved artefact of the Italian Radical Design movement that flourished in the 1960s. “If every design made by a company is like a child, this is the one that left the family early to become a rockstar.”

Around The House / Big Polar, Spain

Ease your load

While many trollies or shopping bags might look unfashionable or be difficult to move, the quilted fabric finish and swivel wheels of Spanish brand Rolser’s Big Polar make for a trolley that is both handsome and easy to direct. Equipped with multiple pockets, the lightweight shopper can be folded for easy storage and rolled on two or four wheels, depending on the size of the load it’s carrying. The result is an essential accessory for any urbanite needing to cart goods from the shops – or a beachgoer seeking an easy way to carry towels, snorkels and sunscreen to the water’s edge. Expect to see them at a market or lake near you this summer.

Image: Tony Hay

In The Picture / Houses That Can Save the World, UK

Building with care

Our environment needs all the help it can get – and improving the way we build our homes (which currently is pretty carbon-heavy) is an excellent place to start. Those seeking inspiration would be wise to pick up Houses That Can Save the World, a new book by Courtenay Smith and Sean Topham, when it hits bookshops in September.

Published by Thames & Hudson, it’s part handbook, part manifesto, showing how architects, designers and engineers are confronting climate change, as well as the pressing problems of polluting materials, rapidly growing cities and ageing populations. In its pages, readers will find case studies addressing these issues and featuring a global mix of new technologies and time-tested methods of construction. Plenty of large-scale works are featured but there are also simple suggestions, such as choosing the right window glazing, that makes it essential reading whether you’re planning a self-build or simply looking for ways to make your home a little more efficient.


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