This week we interview giant of architecture Rem Koolhaas, visit Exchange Square, a new green space in London, and take a spin around Saint-Tropez in an updated Moke car (pictured). But first, Nic Monisse lauds the Swiss approach to building projects.
When it comes to quality contemporary architecture, it’s no secret that Switzerland punches well above its weight. Despite its relatively small population and land mass, it has produced Pritzker prize winners Peter Zumthor and Herzog & de Meuron, and is home to glorious buildings such as Santiago Calatrava’s Stadelhofen station and Norman Foster’s Chesa Futura, and growing practices including Zürich’s Kodai and Associates and Geneva’s Bonhôte Zapata.
A common trait among their work, and what makes their projects great, are well-considered materials, buildings that enhance the environment they’re in and, as a result, happy tenants and residents. Or, in the case of Bonhôte Zapata’s newly completed Geneva City Hall, which we wrote about in Monocle’s July/August issue, happy politicians. When we discussed these shared traits with the hall’s designer, Julia Zapata, she mentioned that a key reason for the continual delivery of quality architecture in Switzerland are the lengthy timelines given to designers, for which they are fairly compensated.
Clients and commissioners know not to rush architects. They give them time to work, offering them the chance to observe the site month after month (and sometimes over years). This approach allows the architects to pick up on subtleties that might otherwise be missed and means that they’re able to take note of where the light might be the nicest, what materials are best for the microclimate and which sightlines are ideal for each season.
It’s a method that leads to better outcomes and a strong architectural heritage across the country. And it’s worth remembering that it’s a heritage that other countries could enjoy, if they gave their designers a little more time too.
London’s Exchange Square provides a surprising pop of green in a corner of the city dominated by skyscrapers and lifeless corporate plazas. “Our ambition for this new park was to retrofit nature into the heart of the City, creating a landscape that nurtures both plants and people,” says Deborah Saunt, a founding director of architecture studio DSDHA, which designed the UK capital’s newest public space, along with landscape architects FFLO. And indeed it does.
The square next to Liverpool Street station, which is about the size of a football pitch, is home to more than 140 different species of plants, providing a verdant setting for office workers to socialise on their lunch break or after work. Small water features and an amphitheatre provide opportunities for play and gathering, while a meandering path to the square’s high point offers views over the station’s heritage-listed train shed and departure platforms. The result is an area that provides much-needed access to greenery without obscuring the surrounding buildings. And, judging by the number of people in the square when Monocle visited, commuters are content to stay a while, with no rush to jump on the first train home.
The beautiful textiles that Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons has created over the years with Denmark’s Kvadrat enjoy a cult following with furniture aficionados, who use them to upholster both classic and contemporary pieces to great effect. Now this partnership has expanded further into the home via a clever new storage solution that has been unveiled this week.
The Shaker System works using a minimalist, leather-bound bar that can be attached to a wall and from which a variety of items can be hung. Our favourite elements are the smart magazine and newspaper holders that can accommodate either rolled-up broadsheets or flat printed tomes, which slot easily into leather pouches and live proudly on display.
Rem Koolhaas is one of the world’s leading architects and design theorists. Co-founder of the Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), he made a name for himself with his 1978 book Delirious New York, which provided a “retroactive manifesto” for the design of Manhattan. He then solidified his reputation by winning the Pritzker prize in 2000. Significant OMA projects include Rotterdam’s city hall, Seoul’s National University Museum and its latest, the Taipei Performing Arts Centre. To find out more about the latter, which opened its doors to the public last week, we caught up with Koolhaas for Monocle On Design.
Despite the competition for the design of the Taipei Performing Arts Centre stating that the new venue should replace the city’s historic night market, you designed a building that worked the market into its programme instead. Why take a risk like this on a submission?
As an architect, it is almost inevitable that you participate in gentrification. And that is a kind of dreaded effect of the work. It feels really unpleasant to erase the qualities that attracted you to a particular place in the first place. And so everything we did in Taipei was to avoid that. We kept the market and felt that we needed to make a theatre that eliminated any connection with elitism. The centre was very deliberately designed to be open to the public.
One of the big design moves was to create a building with separate theatres that can be opened up to one another to create a larger, connected performance space. What’s the benefit of this?
There’s almost an overdose of new theatres across the globe and these all have multiple auditoriums that have their own independent stage apparatus and back stages. As a result, there is an enormous redundancy of space in these buildings. What is really strange is that this is a model that is already 2,000 years old and it’s just being repeated and clothed in different and more fashionable entities.
How does your design remove that redundancy? And how has the design of performance spaces advanced more broadly in recent years?
By combining the stage areas, there’s a really radical extension of what you can do with a theatre and how you can use it. It allows for multiple situations, where auditoriums can either be separated or coupled. In theatre, in the past 50 years, there has been an enormous amount of automation and the development of artificial acoustics, which has had an enormous effect on what can happen on stage and singing.
For more from Rem Koolhaas, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.
Part and parcel of any standard hotel-room furnishing is the suitcase holder. While essential, these low stands easily clutter a small room or, worse, encourage guests to leave their open luggage on them for the entire trip. A smarter solution can be found in the original interiors of Parco dei Principi in Sorrento, designed by Gio Ponti in 1960. For the Amalfi Coast hotel, the mid-century master created a pair of console tables that can be pushed together to form a suitcase stand. Once the contents have been unpacked and, ideally, placed in a handsome wardrobe or chest of drawers, the oak-and-brass side tables can be put back against the wall, where they are both elegant and useful.
Interior designers working with hoteliers would do well to emulate Ponti’s approach to Parco dei Principi, where he was responsible for everything from the architecture and landscaping to the white-and-azure interiors. Instead of going for the plush furniture expected from five-star lodging, Ponti’s more austere scheme creates luxury by improving on the practical details of a hotel stay. This approach not only makes guests happier but might inspire them to be tidier too.
British car manufacturer Moke produces its vehicles in the UK but the open-top cars are more closely associated with balmy destinations in the Caribbean and French Riviera. The vehicles’ early adopters in the 1960s included The Beach Boys and Brigitte Bardot, who was known to zip around in one while in Saint-Tropez. Now the brand is bringing its classic 1964 design to the 21st century by rolling out an electric version and opening a flagship shop, Casa Moke, in the coastal resort.
Moke enthusiasts can pre-order their electric ride in a host of colours, from “scuba blue” to “sunset orange”, both in the shop and online. The model, which has a range of 120km and can be fully charged in four hours, is nippy, with a top speed of 80km/h, making it perfect for hopping between beaches on a sunny afternoon. The Moke can be delivered to your door anywhere in Europe or picked up at Casa Moke – the perfect excuse for a long weekend in Saint-Tropez.
Californian food brand Brami is on a mission to reimagine traditional Italian cuisine as healthy eating: its low-carb, high-protein products are made using ingredients such as lupini beans and semolina flour. To convey its goal, the company tasked design studio Wedge with creating a strong visual identity and packaging system. “While Americans crave Italian food, they also associate it with ‘cheat days’ and ‘consequences’ due to diet culture,” says Wedge co-founder Justin Lortie. “The truth is that real Italian food is nourishing. We sought to defy the negative perception with a liberating, better-for-you brand.”
For inspiration, Wedge looked to mid-century Italian signs and packaging, as well as Roman architecture. Its designs use bold typefaces for a classic vintage look, as well as fun and decorative scripts inspired by traditional handwriting. The outcome is packaging that doesn’t scream “clean eating”; instead it feels classically Italian and looks enticing. It’s a graphic approach that we think is best for encouraging people to eat well.