Wednesday. 31/8/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Ernest Protasiewicz

Lay of the brand

We visit Helsinki Design Week and an Alvar Aalto building opened to the public for the first time (pictured). We also drop in to the headquarters of Swiss athletic brand On, meet Argentinian architect and artist Tomás Saraceno and look at the striking branding of Copenhagen Opera Festival. Plus: Santa & Cole lights the way and a triangular table that we think is ripe for revival. First, Nolan Giles on the busy month ahead.

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Ahead of schedule

September is the month when the design calendar properly gears up, as architects and interior designers descend upon numerous events, aiming to sharpen their skills and increase the number of contacts in their Rolodexes. With this in mind, here’s an itinerary for Europe-based (or Europe-bound) professionals looking for insight into where their industry is heading and how they can capitalise on its latest innovations.

Sunny Spain is a good place to start. Running until 6 September in the city of Logroño is the eighth edition of Concéntrico. With an emphasis on large-scale outdoor exhibitions, it’s the perfect platform for urban design specialists who want to learn how experimental ideas from exciting young firms can make cities more liveable places.

A connecting flight via Madrid is the best way to reach Helsinki for the city’s design week, which runs from 1 to 11 September and attracts both Nordic furniture design aficionados and architects interested in pioneering solutions that offer smart ideas about sustainability. As well as taking the rare opportunity to view a largely unseen Alvar Aalto masterpiece (see below), visitors should spend some time at Habitare, Finland’s largest furniture fair, which runs from 7 to 11 September. The nation’s best brands – such as Woodnotes, known for fine, paper-woven textiles – will greet potential customers at Helsinki’s convention centre.

For the remainder of the month, design-industry agendas should be fixed around Paris Design Week (8 to 17 September) and London Design Festival (17 to 25 September). In Paris, the trade fair Maison & Objet is attracting the attention of top international furniture brands, which are choosing to exhibit here again after a few quiet years at the height of the pandemic. London Design Festival, which has undergone something of a rebrand, will spotlight the city’s creative talent across various districts. The event is huge so be selective; our focus will be on the furniture-showroom hubs in the Brompton Design District and the Clerkenwell Design Trail.

For those who can’t squeeze all of the action into their agendas, we’ll be covering these events across the ‘Monocle on Design’ podcast and this weekly newsletter.

The Project / Helsinki Design Week, Finland

Human touch

As part of this year’s Helsinki Design Week, which starts tomorrow, the former headquarters of Finnish forestry giant Enso-Gutzeit, designed by Alvar Aalto in 1962, will open to the public for the first time. The building and its interiors, including details such as door handles, light fittings and furniture, were all designed by Aalto in his signature modernist style. The use of natural materials and organic shapes, such as the curving wooden ceiling panels and brass lighting, lend the structure a calm and human-centric feel.

Image: Ernest Protasiewicz
Image: Ernest Protasiewicz
Image: Ernest Protasiewicz
Image: Ernest Protasiewicz

“Despite being 60 years old, the building looks as modern as ever, which is a testament to the agelessness of Aalto’s architecture,” says Kari Korkman, founder and CEO of Helsinki Design Week. The building is a treasure trove for Aalto lovers and includes several original pieces that can’t be found anywhere else, such as the Enso leather armchair with bronze legs, black wall clocks and ceiling lamps with brass fittings. Aalto is best known as an architect of homes and public institutions but his intimate approach is well suited for corporate environments too. The building will close to the public on 10 September, so make sure that you visit it while you can.

Design News / On Labs, Switzerland

On switch

Swiss athletic brand On has recently completed a refurbishment of its global headquarters, On Labs, in Zürich. And the structure, whose interiors were reimagined by Swiss architects Spillmann Echsle and Stockholm’s Specific Generic in collaboration with Team of On around David Allemann, promotes innovation and social interaction while also paying tribute to the brand’s past.

Image: Eduardo Perez

Taking inspiration from On’s foundation story – which began with co-founders Olivier Bernhard, Caspar Coppetti and David Allemann hiking on Swiss mountain tracks – the architects developed a pathway of staircases called “The Trail”; naturally, it leads employees from the ground floor to the top of the building. The hope is that chance encounters will take place while staff climb the steps, passing a vegan restaurant, research and development spaces hidden behind semi-transparent orange glass and their own workspaces and meeting rooms. “The focus is clearly on the social interactions within our diverse team,” says Allemann, of the design, which is also aiming to entice people back to the office. “By living our shared culture together, we’ll keep ourselves creative and innovative.”

And while the bulk of the structure caters to the company’s 600 employees, a new bakery and coffee shop, and flagship allows residents to enjoy the building too. Here, On’s Run Club sets out every Wednesday morning, offering fans of the brand the perfect excuse to lace up their shoes and check out the new headquarters.

Words with... / Tomás Saraceno, Spain

Coming into play

After training as an architect in Buenos Aires, Tomás Saraceno moved to Frankfurt and began a practice that blurs the lines between art, design and culture. The Argentinian, who now lives and works in Berlin, has previously had his sculptures and installations featured in the Venice Biennale of Architecture. This year his first permanent installation in southern Europe opened in Spain. Located on the observation deck of the Mirador Torre Glòries in the Catalan capital, “Cloud Cities Barcelona” encourages visitors to think about how to incorporate nature and play into the built environment. To find out more about the project, we caught up with Saraceno for Monocle On Design.

The installation is a large-scale, interactive architectural sculpture composed of cables and panels that create tunnels for people to move through and podiums for them to sit on. Where did you find the inspiration for the design?
I was always fascinated by the work of Antoni Gaudí and how much he might have been inspired by nature and by spider’s webs. I was also inspired by the German architect Frei Otto, who invented nets and lightweight structures that children can crawl and climb on. As people, we want to keep playing, so the installation is meant to be multi-generational.

Tell us more about the importance of play in architecture and design. Why should we continue to employ playful elements in the built environment?
When we lose the ability to play, we also lose the ability to learn. Playful experiences are fundamental. They push our boundaries of negotiation, the boundaries of how we can perceive the world.

How do you hope people will feel when they’re climbing through the installation?
My hope is that it will reorient how they see the world and get them thinking about other modes of perceiving [the built environment]. The installation has a complex geometry and requires a certain level of attention to negotiate. You cannot walk through it; you have to climb and crawl, which is something that we’re not used to. That produces a bit of discomfort because you have to pause and take your time.

For more from Saraceno, tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Mesa Triangular Table, Brazil

The magic number

When picking out a dining table, it’s worth considering that its shape also influences the conversations that will be held around it. The classic rectangle can force guests at opposite ends to shout at each other, while a round one, which places everyone as equals, can make the situation feel overly formal. With the Mesa Triangular Table from the 1960s, Brazilian designer Joaquim Tenreiro proposed an elegant solution that offers the best of both worlds. The softly rounded triangle, which comfortably seats nine people, facilitates conversation across the table while also inviting more intimate tête-à-têtes over its corners.

Illustration: Anje Jagerr

Tenreiro, who is considered one of the fathers of modern Brazilian furniture, never adopted industrial production methods. Instead, every piece was made by hand from solid jacaranda at his Rio de Janeiro workshop. Predictably, Mesas now fetches eye-watering sums on the rare occasions that one pops up at auction. And while a reissue of the glass-topped design would hardly have a more accessible price point, it could inspire contemporary brands to offer dinner set-ups in slightly more unexpected shapes.

Around The House / Santa & Cole, Spain

Outside bet

The daylight hours in the northern hemisphere might be getting shorter but weather remains warm, meaning that al fresco dining is still on the cards. And, those looking to extend their evenings after the sun goes down would do well to pick up the Cesta Exterior. A new release from Barcelona-based lighting specialists Santa & Cole, the lamp is an outdoor version of the iconic 1960s design by revered Spanish industrial designer Miguel Milá.

Image: Miguel Milá
Image: Miguel Milá

Sharing the same aesthetic and lighting characteristics of the original design, the exterior version features a polyethylene shade and a frame made from aluminium. Available in black and olive, it’s water-resistant, meaning that when the weather does eventually turn and autumn showers roll in, dinner party hosts and guests can comfortably move the conversation indoors, without fretting about the lighting.

In The Picture / Copenhagen Opera Festival, Denmark

Curious yellow

Like many cultural institutions, when the pandemic hit in 2020, the Copenhagen Opera Festival knew that it had to adapt to survive. But rather than resorting to grainy live streams from the city’s grand opera houses, it took the opportunity to rethink its format, with singers hitting the streets for open-air performances. The concept was so successful that organisers decided to keep these outdoor concerts as part of the permanent programme.

To herald its return this year, Danish design studio Urgent Agency was enlisted to create a new visual identity and advertising campaign for the event, including bags, posters and fliers in a bright-yellow colourway. “We used yellow because it’s quite the brazen attention seeker,” says Mads Quistgaard, Urgent Agency’s founder and design director. “Traditionally, it’s not the go-to colour of the finer things in life but it evokes urgency, breaking news and activism.” By “wrapping” the opera in the hue, Quistgaard hopes that it will be more accessible and appealing to a broader audience.


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