Wednesday. 5/10/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Santa & Cole

Living legacy

Nolan Giles introduces today’s Monocle Minute On Design with an appreciation of mid-century design and its relevance today. We then visit a flexible event space in Berlin and find out how a hospitality group is using functional design to repurpose waste. Plus: the magazine rack you’ve been waiting for.

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Building on the past

Monocle’s November issue, which hit the printing presses this week and will be on newsstands later this month, aims to define what good design is all about. While I won’t give away its stories, I will say that part of it saw me touring a lush European residence from the 1960s. This handsome home provides much in the way of clarifying this definition of good design. Its architect’s scheme was imbued with optimism, built with an appreciation of the nature beyond its walls and with its function – to be a modern domestic vehicle for best enjoying life – exemplified in the form of every room.

Monocle itself is headquartered in a fine 1960s building that does all of the above and it’s perhaps for that reason that it has been easy for me to appreciate these values in architectural projects. From my desk, overlooking the leafy canopy of the small park next to Midori House, pitches from writers about buildings that are similarly outward-facing always pique my interest.

Of course, it’s not all mid-century modernism filling our design and architecture pages but influences from this period do tend to creep in with many of the works we cover. From the end of the Second World War to the 1960s, a winning combination of simplicity and optimism gave life to the best design projects of the time. There was also a thriftiness in the use of materials (due to scarcity caused by the war) and a lack of fuss or showy ornamentation that brought forward a real sense of essentialism.

Beyond the classic architectural gems that enliven my inbox, I feel as though I’m seeing many more new projects that are embracing these modernist hallmarks. While it often feels as though the challenges the world is facing are getting worse, it remains heartening to observe that those shaping its built future are drawing from a solid blueprint from years past.

The project / Atelier Gardens by MVRDV, Germany

Lights, camera, action

The campus of Berliner Union Film Ateliers (Bufa), home to the studios and post-production houses of Berlin’s motion-picture industry, has in recent years been undergoing a transformation. Dutch architecture studio MVRDV and Berlin practice Hirschmüller Schindele Architekten have been overseeing the renovation and repurposing of its historic buildings to allow the campus, now rebranded as Atelier Gardens, to house commercial tenants from the film industry and beyond.

Image: Yasutaka Kojima
Image: Yasutaka Kojima

The latest phase of the transformation sees a new, highly flexible events space called Ton 1 sensitively configured within one of Bufa’s former production studios. The collaborating architects installed a new skylight to allow greater use of the venue during the daytime and developed a system of railings for overhead lighting and curtains that are delicately mounted onto the heritage building’s existing interiors. The colourful drapes also divide the area, improve acoustics and add vibrancy. The outcome is a flexible building that will be a venue for the rapidly growing Atelier Gardens business community – which includes Kaospilot, a learning platform for creative leaders – to host events and gather in.

Design finds / Potato Head x OMA, Singapore

Waste not, want not

“Hospitality has long been the source of so much waste and destruction,” says Ronald Akili, founder of Indonesian hospitality brand Potato Head. And it’s this notion that Akili is challenging with a new exhibition, co-curated with Rotterdam-based studio Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), at Singapore’s National Design Centre. Called N*thing is Possible, the show features a number of pieces crafted from waste materials, such as beach chairs made from recycled plastic and aluminium found at Akili’s Balinese resort, Desa Potato Head.

Image: Studio Periphery/ Potato Head and OMA

The hope is that visitors will be inspired to find ways to repurpose waste from hotels and restaurants into functional pieces of design. It’s a message that is echoed in the exhibition’s pop-up gift shop, where water bottles, cutlery and shoes made from leftover materials are available to buy, offering a reminder of the potential of smart design to have a positive effect on our environment and behaviour.

Words with... / Paola Antonelli, USA

Shaping the future

Paola Antonelli is senior curator of architecture and design at The Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York. Having worked at Moma since 1994, Antonelli became its inaugural research and development director in 2012, a role that has seen her lead countless symposiums at design events across the globe. Her latest? Agency for the Future: Design and the Quest for a Better World at Singapore Design Week. To find out more about the convention, we spoke with Antonelli on this week’s episode of Monocle on Design.

Image: Marton Perlaki

What was on the agenda at the symposium?
My life is about showing that design is an important force for society; it’s not just embellishment or cute chairs but rather an enzyme for progress. It can be, of course, an object but it can also be a structure, a system or an interface. In a way, this symposium really showed the various ways in which design can make the future happen. We’re not talking science fiction and we’re not talking 50 or 100 years from now; we’re talking about the next steps. So it really is a way to take stock of where design is now and think about how it can move in the future and help progress.

What are the challenges for the near future?
To begin with, the environmental crisis that’s underpinning all other crises. But there’s also a crisis of democracy, poverty, the pandemic – you name it – and they’re all related. But we now have some tools to deal with these issues: system thinking, visualisation, information design, the design of infrastructures and speculative design that tries to imagine how humankind can move forwards and live with other species.

What can designers do to help tackle these challenges?
We want designers to sit at the table when policies are made and when the future is imagined because the training that designers have is pragmatic and visionary. That’s what we need today.

To hear more from Antonelli, listen to ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

From The Archive / Ondalunga Rocking Chair, Italy

On your rocker

Think rocking chairs are just for grandmas? Think again – and consider the Gastone Rinaldi-designed Ondalunga (taken from onda lunga, which is Italian for “long wave”), from 1971. Looking nothing like a traditional timber rocker, this supple leather lounger seesaws on elegant steel arcs and would be right at home in a penthouse bachelor pad.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The originality of the design is all the more impressive considering that Rinaldi was not a trained designer. Instead, along with his brother, the accountant from Padua took over his father’s metal-furniture-making firm Rima in 1948, where he turned out to be quite the talent both in terms of material know-how – he was one of the first to use bent tubular steel in furniture – and creative experimentation. Unlike most of Rinaldi’s designs, however, the Ondalunga was never put into mass production, to the loss of eligible bachelors and stylish nonnas alike.

Around The House / Librero Oakland, Spain

Rack ’em up

A common problem facing bibliophiles is where to place their periodicals and weeklies without cluttering the coffee or kitchen table. Enter Librero Oakland, designed by California-based Book/Shop for Spanish lighting and homeware brand Santa & Cole.

Image: Santa & Cole

The statement magazine rack is available in walnut or birch and its greatest virtue lies in its versatility: Librero Oakland’s compact size allows it to sit next to a sofa or on top of a table, with its angled shelf perfect for displaying covers or spines. Thanks to a sleek and simple design, multiple units can be placed side by side to create a seamless, linear rack. A book-smart solution to print storage for any home.

In the Picture / Layer, UK

Work book

Since its establishment in 2015, London-based design agency Layer has charted a meteoric rise, partnering with companies such as Swiss furniture brand Vitra and aircraft giant Airbus. This work has now been chronicled in a new monograph published by Phaidon, with Layer founder Benjamin Hubert teaming up with author Max Fraser to delve into his craft. “The book follows my early years after graduation, when I established a small studio under my name and the trials and tribulations of breaking into a very established industry,” says Hubert. “It then tracks the studio’s progress through to it expanding and evolving into Layer.”

Image: Phaidon
Image: Phaidon
Image: Phaidon

Alongside this written narrative are almost 300 photographs cataloguing key projects, as well as a series of watercolours used by the agency when developing prototypes for its work. The hope, Hubert says, is for the book not only to document his studio’s output but also forecast the creative direction it’s heading in. For readers, however, it’s a richly visual and handsome addition to any bookshelf.


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Monocle 24

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