Wednesday. 19/10/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

World views

This week we’re swinging by Andreas Murkudis in Berlin and New York’s Grand Central Station, admiring Lufthansa’s new first-class suite and the Swiss-Finnish Pinna chair. We’re also championing prefab buildings, which have evolved to be much more than just a solution to the housing crisis.

Opinion / Sonia Zhuravlyova

Home delivery

In the wake of the Second World War, a housing crisis struck many countries across Europe. To alleviate the shortage caused by the Blitz, the UK put up temporary prefabricated homes, made in quickly repurposed wartime factories. Though there was some initial hesitation from the public about these boxy structures, they soon became loved for their mid-century style and mod cons; 1950s houses made to the blueprints of designers such as Czech architect Ervin Katona are still sought after today.

Since then the UK has flirted with the idea of prefabrication as an effective way to build much-needed homes and create new jobs in light industry. An easy win-win, you would think. But reality has somehow always lagged behind governmental promises and ambitions. Today, however, there are even more convincing arguments for investing in this mid-century method of construction: not only are these houses greener to build but a new study released by industry body Make UK Modular shows that they also cost 55 per cent less to heat than the average home. Add to this the fact that designers such as Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, Oslo’s Snøhetta and New York-based David Rockwell have all recently lent their hand to prefab designs and it seems that the structures have evolved to stand for much more than affordability: they can be inspiring and uplifting architecture too.

With this in mind, it seems the humble mid-century temporary prefab, with its subtle nods to modernism and revolutionary design solutions, has laid a not-so-temporary foundation after all – perhaps the time has come to build on it.

Sonia Zhuravlyova is Monocle’s sub editor and author of the book ‘Prefabs: A Social and Architectural History’.

The Project / Art in Residence, Germany

Design for life

As part of this year’s Berlin Art Week celebrations, German furniture-maker E15 has teamed up with retailer Andreas Murkudis to organise an exhibition of works by Finnish industrial designer Jonas Lutz. Called Art in Residence, the show is housed in Andreas Murkudis’s Berlin shop at 98 Potsdamer Strasse until 24 October and comprises a collection of sculptural pieces carved in organic forms from Dutch pine and elm.

The works were created in Lutz’s Rotterdam studio over a two-year period and are displayed alongside the new Ilma lounge chair – a modern reinterpretation of a classic sling chair with leather panels strung across a pared-back wooden frame – that he designed for E15. “He has a refreshing eye for objects and craftsmanship along with a genuine curiosity for forms and materials,” says E15’s art director Farah Ebrahimi. “The installation explores the concept of simply living in an environment where art becomes a part of daily life.”

Design news / Regional Plan Association, USA

Action plan

A new exhibition dedicated to urban planning and design has opened in New York’s Grand Central Station, marking a century of work by the city’s Regional Plan Association (RPA). Called The Constant Future: A Century of the Regional Plan, it charts the work of the RPA, which pioneered urban planning on a regional scale. Since its foundation in 1922, the organisation has provided four masterplans to make a 22-county region, spread across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, a better place to live and work.

Image: RPA/Alexander Severin
Image: RPA/Alexander Severin

“The RPA ensured that New York was the first urban area in the world to reimagine itself as a regional metropolis,” says James Sanders, the architect who designed and produced the exhibition. “It’s an idea so familiar today it’s almost commonplace. But it was a radical new way of thinking in the 1920s.”

To chart this endeavour, the exhibition tracks the work of the RPA alongside a broader history of New York, bringing to light seldom-seen images and film clips from the organisation’s archives. The result is a show that makes essential viewing for anyone interested in the design and planning that shaped one of the world’s great cities.

Words with... / Daniel MacInnes, UK

Best in class

Next year, those flying long haul on Lufthansa’s A350-900 fleet will be able to do so in one of the world’s most spacious First Class suites. This is thanks to new interiors designed by London studio Priestman Goode, which has been working with the German flag carrier since 1999. And while the completed project won’t be launched until February 2023, we caught up with Priestman Goode’s director Daniel MacInnes to find out more about the project.

What are the key design features of the new First Class suite?
Lufthansa wanted to create privacy and a sense of spaciousness with this suite. This is the first time Lufthansa has a suite where passengers can fully close themselves off from the aircraft to create a private space. The seats are also nearly a metre wide; it’s a big and comfortable piece of furniture to sit in. There’s also a large table for passengers to experience face-to-face dining, which creates a restaurant-like experience. All of these features build on Lufthansa’s great service.

How do you want people to feel in the suite?
The goal of this project was to make passengers feel as though they’re entering a lounge, rather than a traditional aviation space. The detailing reflects what passengers would have at home; when they touch a surface, it’s not a fake material but the material they expect it to be. Lufthansa really wanted something that wasn’t standard for aircrafts and this high level of trim and detailing really elevates the suite from being a First Class product to being in VIP territory.

Why is travelling in such a beautifully designed and crafted environment important?
From our point of view, it’s important to give passengers a choice. By working with Lufthansa on this product, we allow their key passengers to move from a high-end car to the lounge to the aircraft in a seamless way, with the level of quality equal to what they expect elsewhere. Additionally, giving passengers space to do what they want to do while on board is really important. The result is a product that passengers will really respect and really want to keep flying on.

From The Archive / Pinna chair, Finland

Better together

The Swiss and the Finns are known to be pragmatic people, so it’s no wonder that a collaboration between two of their countrymen resulted in this exceptionally functional seat. Called the Pinna chair, it was conceived in the late 1970s by Finnish designer Yrjö Wiherheimo and Swiss woodworker Rudi Merz, who had recently moved to Finland. The flat veneer seat is attached to the pin-like legs with wooden pegs and no screws. “The more weight is put on it, the more secure the structure becomes,” says Wiherheimo, who explains that the same principle can also be used to create a two-seater, a rocker or a chair for children. “I’ve always considered it a good piece of furniture for both its basic idea and the flexibility of that basic idea.”

Illustration: Anje Jager

For about 10 years, Merz made the Pinna chairs himself. And while today the carpenter prefers to work on unique pieces, Wiherheimo is set to reintroduce the design, which had become a collectible piece, through Finnish furniture brand Auvinen/Wiherheimo (with Merz’s blessing, of course). There’s even hope that more Swiss-Finnish creations might follow. “We made this chair together 40 years ago,” says Wiherheimo. “And we still collaborate to this day.”

Around The House / VLA26 Vega chair, Denmark

Musical chairs

In the mid-20th century, Denmark was the home of holistic design – a movement that saw leading architects such as Vilhelm Lauritzen create outstanding cultural buildings with accompanying bespoke furniture. And while the public was – and in many cases still is – able to enjoy the furnishings on visits to the buildings, often the chairs and tables were not made commercially available for private use. This was the case for Lauritzen’s VLA26 Vega Chair from 1956 but the stackable and readily moveable perch, designed for Copenhagen’s Vega concert hall, is now being produced by Danish furniture firm Carl Hansen & Søn. The elegant mix of steel and wood can be finished in a wide range of textile or leather seat finishes, making it a flexible option for any home. It’s a move that means fans of Lauritzen and the concert hall alike will no doubt be singing Carl Hansen & Søn’s praises.

In The Picture / RISD branding, USA

Fresh start

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has overhauled its visual identity. The reboot of the storied institution’s image has been led by Brooklyn-based studio Gretel, which was keen to make the process as democratic as possible. To do so, the Gretel team posted their work on open forums on the RISD website, where students, faculty and alumni could share their thoughts on the designs as they developed. “Hundreds of people took the time to share thoughts and ideas,” says Gretel’s creative director Andrea Trabucco-Campos. “The RISD community comprises some of the most celebrated voices in art and design among faculty and alumni, and its students are some of the next generation’s most promising creative leaders. To not involve them would have been a missed opportunity.”


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