Wednesday 23 November 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 23/11/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Gubi

Gold rush

This week we step into the world of Peruvian banking thanks to WORKac’s retrofit of Lima’s Interbank Tower, while also paying a visit to a renovated Parisian apartment by Louis Denavaut. Then we hear from Pritzker Prize winner Francis Kéré, take a seat in a rereleased archive piece by Danish brand Gubi (pictured) and visit an exhibition of work by Ronan Bouroullec. First, Nic Monisse on dropout season.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

While they’re young

With the first term wrapping up in December for students in the northern hemisphere and their counterparts in the southern hemisphere finishing their academic year, it’s dropout season at the world’s architecture and design schools. Many won’t be returning to their studios in January: in the UK, about a fifth of architecture students quit before completing their studies. The reasons for this are surprisingly consistent. Those who drop out late in their courses typically cite fatigue, caused in part by the highly critical and competitive environment of many schools, and general disenchantment with the profession.

But what of those who drop out earlier, after the first term? In some cases, the reason is a lack of understanding about what architecture entails. Very few primary or secondary schools offer the subject at all. Meanwhile, many school advisors push maths and physics as crucial to the profession – subjects that are, in my opinion, better suited to aspiring engineers.

A logical solution to this problem would be to introduce architecture to children prior to them leaving school. For inspiration, educational institutions could look to Design Brut, an initiative by Paris-based Galerie Philia in which contemporary designers Antoine Behaghel and Alexis Foiny worked with primary-school students in Breil-sur-Roya to sketch and build furniture and models. Or they could emulate the youth summer camps run by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust in Chicago, where eight-to-10-year-olds explore design through play and building architectural models.

Making such programmes more broadly accessible would help children to understand what it is that designers and architects actually do, which could reduce dropout rates further down the line. It could also help children to develop an appreciation of the ways in which places affect how they feel and encourage a sense of civic pride. That can only be a good thing.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor.

The Project / Lunain, France

Ahead of the curve

Giving a heritage building a contemporary interior fit-out can be challenging: unusual architectural forms often need to be accommodated, while the right balance must be struck between a modern aesthetic and classic elements. For an example of how to do it well, look to Paris-based architect Louis Denavaut, who recently renovated a flat called Lunain in an art nouveau-style building in the French capital’s 14th arrondissement.

Image: Christophe Coënon
Image: Christophe Coënon
Image: Christophe Coënon

Here, Denavaut was able to preserve the building’s distinctive curving walls and arched doorways by creating made-to-measure furniture. Key pieces include a black oak console table that wraps around a corner, a bowed sofa that matches the curvature of the wall and a wooden banquette that follows a similar form. The flat’s stained-glass windows have also been retained and enhanced by a grey-green ceiling, which plays on the hues found in the apertures. The outcome is a home that is both fresh and respectful of its past – and serves as a reminder of bespoke furniture’s ability to enhance any work of architecture.

Design News / Interbank Tower, Peru

Banking on change

Peruvian financial services firm Interbank has had its headquarters in Lima revived by WORKac. The New York-based studio has transformed the company’s iconic tower, originally designed by Austrian postmodernist architect Hans Hollein, into a sleek and modern workspace. The building’s interiors are colourful and light-filled with a greenhouse and private meeting rooms encased in glass.

When the building opened in 2001, the curved shape of Hollein’s original exterior became a symbol of a bold and modern Peru. By contrast, the interiors more closely resembled a classic office concept: formal, compartmentalised and hierarchical. WORKac’s revamp, however, brings the interior and exterior up to similar standards, democratising common spaces by creating open-plan seating and casual areas for gathering.

Image: Ramiro del Carpio
Image: Ramiro del Carpio

One of the project’s biggest achievements is its relevance in the post-pandemic workplace. Though the plans were drawn up prior to 2020, the redesign of the tower was forward thinking. Thanks to WORKac’s choice of lightweight furniture, many spaces can be readily rearranged to suit the changing needs of Interbank’s employees. This is appropriate given that the needs of the company have also shifted over time: it has evolved into a much nimbler, tech-savvy and entrepreneurial workforce. The airy revival of the Interbank Tower, then, is a fitting one as the company looks ahead.

Words with... / Francis Kéré, Burkina Faso

Built to last

Earlier this year, Burkinabé architect Francis Kéré won the Pritzker Prize, which recognises excellence across a designer’s body of work. For Kéré, the award was in acknowledgement of decades of work that has consistently prioritised sustainable practice, using locally sourced materials and involving members of the community in the designing and building stages. Monocle On Design met Kéré to find out more about his belief in building for the long term.

Image: Robert Rieger

What does winning the Pritzker Prize mean to you? And how will it affect the wider design community?
I started my practice in Gando, a remote village in Burkina Faso with a population of about 2,500 and seemingly no opportunities. I hope that my prize will be an encouragement to others. It’s a reminder that if you just do great things and believe in yourself, institutions like the Pritzker will find you.

Much of your work also has a significant social impact. What are some issues that you have addressed? The award is about more than just architecture. Through my work, my practice and I have addressed climate change and diminishing resources. We have also trained young people on site as builders and carpenters so they can now stay in Burkina Faso and earn a living. In this way, we have had an effect on migration too. The prize is a big push for others to practise in the way that we do.

Many of your buildings are designed to be straightforward to maintain and repair. Why is that important to your practice?
I don’t want to make white elephants – buildings that people can’t fix. I want to create things that they can understand, learn from and later maintain, which is why I use local skills. I also want my buildings to be comfortable enough that you don’t need energy to cool them. That is part of my DNA as an architect. You can call it sustainability but, for me, there’s no other way than to look for materials that are abundant in the place where you’re building and use them to create something that really fits into the reality of the environment and the people living there.

For more from Kéré, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’ or pick up a copy of Monocle’s November issue.

From The Archive / Allibert table mirror, France

Light-bulb moment

One of this winter’s more surprising hit designs is a plastic vanity mirror that’s more than 50 years old. Produced by French firm Allibert in the 1970s, this space-age design was available in wall-mounted models or as a rotating tabletop version (pictured) and was relatively common in bathrooms during that decade.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Recently, however, the mirrors have started to fetch ever-higher prices at design auctions. While Allibert’s magnifying mirror has many practical features, from its compact form to its durable, splash-resistant plastic, its new-found popularity probably has a more specific cause: its light source. Tucked behind the mirror is a single incandescent bulb of the kind that is now being phased out in the EU and US. People, it seems, are pouncing on vintage Alliberts as a last chance to avoid today’s harsh LED-lit mirrors and complete their morning routine in the warm glow of a Glühlampe.

Around The House / Daumiller Armchair, Denmark

Call to arms

Gubi is renowned for its bold collection of elegant furniture. The Copenhagen-based design firm recently dipped into its impressive archive to revive a 1970s chair by German-born designer Rainer Daumiller. Called the Daumiller Armchair, the perch is made from solid pine, a decision that allowed the designer to create a lightweight, gently curving form with proportions that contour to the human body.

Image: Gubi
Image: Gubi

The harmony between delicate geometry and meticulous craftsmanship ensures that the chair offers both comfort and durability, while its golden finish and the dark veins of the pine give every piece a unique character. The result is a distinctive chair for any home.

In The Picture / ‘Bas-reliefs’, France

Mix and match

French designer Ronan Bouroullec’s latest exhibition, Bas-reliefs, has opened in Paris at Galerie Kreo. Running until 7 January, the show features 23 sculpted ceramic works that combine design, sculpture and drawing. The visually striking works juxtapose textured ceramics and smooth metal, with every piece kiln-fired and mounted on an anodised aluminium plate.

Image: Alexandra de Cossette / Galerie kreo, Studio Bouroullec
Image: Alexandra de Cossette / Galerie kreo, Studio Bouroullec

The show attests to Bouroullec’s ability to work across mediums and serves as a reminder of the importance of drawing, model-making and sculpting to the creative process. After all, these methods can help to define a designer’s style. A case in point is Bouroullec’s bas-reliefs, which are defined by gently curving lines, much like the furniture designs that he creates with his brother, Erwan.


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