Wednesday 7 December 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 7/12/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Alessandro Saletta / Agnese Bedini / DSL Studio

In from the cold

This week, we stop off for a bite at the newly renovated restaurant and food court at Rome’s La Rinascente department store (pictured), interrogate the meaning of design at Tokyo’s National Art Centre, perch on Gemla’s Nordic chair that’s made of solid steam-bent ash, and much more. First, Gaia Lutz swings by the World Architecture Festival in Lisbon.

Opinion / Gaia Lutz

Fair play

Over three days last week, about 1,500 architects, developers, design enthusiasts and journalists descended on the Feira Internacional de Lisboa in Portugal’s capital for the 15th edition of the World Architecture Festival (WAF). While there are plenty of other industry events on the architectural calendar, from Salone del Mobile to the London Design Festival, the WAF is special because it allows architects both to view materials to complete their work with and to share their projects with others in the industry, from clients to competitors.

The festival’s main draws were the dozen inflatable tents around the perimeter of the feira. Inside them, shortlisted practices competed for awards in 45 categories over the course of the event, presenting their projects in 10-minute sessions, after which they took a grilling from judges. It was like the television talent contest The Voice but for architects: instead of singing and dancing, contestants tried to impress judges with technical drawings, renders and images of completed and future work.

The snappy format forced the best contenders to perfectly balance concept and detail. While the judges critically examined all of the technical aspects, the best presentations also involved engaging storytelling, whether the project addressed how the communal spirit of 1970s Amsterdam can be revived in a new co-living concept or how learning from earthquakes can shake up dusty notions of a building’s symmetry. The awards were also a reminder that it isn’t necessarily the flashiest or most expensive projects that are the most meaningful, with hi-tech sport stadiums winning prizes alongside a modest lifeguard tower.

While practices such as Denmark’s 3XN and Hong Kong-based Condition_Lab walked away with the awards for building of the year and interior of the year respectively, others will have emerged from the festival with great ideas inspired by the concepts presented by their peers. Event organisers can learn something too. The WAF has a format that breaks from more static industry conferences, with its awards proving that a little friendly competition goes a long way when it comes to spicing up a programme.

Gaia Lutz is Monocle’s Lisbon correspondent.

The project / La Rinascente, Italy

Hit refresh

Rome’s La Rinascente department store (pictured), designed by revered mid-century architects Franco Albini and Franca Helg, and completed in 1961, has long been a top retail destination for the well heeled. This year those doing their Christmas shopping at the celebrated structure on Piazza Fiume will be able to stop for a post-purchase meal at the newly renovated restaurant and food court on the building’s top floor. Rome-based firm 2050+ carried out the refit as part of a broader renovation plan under which the entire building will be updated by the end of next year.

Image: Alessandro Saletta / Agnese Bedini / DSL Studio
Image: Alessandro Saletta / Agnese Bedini / DSL Studio

This first phase, for which 2050+ retrofitted the building’s façade as well as the top floor, aims to improve the building’s connection to the surrounding neighbourhood. All of the shop windows along the piazza have been restored to Albini and Helg’s original geometries and proportions, improving the building’s sense of transparency. The internal space has also been opened up, thanks to a new glass roof that gives visitors to the restaurant sweeping views of the city and the Aurelian Walls. All of this is complemented by new lighting and modular displays that will allow the retail areas to be readily reconfigured. The result is a building that is better embedded in the urban fabric and functions as a destination for shoppers and diners alike.


Designs for life

It’s always worth visiting The National Art Centre in Tokyo, if only to stroll through the curvy, cavernous atrium designed by Kisho Kurokawa. If you’re visiting before 19 December, stop in at Design Museum Japan: Collecting and Connecting Japanese Design, a free exhibition sponsored by public broadcaster NHK that explores the meaning of design. In the show, 13 major Japanese designers and creators pick an area of the country and zero in on an aspect of the local culture that inspires them. The results are diverse. Architect Tsuyoshi Tane presents a study on the remains of a 10,000-year-old Jomon settlement in Iwate; textile designer Reiko Sudo looks at a company in Toyama making some of the world’s most advanced sportswear; meanwhile, graphic designer Kenya Hara visits a propeller-maker in Okayama, a city with a 30 per cent global market share in that industry, to admire the beauty of an eight-metre ship propeller that is precision-finished by hand and yet will be never be seen above water.

Image: Exhibition Space
Image: Exhibition Space

Visitors to the exhibition are asked to write on a piece of paper what they think design is and their answers are projected on the wall. The show situates each of the 13 designs in their cultural and historical context, while also physically mapping their location in Japan (pictured, bottom). The result is not a design exhibition in the conventional sense but rather one that conveys the idea that the discipline is about the way we live more broadly.

Words with... / Inti Velez Botero, Spain

Star turns

The Bicester Collection’s 11 boutique shopping villages around the world are being decorated for Christmas with a series of handmade installations by Wanda Barcelona. The Spanish design studio has worked on previous retail installations with brands including Louis Vuitton and department stores such as Harrods. The Bicester Collection’s installations will merge traditional origami craftsmanship with laser-cutting technology to create night-inspired backdrops for the shopping destinations. To find out more and to get us into the festive spirit, we spoke to Wanda Barcelona’s co-founder Inti Velez Botero.

What message did you want to get across with The Bicester Collection installation?
The most important thing was to understand the human factors in all of these villages. It might seem like one project but each outlet or village is individual. It was essential to bond with the people working or visiting those villages and we knew that this would be crucial for the development of the project.

Where did the inspiration for the project come from?
Our major influence was nature. We never try to imitate it; we only try to reinterpret it. We went to a William Morris exhibition in London, which inspired us to play with these very organic Morris-style leaf motifs that are a symbol of welcoming people. We also wanted to experiment with the geometrical shapes of stars. We eventually created a different type of star for every village so that each one retains its own personality.

Why do you use paper in your installations?
We’re paper artists. We’ve been working with cardboard since we began. We initially tried to expand our horizons but the more we worked with it, the more we fell in love with it – and the more we realised that we were developing expertise and a style. Of course, we need to have a structure and paper isn’t strong enough. For the Bicester installation, we made a very discreet stainless-steel structure because it needed to be outdoors. But the installation itself is 100 per cent paper.

How important is architecture to the retail experience?
For me, architecture is vital. I was told very early on in my career that we, as architects, are the ones engaged in and in charge of making life beautiful. If you enter a hideous space, you won’t have a nice experience. But if you enter a really warm and welcoming atmosphere, you will. So it’s important for us to enhance a space through our work.

Christmas Gift Guide / Anna Lamp, Italy

Lighting the way

The New Year is a time to refocus – and what better lamp to shine a light on your new priorities than the Anna? It was designed by Milanese architect Paolo Tilche in 1962 and is made by Italian brand De Padova. “When I write or draw I don’t want light in my eyes but on the paper,” he said at the time. “For this reason, I designed this lamp.” With its conical shade and slender steel frame, Anna looks as modern today as it did 60 years ago. It complements any interior style and is the perfect gift for anyone who lights up your life.

Illustration: Eugen Fleckenstein

For more Yuletide gift suggestions, pick up a copy of Monocle’s December/January issue, on newsstands tomorrow.

In the picture / Work Type launch, US

Cast of characters

Work Type is a new font foundry launched by New York-based design agency The Working Assembly (TWA). With the aim of distributing bespoke typefaces to independent graphic designers and in-house creatives seeking to shake up their brand’s image, the foundry’s establishment was marked by its first typeface being printed on labels of IPA beer (pictured).

Image: Work Type

While the beverages were only available at Work Type’s launch party, the typeface featured on it is now available for purchase. Called TWA Brik, it was inspired by New York street signage and builds on the agency’s existing bespoke brand work. “We customise or draw type from scratch for our wordmarks,” says its founder and creative director, Jolene Delisle. “So the next logical step was to turn our type drawings into full-fledged typefaces.” Graphic designers enamoured by TWA Brik and hoping for more from Work Type will be pleased to know that the foundry plans to release several more type families over the year ahead.

Around the House / Nordic Leather Back, Sweden

Flexible furniture

Swedish furniture firm Gemla boasts the country’s oldest continuously operating furniture workshop. It specialises in steam bending, a technique that it has employed to make fine furniture since 1861, and its newest offering continues in this tradition. Gemla’s Nordic chair (pictured) is made of solid steam-bent ash with a backrest and padded seat in vegetable-tanned leather. Designed by Finnish-born Sami Kallio in partnership with Danish designer Jakob Thau, Nordic is intended to offer flexibility to its owners. Steam-bent arms can be added, allowing the chair to hang onto tabletops or be stored out of the way. It can also be stacked (without armrests) up to six chairs high, making it a smart solution for homes needing additional seats when entertaining.


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