Wednesday. 14/12/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Bjørnar Øvrebø

With bells on

This week we’re getting into the festive spirit, thanks to a new installation in Tokyo by Karimoku Furniture and a selection of Christmas ornaments designed by Snøhetta (pictured). Plus, we speak to Ellen van Loon of OMA about material choices, admire a chess set designed by a mid-century Italian architect and enjoy the simple beauty of cutlery by Monoware. First, Nic Monisse on the year in architecture.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Building better

In early 2022 we dispatched our Europe editor at large, Ed Stocker, to West Africa to report on Accra’s architecture scene. The trip culminated in a meeting with Ghanaian-British designer David Adjaye, who talked about the power of architecture to “ignite the ambition of a nation”. This was in the context of the work he is currently doing in Ghana, which includes a new national cathedral, more than 100 hospitals for the Ministry of Health and a grand coastal promenade in the capital city. In the report, Adjaye said, “There isn’t a linear path for architecture and development – you don’t say, ‘Oh, we have to build all the roads first, then all the houses, then all the high-rise buildings.’” The implication is that there’s no right time or place to build well; instead, it’s an outlook that should always be a given.

That report forecasted a behavioural trend among designers, design media and architectural commissioners across the year. Every major gong or work, from Francis Kéré’s Pritzker Prize win to Theaster Gates’ Serpentine Pavilion, championed architectural practice that found ways to deliver quality, luxury and comfort to those inhabiting the buildings, no matter the client or budget.

Wouldn’t it be great if this ideal of finding ways to deliver excellence regardless of the constraints doesn’t turn out to have been a passing trend but becomes embedded in the work of architects around the globe and a standard that developers hold themselves to? In short, here’s hoping that the outlooks that Stocker flagged in Accra in early 2022 still apply as we round out the year and head into 2023.

Nic Monisse is Monocle's design editor.

The Project / Spiral Christmas Market, Japan

Pull up a chair

Tokyo is awash with astonishing displays of Christmas lights but for something different, visit Spiral in Aoyama. The multistorey art and event space, designed by architect Fumihiko Maki, is hosting its annual Christmas market. This year’s showpiece is a seven metre-tall Christmas tree made up of 144 special-edition AA stools (pictured), created by Tokyo-based Torafu Architects for Karimoku Furniture.

Image: Karimoku
Image: Karimoku
Image: Karimoku

These limited-release perches, named AA High Stools, come in festive gold and silver (as well as red, blue and green) and will be sold at the end of the exhibition; visitors can make a reservation at the venue. Miniature versions are also available exclusively at Karimoku’s Tokyo showroom. Karimoku’s simple stool, which looks like the letter A when viewed from the side, was originally designed as part of the Ishinomaki Lab project to help an area that was devastated by the 2011 tsunami. Torafu’s redesign and Karimoku’s skilled manufacturing have given the original stool a new lease of (festive) life.

Design News / Snøhetta ornaments, Norway

Star quality

In Norway, adventsstjerne (advent paper stars) are hung in windows during the Christmas season, brightening up homes and streets. Every year since 2012 the Norwegian Cancer Society has raised money through a campaign in which these festive stars are produced and sold to support life-saving research (raising more than €20m to date). To mark the campaign’s 10th anniversary, the organisation has partnered with Oslo-based design firm Snøhetta. “It was a crash course in Norwegian culture,” says Snøhetta’s Italian-born product designer Francesca Giulia Poli. “We spent weeks talking to people around the country to understand the cultural significance of the Christmas star and the annual campaign.”

Image: Bjørnar Øvrebø
Image: Bjørnar Øvrebø
Image: Bjørnar Øvrebø

Snøhetta’s resulting collection, which includes three adventsstjerne-inspired objects (pictured), plays on the form of the traditional star. The main piece, a circular ornament cut out on golden paper, is designed to hang in hospital windows and connect patients with the outside world through its movement and reflection of light. This is accompanied by a smaller round paper ornament (available in a seasonal palette of white, green or gold) that recalls classic Christmas-tree decorations and a handsome, limited-edition candlestick crafted from circular sheets of hand-polished brass. “By reimagining the shape of the star and imbuing it with meaning, we hope to spark conversations around the design and the story behind it,” says Poli.

For more festive stories, pick up a copy of Monocle’s winter newspaper, ‘The Alpino Edition’.

Words with... / Ellen van Loon, The Netherlands

Material world

Ellen van Loon is a partner at international architecture firm OMA. Her portfolio includes works such as the Casa da Música in Porto and the Dutch embassy in Berlin; she also works closely with OMA’s research-and-development arm, AMO. In her work with the latter, which includes a series of new shops for Jacquemus, Van Loon frequently subverts traditional approaches to design. To find out more, we spoke to the Rotterdam-based architect on Monocle On Design.

Image: Murray Ballard

For Jacquemus, you used a single material as the starting point for your design and then created the shop space from there. Is this a typical approach for you?
There isn’t a standard way of approaching design. Every project has its own story and a completely different process. But there’s always a certain irony and a sense of fun in OMA’s work. With Jacquemus, we thought, “Instead of starting with architecture, why don’t we start with the material and see where it would lead?” We wanted to challenge what a retail environment could be. We focused on one material per place – pillows in Paris; a special clay-based material for London – and this took visitors off guard, helping them become completely immersed in a special place.

What were the benefits of giving yourself that type of design constraint?
It pushed us to think about what kind of space fits this material. We started sculpting the space, making a cabinet chair and a table in the same material. The result is quite an extreme environment.

Will we see this approach in OMA’s other projects?
It was obvious to the whole office that we had turned the design process around, so it will affect the way that others work. There is always an exchange between projects; people walk around taking samples from one desk to another. Sometimes, your ideas have a wider effect without you knowing. We also have a cabinet full of rejected ideas but that doesn’t mean we are not keeping them up our sleeve for the future.

For more from Ellen van Loon, tune into ‘Monocle On Design’.

Christmas Gift Guide / Famiglia chess set, Italy

Game changer

Illustration: Eugen Fleckenstein

If your resolution for 2023 is to both look and be smarter, simply set up the Famiglia chess set in your living room. The pieces in this set, conceived by Italian designer Gianfranco Frattini in 1972, are sleek, stainless-steel cylinders that slot into each other like a matryoshka doll. Back in production by US brand CB2, the pieces come with a handsome board and metal box designed by Frattini’s daughter, Emanuela.

Around The House / Monoware cutlery, UK

Cutting edge

Creating cutlery presents significant challenges for designers, requiring a subtle balance of form and function. Not surprisingly, designers from Arne Jacobsen to Gio Ponti have demonstrated their skill by trying their hand at it. One of the most notable new sets comes from UK brand Monoware, which recently released a range created in collaboration with industrial designer Felix de Pass.

Image: Monoware
Image: Monoware

The ergonomic forms of these stainless-steel knives, forks and spoons are inspired by tools including Japanese chisels and are precisely shaped to ensure the optimal distribution of weight and balance. “We have considered every detail when creating this range to ensure timeless design, the most comfortable grip and the perfect weight and balance,” says Monoware’s founder and creative director, Daniel Baer. The result is a cutlery set that’s both simple enough for a casual get-together and sufficiently sleek for a formal festive celebration – and which perfectly complements Monoware's existing range of crockery (pictured).

In The Picture / Atticus Acne Paper, Sweden

Partly fact, partly fiction

Atticus Acne Paper, a publication from Stockholm-based fashion label Acne Studios, is equal parts creative anthology, art journal and fashion magazine, with a good dose of narrative fiction. Structured around a memoir by a fictional character called Atticus, a contemporary dancer who becomes an art-world personality, the 500-page book-cum-magazine features his reflections and prose on music, design and culture. Accompanying the text are photographs of architecture and fashion, alongside illustrations and printed works by more than 50 contemporary artists.

Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay

Acne Paper began as a biannual culture magazine, initially running from 2005 to 2014. This 17th issue is the second since its relaunch in 2021. The new and improved format is bold and vibrant. Its broad oeuvre and careful composition make it a perfect holiday read for anyone interested in art, fashion or design.


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