Wednesday. 11/1/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: SOM / Dave Burkunnamed

World of design

This week we visit a new shop fit-out by Spanish firm Estudio Diir, as well as pavilions designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (pictured). We also speak to Mexican architect and academic Tatiana Bilbao, pick up some tableware by Sweden’s Hem and flick through a book on São Paulo’s modernist architecture. First, a reflection on interior design in Singapore.

Opinion / Yvonne Xu

Tick in the box

It comes as a surprise to many that in highly regulated Singapore, the practice of interior design doesn’t require a professional accreditation. Design services can be offered by interior designers, architects, renovation contractors, carpenters or just about anyone. And that’s the trouble: in recent years the renovation sector in the island state has been receiving increasing numbers of consumer complaints. Grievances include unsatisfactory workmanship and delays caused by poor project management. Complaints of rogue contractors who go missing after receiving down payments are not uncommon either.

It’s a situation that the Society of Interior Designers Singapore (SIDS) began to rectify in late 2021 by introducing an accreditation scheme. The hope was that by offering credentials for its members, professional standards for fair practice would be established.

So where are we a year later? In a far better position. Clients, who often pay a small fortune in fees, are now hiring with greater confidence, knowing that accredited designers not only have creative aptitude but also understand codes, regulations and the intricacies of project management. The scheme has also motivated members of SIDS to pursue further training to upskill employees, allowing them to ask for fees and salaries commensurate with their experience and qualifications.

The challenge for SIDS as it moves into its second year of offering the accreditation is to have it taken up more broadly. Currently, it’s not compulsory and is seen as a nice-to-have extra. As a result, accredited designers could come to be perceived as a class of pricier, “premium” service providers. Pushing for widespread adoption or even having it as a state-backed requirement to practise is a crucial next step and would result in better design and build outcomes for Singapore. Here’s hoping that the momentum is maintained in 2023.

Yvonne Xu is a Singapore-based design journalist and regular contributor to ‘Monocle On Design’.

The Project / Diplomatic, Spain

Art of retail

Spanish shoe brand Diplomatic has partnered with Madrid-based architecture practice Estudio Diir for its new shop in the city. With the aim of creating a sense of discovery for customers, the shop’s interior draws inspiration from the function and layout of galleries. “We wanted to find a way to conceive spaces as though they were a museum,” says Iñigo Palazón del Pino, Estudio Diir’s co-founder. “Every design decision was made to make the in-store experience unique. From the beginning of the visit, a customer takes a tour of a space that has a lot to tell. In this way, the user enters the universe of the brand and gets to know its main values.”

Image: David Zarzoso
Image: David Zarzoso

To do this, Palazón and his team divided the shop into two sections. The first is a rectangular room that aims to entice passers-by with an interactive screen showcasing products and shelving displaying the brand’s smart leather brogues and boots like artefacts in a gallery. Once their curiosity is piqued, customers are then drawn into a circular second room with a domed ceiling and large, central light, which gently illuminates shelves made from Campaspero limestone and mortar. In stark contrast with the entry room, this section’s curving walls create a feeling of being embraced by the architecture and, therefore, the brand. It’s a smart fit-out that is sure to inspire other retailers that are seeking to excite existing customers and welcome new ones.;

Designer’s note: Changing form, lighting or materiality to create distinct spaces in a shop piques the curiosity of customers, who will be guided through the shop in search of the brand’s story.

Design News / Loyola Marymount University, USA

Setting the scene

Universities catering to film and television students know that high-end facilities, from test studios to student theatres, are essential when it comes to attracting the brightest talent. But if the work of architecture studio Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) is anything to go by, a campus landscape that supports educational discourse is equally important. A case in point is the new, SOM-designed Howard B Fitzpatrick Pavilion, which houses LMU’s School of Film and Television.

Image: SOM / Dave Burkunnamed
Image: SOM / Dave Burkunnamed
Image: SOM / Dave Burkunnamed

Here, SOM created stop-motion, film and camera-directing studios, post-production and animation labs, and an intimate 80-seat theatre. But the box-office draw is a semi-transparent brise-soleil that shades outdoor spaces and seating. Created in consultation with students and faculty, the result is a sunny, open-air social space that allows those working at or attending the school to collaborate and share ideas before putting them to the test in the state-of-the-art facilities. The hope is that by encouraging interaction here, the next generation of producers and directors will trade ideas and build their own professional networks.

“It is always invigorating to collaborate with LMU’s leadership, faculty, staff and campus at large,” says Carlos Madrid III, SOM’s senior associate principal. “The design is a flexible, technology-driven facility that prioritises the social experience on campus.”

Words with... / Tatiana Bilbao, Mexico

Market pressures

Since establishing her namesake studio in 2004, Mexican architect and academic Tatiana Bilbao has become one of her country’s defining voices in design, working as a professor at Yale University and completing sustainable, social-housing and cultural projects around the world. To find out more about her work, we spoke to Bilbao on Monocle On Design.

Image: Rodrigo Navarro

How did you start your own practice?
After design school, I was invited to work for the minister of social housing and urban development in Mexico City. I was thrilled because the domestic environment is the most important unit that provides us with protection and inspiration for life. Once I began working there, I realised that within the government all of the political, economic and financial interests collide with what people really need. Paradoxically, I realised that it was easier to create public spaces while working in the private sector. So I started my studio to be able to improve the situation in the city. We invest a lot of time in policy, pushing and advancing conversations with people involved in institutional projects. For example, we took part in a programme reconstructing houses that were torn down by earthquakes.

How has Mexico’s architecture scene changed since you started working?
Public space and housing in Mexico City has completely surrendered to market forces. Even services that the city used to run, such as rubbish collection, gardening and street cleaning, were handed over to private entities through sponsorships or contracts. Security issues have also become uncontrollable because of the government’s lack of capacity. So, rather than going to a park, people visit shopping malls because they’re safer. The same has happened with social housing. The land has become so expensive and there’s no more room for affordable ways of living in the centre of cities.

How have these factors informed your practice?
Today our existence is dependent on production. If we don’t have money, we cannot exist. For that to continue, we would have to exploit everything: the planet, society and people. As a studio, we have been trying to subvert this idea and create buildings that are not there to produce or make people more efficient but to hold bodies and recognise the labour that is done in those spaces.

For more from Bilbao, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Alessi Serving Trolley, Italy

Happy cart

Contrarian Italian designer Enzo Mari, who rose to prominence in the 1960s, wasn’t initially eager to work with Alessi. An ardent communist and critic of the commercial design industry, Mari for years turned down the upscale homeware-maker’s proposals for collaboration. It was only in 1989, when its then CEO, Alberto Alessi, was decorating his home in a project dubbed La Casa della Felicità (House of Happiness) that Mari obliged by creating the Standard, a cheerful serving trolley with two levels and three robust wheels.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Made from lacquered aluminium and smoked glass, the Standard became part of Alessi’s collection. But since going out of production, the cart has become a collectable item that sells for far-from-standard prices. It’s an outcome that the egalitarian Mari, who passed away in 2020, would have detested. For the sake of the designer’s political principles – and to make many more houses happy – Alessi should bring it back.

Around The House / Bronto tableware, Sweden

Dine in colour

When Swedish furniture and homeware brand Hem decided to launch its debut range of tableware, it called on leading design talent from around the world. That included Supergroup, the London-based studio led by illustrator John Booth and ceramicist Ian McIntyre, which had already collaborated with Hem on whimsical, flower-shaped ceramic table centrepieces in 2019. That work inspired this colourful and chunky new collection of thick-rimmed mugs, espresso cups and dinner plates. These joyful and vibrant pieces will liven up even the most monochrome of mealtimes.

Image: Erik Wåhlström
Image: Erik Wåhlström

In The Picture / ‘Civitas São Paulo’, Brazil

Modernist monuments

The architectural quality of cities is often defined by a particular era when it grew rapidly. For São Paulo, that was the mid-20th century, when its population boomed and Brazil’s starchitects built smart (and sometimes stark) structures across the metropolis. Monade, an independent research and publishing platform founded by architects, seeks to document the aesthetic of that era with a new book, Civitas São Paulo. Over about 350 pages, it paints a portrait of the city’s modernist heritage by documenting 19 stunning mid-century buildings.

Image: Michael Bodiam
Image: Michael Bodiam
Image: Michael Bodiam
Image: Michael Bodiam

Written and edited by Lisbon-based architect and modernist aficionado João Carmo Simões, Civitas São Paulo explores monumental works by the likes of Oscar Niemeyer and Paulo Mendes da Rocha; original images in muted colours or black and white sit alongside text analysing the projects. The effect is reflective as the book respectfully pays tribute to some of the city’s most important works.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00