Wednesday. 25/1/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Ema Peter

In the thick of it

This week we visit a rural Canadian home that complements its environment (pictured) and Swedish gallery Modernity’s new London outpost. Plus: church chairs from Grundtvigs Kirke in Copenhagen, designer Malene Hvidt and a new sideboard by Mor. First, Grace Charlton takes a trip to the gallery.

Opinion / Grace Charlton

Easy to navigate

Designing a gallery is no easy task. Take California’s newly opened Orange County Museum of Art, for instance. While the overall design is striking, it has been slammed for structural defects, undetectable entrances and a befuddling layout. Even London’s famed V&A museum has confusing wayfinding; I dread to think about how many times I have asked staff for directions despite having been a member of the museum for the past four years. All of this highlights the fact that any museum and gallery experience can be elevated by sleek, purposeful architecture as much as it can be thwarted by a confusing network of dimly lit corridors.

For how to do it well, turn to the newly unveiled Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) expansion. Visiting this three-storey glassy marvel by Japanese architecture firm SANAA was an experience to reaffirm the art of, well, design intended for art. Dubbed the “North Building”, the new structure slopes with the topography of the hill on which it sits, a stark contrast to AGNSW’s original Victorian sandstone structure nearby. And while the North Building melds into the city’s landscape, user experience is front and centre: an outdoor area with an elevated canopy is home to large-scale installations and a welcome desk to greet visitors. A café is also on hand to serve flat whites (what else?) and pastries. An atrium inside holds a smart gift shop, sectioned off by orange-hued translucent walls and filled with books, design objects and locally crafted goods. From this central hub, the flow of exhibitions across the spacious and light-flooded levels feels organic and easy to navigate.

Despite the 10 years and AU$344m (€222m) needed to complete this expansion, the investment is worth every Aussie cent. As local and interstate visitors feel renewed enthusiasm for the country’s art and international tourists discover the riches contained within, this expansion has become a valuable and stylish addition to Sydney’s cultural scene; one that is excelling in its purpose while keeping navigable design and the visitor’s experience as its guiding principles.

Grace Charlton is a writer at Monocle and a regular contributor to ‘Monocle On Design’.

Design News / Modernity gallery, UK

On the home front

The streets around London’s Sloane Square have, for decades, housed some of London’s finest art, furniture and design galleries – and yesterday it welcomed its newest outfit: Modernity on Pimlico Road. It’s the first permanent space in London for the Stockholm-based design gallery, which specialises in mid-century Nordic furniture, ceramics, glass, lighting and jewellery.

Located in a warehouse-like space in a former timber storage facility in Newson’s Yard, the new gallery plays off the structure’s mid-19th-century architecture to create an appropriate feeling of modernity. “It was important for us to think about how the space interacts with our collection and how our clients live with collectable design,” says Modernity’s UK director Sebastien Holt. “We have kept the Victorian-era brickwork and structural steel beams exposed while introducing oak flooring to capture the aesthetic of a modern London home.” The result is a domestic-feeling gallery that provides a perfect setting for the works on display, allowing visitors to imagine how the Hans Wegner’s, Finn Juhl’s and Arne Jacobson’s shown here might fit into their own home.

The Project / Camera House, Canada

Framed by the landscape

A good country home in a rural location should enhance the landscape it’s set in. Rather than a dramatic cut-and-fill approach that sees builders flatten large patches of land to make way for new structures, architects should look to work with the site. This new weekend home by Canadian practice Leckie Studio does just that. Set on a forested site in British Columbia’s Pemberton Valley (a two-hour drive from Vancouver), the structure works with the slope of the site, with bedroom windows facing uphill to provide privacy and living spaces facing downhill to provide sweeping views of the verdant landscape. There’s also a swimming pool and detached workshop.

Image: Ema Peter
Image: Ema Peter

Given the influence that the site’s environment has had on the placement of the structure, the building is clad in natural, flat sawn and brushed western red cedar, an environmentally friendly material. Generous windows and skylights, which are oriented to avoid heat gain from direct sunlight, flood the home with natural light. The result is a house that appears to recede into the surrounding forest, making it perfectly appropriate for its owners, who commissioned the architects to create a place to retreat from urban life.

Designer’s note: While it might make digging foundations more challenging and expensive, building into a sloping site preserves existing vegetation and creates structures that make the most of dramatic landscapes – a worthwhile investment in the long run.

Words with... / Malene Hvidt, Denmark

Respect your elders

Malene Hvidt is a partner at architecture practice Spacon & X. The Copenhagen-based designer comes from a rich tradition of design: her grandfather was Peter Hvidt, one of the founders of pioneering Danish furniture company Hvidt & Mølgaard. Since 2016 Hvidt has been playing a part in the revival of her grandfather’s brand, which is now producing archive designs in partnership with Denmark’s &Tradition. She shares the story behind the brand’s rebirth.

Image: Rozette

Tell us about the Hvidt & Mølgaard revival.
The idea was in the back of our minds for a long time. Different furniture companies were contacting my father about the rights to the designs but I wasn’t sure whether we should reinvent the story without the founders. What if it’s not the same quality? And which would be the right company to work with? In 2016, &Tradition contacted us about the re-edition of the 1959 X lounge chair. After the first meetings with them, we saw how much respect they had for Hvidt & Mølgaard and its heritage. Their classics expert, Henrik Lund-Larsen, who was a big part of this project, probably knew more about my grandfather’s history than I did. For the first time, it felt right for us to pass on these drawings to somebody to collaborate with because we found people who valued tradition, storytelling and craftsmanship.

What is your aim with the company moving forward?
Our ambition is different from starting a new company because it’s set in the framework of our heritage and the existing designs. We have hundreds of drawings of designs that weren’t realised, so we invest a lot of time in studying the archives to understand the design process and find the most recent drawing for each piece. We haven’t talked about making something new but we know it is possible. Now we have established a long-lasting relationship with &Tradition, who knows in what direction our collaboration will go? Maybe it will take us into new designs or maybe we will keep it within what we can find in the archives.

How do you balance your family’s heritage with a forward-looking approach?
There is no need to modernise the original designs because they are iconic and reflective of the times they were made in. They are also timeless. So it is about respecting tradition while putting it into a new context. For instance, we are introducing new fabrics, which is a nice way to collaborate with contemporary designers.

For more from Malene Hvidt, pick up a copy of ‘The Entrepreneurs’ and listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Kirkestol, Denmark

Religious experience

Monocle’s February issue is all about places that work. One such spot is Grundtvigs Kirke, a cathedral in Copenhagen that was built between 1921 and 1940. The success of the project was a family affair: after architect Peder Jensen-Klint died in 1930, his son Kaare Klint took charge of construction. Once the last of the bricks had been laid (there are about five million), Klint created the interiors, lining the nave with simple beech chairs of his own design.

Illustration: Anje Jager

Made from beechwood and paper cord, the Kirkestol, or Church Chair, is modelled on chairs found in Central European parishes. Klint’s unpretentious design was an innovation because he was the first to use light, freestanding chairs instead of benches in a Danish church. “The rows of chairs with weaved seating create a completely different experience when you enter,” says Copenhagen-based architect Marie-Louise Høstbo. “It is quite outstanding.”

Around The House / Front, Portugal

By your side

Portuguese design brand Mor is dedicated to creating elegant, warm and practical objects. It’s an ethos embodied in Front, a sideboard designed by Porto native Pedro Sottomayor, and the newest addition to Mor’s collection. Drawing on the brand’s philosophy, Sottomayor has managed to merge sophistication and simplicity with clean lines and a form that allows Front to be used as a dining-table extension, a stand-alone hallway table or a small office desk. Available in three sizes and three types of wood – ash, oak and walnut – Front will complement any interior with its simple and pure character.

Image: Nuno Sousa Dias/ Susana Machado
Image: Nuno Sousa Dias/ Susana Machado

In The Picture / ‘Reclaimed’, Australia

Once more with feeling

“Construction waste is a huge contributor to landfill,” says Penny Craswell, author of Reclaimed: New Homes from Old Materials, published by Thames & Hudson Australia. “It’s easy to feel powerless about the climate crisis when you’re just one person but everyone can do something to help. I wanted to show that there are plenty of options for people who want to reuse materials rather than always buying them new – and that the results are often unique and beautiful.”

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

Reclaimed shows a global mix of 24 delightful houses and apartments, from a barn-inspired property built with reclaimed bricks to an Edwardian house with recycled benchtops and cabinets made from plastic items such as chopping boards and bottle tops. Craswell hopes that these projects will inspire interior designers and architects to work a little harder to seek out reclaimed or recycled materials. “The book is about offering inspiration,” she says. “Part of using reclaimed materials is just stopping at the appropriate moment to reconsider whether it is possible and what materials might be available as an alternative. A little bit of lateral thinking, a little bit of creativity, can make a huge difference.” Such an approach can give new builds a dash of character too.


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