Wednesday 15 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 15/3/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Keeping it simple

In design, it often pays to focus on what’s most essential – as Axor’s matte-white bathroom fittings and the mid-20th-century Tubino lamp make clear. We survey the latest innovations on show at ISH trade fair in Frankfurt (pictured), before dropping by a retrospective on the work of pioneering US painter Alice Neel in London. But first, here’s Nic Monisse on how to make architecture work for one and all…

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Ablution solutions

Spread across seven halls at Messe Frankfurt, ISH is the leading international trade fair for heating, cooling, bathroom and water solutions. Here, until Friday, companies such as Duravit, Hansgrohe, Laufen, Roca, Toto and Vitra will be displaying their latest wares to an estimated audience of 190,000 that includes thousands of developers, architects and designers. But why – unless you’re renovating a home or building hotels – should you care about such an event? Well, because the innovations on show here will have far-reaching effects on all of our lives.

The bathroom is a space where good design is essential – a fact that becomes obvious when one looks at the homes of ageing friends and family. It’s hard to find smart, attractive products that cater to all ages and abilities so bathrooms often include ugly handrails and ungainly toilet seats. One of the ways that brands at ISH and beyond, including Spain’s Roca, are tackling this problem is through initiatives such as Clear Code Architecture (CCA).

CCA seeks to help designers create spaces for everyone by providing objective criteria, from accessibility to visibility, against which they can mark their work. Significantly, Roca isn’t just applying these principles but also ensuring that its products still look stylish: think bathroom benches that are elevated to allow wheelchair access, while also creating a space that feels light and airy. There are also smart toilets that can be operated with a simple and intuitive remote. “It’s about creating products offering universal access for everyone that still look amazing,” says Jordi Corral, head of global innovation at Roca.

It’s an outlook that mirrors that of urbanist Jane Jacobs, who believed that cities are only successful when they’re made for everyone, by everyone. Perhaps the same could and should be said of bathrooms everywhere – and CCA and the innovations on show at ISH could help us get there.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Project / ‘Montesino’, Dominican Republic

Southern exposure

Latin American design has long been overshadowed by the work of European and North American makers. If global design fairs are any indication, however, the tide could be turning. Those who want to keep their finger on the pulse should check out Montesino, Paris-based Galerie Philia’s new pop-up exhibition at Design Week República Dominicana in Santo Domingo. The show presents furniture, lighting, textiles and objets d’art created by contemporary Mexican, Dominican, Argentinian, Peruvian and Venezuelan designers.

Image: Maison Mouton Noir / Galerie Philia
Image: Maison Mouton Noir / Galerie Philia
Image: Maison Mouton Noir / Galerie Philia

Montesino, which runs until Sunday, highlights designers from Mexico and the Dominican Republic in particular. Many of the pieces showcased here, from the sculptural furniture of Mexico’s Manu Bañó to the delicate ceramic objects of Santo Domingo-based Casa Alfarera, aim to preserve the artisanal heritage of their countries.

While the objects on display are impressive, the exhibition’s location is in itself worth visiting. The Monumento a Fray António de Montesinos was a gift from the Mexican government to the Dominican Republic to commemorate a Spanish Dominican friar who defended the rights of the region’s indigenous people. It makes for a charged and thought-provoking setting in which to view these works.

Design News / Axor at ISH, Germany

White stuff

Despite the vastness of Axor’s structure inside Messe Frankfurt, its display is a reminder that when it comes to bathrooms, it’s often best to keep things simple. Among the Black Forest-based brand’s latest wares are sleek new baths from Philippe Starck and a fresh iteration of the Barber Osgerby-designed Axor One fixtures in matte white (pictured top).

Image: Axor
Image: Axor
Image: Axor

“With Axor One, we’ve taken what’s necessary and made it into the most refined product that we possibly could,” says Jay Osgerby, co-founder of the London-based studio. “The matte-white finish exemplifies this in its purity, simplicity and calmness.” Axor One’s sleek shower fittings and taps perfectly capture this sense of clarity – something that the trade halls at Messe Frankfurt, with its bustling crowds, will never be able to offer.

Words with... / Inma Bermúdez, Spain

Tapping ideas

With its new collaboration with Studio Inma Bermúdez, Spanish bathroom company Roca lives up to its reputation for smart, playful products. The Nu collection was designed by the Valencia-based practice and launched at ISH. It consists of a set of faucets offering a choice of three tap types (a dome, a cylinder and a pin handle) in six colourways, allowing you to play with form and colour in the design of your bathroom. To find out more about the collection, we spoke to Inma Bermúdez in the lead-up to ISH.

Can you tell us about the Nu collection?
The name means “naked” in French and we wanted to reflect that by going back to basics in terms of form. We wanted to make it very functional and intuitive but designing a faucet is quite complex because there are so many limitations, from the inside components to the cartridge – these have to work all over the world. Despite this, we have created a unique product that’s very different from other taps on the market. I’m very happy with it.

How do you create unique projects?
Designers are trained to look at things with a different eye: you look at things all day, every day. So when you sit down in your studio, pick up a pencil and start drawing, you already have a lot of things on your mind and your task becomes simply to find what would make your product different. It becomes about identifying something original that works within all of the restrictions that you have, from production methods and materials to trends.

How did you achieve this with Roca?
It’s a big company so it could have said no but it trusted us and said, “Let’s go for it.” The colours and production, especially of the dome tap, were complex. But if you want to do something different as a designer, you have to be willing to push people to the limit.

For more from ISH and Inma Bermúdez, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Tubino light, Italy

Bright idea

It might come as a surprise that this striking, contemporary-looking light was first made in 1949. When the first fluorescent tubes became commercially available, Italian brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni decided to use them as a starting point for a design. The result was the Tubino (Italian for “little tube”), a skinny steel lamp bent into shape like an opened paperclip.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The Tubino was first produced by Italian company Arredoluce, then Flos and later the UK homeware brand Habitat; it was finally discontinued in the 2000s. It’s worth remembering that the Castiglioni brothers chose to strip the light to its bare essentials not because they thought that it looked modern but because they wanted to lower manufacturing costs and make energy-saving fluorescent lights accessible to all. Today, LEDs have made light bulbs cheaper than ever but good design comes at more of a premium. To fix that, an affordable remake of the Tubino would be a welcome start.

Around The House / Vitrium, Germany

Clean living

In the bustling halls of the ISH trade fair, Hornberg-based bathroom manufacturer Duravit has launched a number of new collections. Our pick is Vitrium, a range conceived by German industrial designer Christian Werner to help make bathing rituals more appealing to the senses and that promises to make your bathroom your “favourite room”. “For me, it’s a place of comfort and refuge,” says Werner.

Image: Christian Werner

Vitrium features round countertop sinks cast in durable materials and sleek bathroom furniture with metal frames and smoky glass fronts. Designed with smaller bathrooms in mind, the collection’s shallow cabinets come in a range of sizes, allowing them to fit a variety of spaces. Round or rectangular LED-equipped mirrors bring a warm glow. “It’s timelessly modern and unadorned,” says Werner. “That’s the look that I wanted for my concept.”;

In The Picture / ‘Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle’, UK

Credit where its due

At London’s brutalist Barbican Centre, a new retrospective celebrates the life and work of pioneering (yet often overlooked) US painter Alice Neel. Whether in Havana in the 1920s or New York’s Spanish Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s, Neel candidly probed the ideas of seeing and being seen in daring work that showed little deference to the fashions or avant-garde art movements of her time.

Image: Ed Park
Image: Ed Park
Image: Ed Park

To help bring it all to life, the curators of Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle and architects Gatti Routh Rhodes collaborated with London-based graphic design studio Wolfe Hall to present the artworks in muted yet joyous settings. They took inspiration from domestic environments as Neel never worked in a dedicated studio. Wolfe Hall has screen-printed section text onto the gallery walls to evoke a hand-crafted feel; meanwhile, the final exhibition space doubles as a reading room with comfortable seats and a plant from the Barbican conservatory, where visitors can peruse books on Neel and her sitters. This is complemented by thoughtful displays that subtly play with texture and complement the paintings. The result is a reminder of the importance of good exhibition design and its ability to enhance the works on show.;


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00