Striking a chord - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 5/4/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Luis Ferraz

Scaling up

This week, we drop by Noma’s pop-up restaurant in Kyoto, check in to an innovative hotel and music space in Porto (pictured) and learn from Italian architect Carlo Ratti why cities are both a problem facing humanity – and its solution. But first, Nic Monisse on how bigger, better teams can help to address the complexity of modern problems.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

In cahoots

“The projects that we’re handling today are more complex, so they require a bigger, more diverse set of skills,” says Swiss designer Yves Béhar, founder of San Francisco-based industrial design firm Fuseproject. The studio, which recently acquired Portuguese digital design agency Mindshaker, is known for projects that skilfully combine traditional aesthetics with new materials and technology, whether it’s an updated Kodak Super 8 film camera or modernised branding for Swiss drinks company Rivella.

Mindshaker, says Béhar, is a natural fit with his team. “Having such technical ability in-house affects many parts of our business,” he says. “It’s allowing us to tackle more complexity in our work.” The move points to a broader trend in the design industry, with the top architects, furniture designers and industrial designers – from Snøhetta and UNStudio to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – having multidisciplinary teams.

Of course, it’s not a new concept. The best-known mid-20th-century architects, such as Arne Jacobsen, sought to create total designs, spanning everything from a building’s structure to the cutlery used inside it. Yet it could now be an essential part of contemporary design practice. If you’re a developer who wants to commission an architecture firm, selecting one that has furniture-makers and landscape designers on its staff would certainly make delivery more cohesive; if you’re on the lookout for an exhibition designer, it makes sense to pick a team that can also work on the graphics and the accompanying monograph. The question then becomes how to make the right additions to a design team. As always, it’s not just about the portfolio but about the people behind it. “We were looking for great skills,” says Béhar. “But we had lots of fun when we visited Mindshaker. They’re very talented and personable – and they all go surfing together after work.”

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

Design News / Noma Kyoto, Japan

North-east passage

Though Noma has announced plans to close its Copenhagen restaurant next year, the team has been powering ahead with its pop-up locations, recently collaborating with Ace Hotel Kyoto to transform its main restaurant space for a residency. Copenhagen-based practice OEO Studio was commissioned to design the interiors, working closely with Noma’s stylist, Christine Rudolph. The result is a space that brings the restaurant’s signature culinary vision to life but is also infused with Japanese tradition: a warm and tactile interior with dimmed lighting, soft acoustics and an earthy palette of colours.

Image: Tanaka Kotaro
Image: Tanaka Kotaro
Image: Tanaka Kotaro

The interiors of Noma Kyoto, which runs until 20 May, also offer unexpected design twists, such as coloured tatami mats used as acoustic wall screens and room dividers, and architectural bamboo structures hung from the ceiling to zone the space and heighten the sense of intimacy. For this, OEO Studio worked closely with a maker of tenugui (traditional hand towels) and Copenhagen-based Natural Material Studio to evoke an underwater kelp forest in the main dining area. Other bespoke design objects include pendant lights made from compressed algae, created by Danish designer Jonas Edvard. OEO Studio has conjured a delectable recipe that perfectly melds the flavours of Scandinavia and Japan.

The Project / Mouco hotel, Portugal

Striking a chord

Housed in a former electrical components factory close to Porto’s Campanhã Station, Mouco is a smart renovation by Porto-based practice Arquitectos Aliados. The hotel, which offers 62 rooms and suites, is characterised by a restrained natural palette of concrete, lime mortar, wood and brick, which helps to create a warm, soothing environment. Meanwhile, a garden, pool and outdoor seating bring in elements of the outside.

Image: Luis Ferraz
Image: Luis Ferraz

With its bar, Portuguese restaurant, concert hall and music library that holds more than 600 records curated by artists who have connections to the city, the hotel provides a welcoming environment for both guests and Porto residents. “The project was always focused on opening the former factory to the city,” says Mouco’s co-founder and co-owner Ramón Rodriguez. It’s a reminder of what the best hospitality venues do: cater to the needs of visitors and the community alike.

Words with... / Carlo Ratti, USA

Second nature

Rapid urbanisation is one of the issues at the core of the work of Italian architect Carlo Ratti, who is the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab. “Cities are both the problem and the potential solution for the challenges that we face,” he says. Here, he tells us how architects can build better.

Image: Stephanie Fuessenich

Your work is currently focused on the intersection of nature-based solutions and technology, and how it can help to build a better world. How can the two complement each other?
We need to bring them closer together. On the one hand, you have nature – trees, greening and so on – in the artificial, built environment. On the other, we can use artificial intelligence and other technology as ways to give buildings the ability to respond in a dynamic way [to changes in the environment], much like living beings.

How can we keep some of the traditional ways we live in urban environments while incorporating new technology?
If you look back at the 20th century and cities that were built from scratch – Brasília, for example, or Chandigarh in India – the key thing missing in many of these places was a feedback loop. Nature works through feedback loops and they’re important for making a city because you will make mistakes and you constantly have to test things and see what works and what doesn’t.

When it comes to using new technology, do we need to build in a way that allows for some trial and error?
Yes. Sometimes architects think that the final solution is fixed but the reality is that they might have missed a few things.

For more from Carlo Ratti, pick up a copy of Monocle’s April issue.

From The Archive / MVS Chaise, The Netherlands

Past perfect

What kind of chair is fit for a new millennium? Belgian designer Maarten Van Severen’s answer – a sleek lounger that Swiss furniture company Vitra put into production in 2000 – was a chaise longue that teeters a little by design but is comfortable in any position. Simply by shifting their weight, someone reclining on the one-legged chair can tip forwards into a sitting position, with the footrest touching the ground, for an effortless transition between napping and reading.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The discontinued MVS Chaise was part of Van Severen’s nine-year collaboration with Vitra, which ended with the designer’s death in 2005. Like many of his creations for the company, the lounger makes innovative use of polyurethane foam, a material that gives way just the right amount to the weight of the sitter. Though the seat is only as thick as the tubular steel base that it balances on, it’s astonishingly comfortable. The millennium might already be in its third decade but, in the case of the MVS Chaise, Vitra should consider bringing back the Noughties.

Around The House / Reframed bed, Denmark

Fine lines

Since it was founded in 2021, Danish bed-maker Reframed has been finishing its aluminium products in bright powder coats. Its newest release, however, takes its trademark bed design – with tension locks built into the frame, ensuring that it can be quickly assembled with no loose screws – back to basics.

Image: ReFrames
Image: ReFrames
Image: ReFrames

Made from 82 per cent post-consumer recycled aluminium by Hydro (whose clients include Rolls-Royce), the lightweight frames are left with marks from the extrusion and machining process, making a feature of the slight imperfections in the bed’s surface. “[This process] celebrates the linear texture of the lines formed on the surfaces of the aluminium profiles during the extrusion process,” says designer Tim Rundle. “It felt like the most honest finish we could use.” As with most things in the bedroom, it’s good to be honest.

In The Picture / ‘Concevoir à grande échelle’

Thinking big

The architectural landscape of cities was once dominated by palaces and places of worship. Over the past century, however, such structures have been replaced in significance by large-scale commercial and cultural buildings, from stadiums to company headquarters and museums. It’s a shift that architect and researcher Mathieu Mercuriali documents in his book Concevoir à grande échelle (“Design at Scale”).

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

Published by design specialists Éditions B42 with the support of the French Ministry of Culture, the Swiss National Science Foundation and others, the book includes diagrams, exhibition posters, technical drawings and archival photos of significant projects. Providing a wide variety of information on works such as the Gare de Lyon, Parisian department store Samaritaine and Charles de Gaulle airport, Mercuriali has assembled case studies of quality structures in the hope that architects and developers can use them to create buildings that can serve as new icons for cities.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00