Wednesday 27 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 27/9/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

On top form

This week, we treat ourselves to an elevated view of New York on the extension to The High Line, map out the future of craft traditions with Singaporean designer and curator Hans Tan and look back at the life of the German-American founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius. But first, here’s Gregory Scruggs on yet another relocation by The School of Architecture from its Arcosanti desert campus (pictured) to new digs in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Opinion / Gregory Scruggs

Just deserts

The School of Architecture (TSOA), one of the most celebrated design institutions in the US, has moved once again. Earlier this month, students started the new term at the Cattle Track Arts Compound in Scottsdale, Arizona, having relocated from the experimental city of Arcosanti. Founded by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932, the design school has been nomadic for three years after almost closing down in 2020, when an accreditation issue caused it to split from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. This led to the school’s departure from its original Unesco-designated Taliesin West campus.

In an era of computer-aided architecture, TSOA prizes hands-on learning. Coursework culminates in a design-build thesis in which students construct their own shelter. I visited TSOA recently for Monocle’s The Forecast and was impressed by the freethinking students working with natural materials in the vastness of the desert landscape. After the acrimonious break from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, there was a certain poetry to TSOA landing at Arcosanti, which was conceived by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri. He too was a Wright disciple who broke away from the master.

Arcosanti is about an hour’s drive north from bustling Phoenix but it feels much further. The sense of remoteness and isolation contributed to the esprit de corps among the small but dedicated coterie of students who had chosen to buck a traditional architectural education and pursue unconventional dreams amid the dunes. The school’s educational approach works: under the egalitarian guidance of TSOA’s dean, Stephanie Lin, the principal of architecture studio Present Forms, graduates have forged successful careers by either joining prestigious firms or starting their own. While Scottsdale’s location will make it easier for guest lecturers to drop in, the setting also lacks some of the edgy character that gave TSOA its cachet. The school would be wise to ensure that its incoming class still gets a healthy dose of wild desert air.

Gregory Scruggs is a writer and regular contributor to ‘Monocle on Design’. For more on Arcosanti, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’.

Design News / Jørn Utzon, Spain & Australia

Grand visions

Denmark’s Utzon Center organised a dinner in Mallorca last week to mark two celebrated buildings reaching their half-centuries: the iconic Sydney Opera House and Can Lis (pictured), a modest single-storey house featuring a series of rooms and loggias on a cliff overlooking the Balearic Sea. Both are the work of Danish architect Jørn Utzon. Though the buildings are on vastly different scales, they share an emotional connection. In 1966, frustrated by the constraints and criticism that he was facing in Sydney, Utzon resigned from the opera house project (his work on the venue was later recognised when he was asked to design updates to its interior).

Image: Iwan Baan, Torben Eskerod
Image: Iwan Baan, Torben Eskerod
Image: Iwan Baan, Torben Eskerod

Back in Europe, Utzon made a brief stop in Mallorca and was enchanted – so much so that he later bought the plot of land that Can Lis, named after his wife, sits on today. The house was to be a refuge (and it was, until people on the coastal path started poking their heads in). The relative simplicity of its construction was perhaps soothing for the architect after the complexities of the opera house. There’s an elegant link between the two buildings in their use of tiled surfaces – on the “sails” in Sydney; on the seating and tables in Mallorca. Both are also held in high regard by architects. The minimally adorned Can Lis, with its use of local stone, is often named as one of the world’s greatest examples of domestic architecture. The dinner marked not just the half-century of the buildings but a moment when Utzon’s skills, foresight and bravery are being lauded by a new generation of architects.

The Project / Moynihan Connector, USA

On the line

New York hit its stride this month as it welcomed US Open tennis fans, fashion-week stylists and UN General Assembly diplomats. Moynihan Train Hall, the much-needed addition to Manhattan’s decrepit Pennsylvania Station, was bustling as a result – as was The High Line, whose new stretch connects to it.

Image: SOM
Image: SOM
Image: SOM

The High Line is the design intervention that launched myriad linear parks. While some imitators have improved upon its flaws – such as Washington’s 11th Street Bridge Park, with its thoughtful approach to community inclusion – the original is still the best. Landscape architecture studio Field Operations remains at the top of its game with the new addition, dubbed the Moynihan Connector, working with the train hall’s architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), to assemble two bridges. The first features The High Line’s deepest soil beds, filling the dense setting with greenery. The second is a striking 80-metre-long bridge that SOM describes as “an immersive timber experience”. The above-street-level perspective is just as captivating as it was when The High Line’s first section opened in 2009.

For more essential design news and insights, pick up a copy of Monocle’s October issue, which is out now.

Words with... / Hans Tan, Singapore

Material decisions

Singaporean designer and curator Hans Tan is a professor of industrial design at the National University of Singapore and the founder of Hans Tan Studio. Much of his work explores how modern design processes can interact with heritage materials, such as Chinese porcelain and batik. His pieces have been exhibited around the world and are held in the collections of institutions including Hong Kong’s M+ and New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Tan was an exhibitor and speaker at this year’s Find – Design Fair Asia in Singapore, which was part of Singapore Design Week, organised by Design Singapore Council, and wrapped up last week.

You often work with Singaporean and Chinese heritage objects. Why do these pieces interest you?
Every material has a narrative, meaning, mood or atmosphere behind it, even if it’s just a slab of concrete. Being trained as an industrial designer, I have always been interested in the materiality of things and how I can manipulate and play around with them. At the same time, I have always been interested in the language of objects and how we interpret meanings and narratives from them.

How do you distinguish between design, art and craft?
They’re all in the same continuum and I shift in and out of each depending on what I’m doing. My background predisposes me to understand materials in a more industrial, mass-production-oriented way, so I appreciate that part of design. At the same time, craft is important. I’m curious how you can reinterpret mass-production techniques and turn them into something that’s more craft-like, that adds and reflects character – not just of the material but also of the maker. I see art as a medium of communication. So, in my works, though I deal with materiality, I’m always interested in what the piece says.

How has Singapore’s design scene changed since your career began?
It’s gone through many, many changes. One of the biggest that I have seen is how design is proliferating into different industries. For example, almost every bank, institution, government department and organisation in Singapore has a design team working on a range of projects, from user experience to products. I’m also excited because young people are interested in craft. I see ceramic studios popping up and people leaving their highly paid jobs to do craft and doing it really well. They go to Japan or Taiwan to complete an apprenticeship and acquire these skills and then come back and interpret them in their own way.

For more from Find – Design Fair Asia and other events, tune in to Monocle on Design.

Image: Anje Jager

From the Archive / Wright Accessories bun warmer

Breaking bread

In the 1930s designer couple Russel and Mary Wright set out to reinvent US tableware, including the bun warmer. The contraption, which is seldom seen today, is simple: pour a dash of water in the bottom dish, put some day-old bread in the wire insert and your baked goods will turn warm and soft after just a few minutes on the stove. The Wrights’ version is shaped like a sphere and made from aluminium with a cane handle. With its eye-catching design, it could take pride of place on a dinner table.

The bun warmer was part of the Wrights’ first commercial series of tableware, called Informal Serving Accessories. With their streamlined dining sets and bestselling housekeeping manuals, the industrial designers helped to popularise the idea that entertaining at home can be done with little effort and expense. We think that the bun warmer is due a revival – after all, even at the most casual dinner party, bread is always best served warm.

Around the House / Atelier 365 X Valerie Objects

Objects of desire

Laura Greindl, the Brussels-based founder of cabinet-making school and furniture workshop Atelier 365, champions functional, timeless design. Now, she has collaborated with Belgian design label Valerie Objects on a range of furniture made from solid walnut. Every piece in the collection – a table, a stool, a shelf and a bench, available in two sizes – celebrates the wood, with simple lines and precise hand-cut joints made using chisels and Japanese dozuki handsaws.

Image: SISKA
Image: SISKA

While the joinery gives the pieces a Japanese feel, Greindl’s design is neither Eastern nor Western but simply centred on good craftsmanship. The stool illustrates this best: decidedly unfussy in its shape, the three-legged piece is elevated by its clean lines, rich colour and meticulous joinery.;

In the Picture / ‘Walter Gropius’, Germany

Haus master

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund, co-authors of Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain, have joined forces again for a visual biography of Walter Gropius, the German-American founder of the Bauhaus. Published by Phaidon, the hefty hardback opens with Gropius’s life in Germany, where he lived through the First World War, married Alma Mahler and established his art school. The architect left Nazi Germany in 1933; the book shifts to his life in exile in London and his subsequent move to the US in 1937, where he lived and worked until his death in 1969. Bringing together more than 375 illustrations, letters, telegrams, sketches, drawings, photographs, posters and brochures, it presents Gropius both as a key figure of 20th-century architecture and a generous man who sought to improve the lives of his peers.

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


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