Wednesday 22 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 22/11/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Danko Stjepanovic

Material success

This week, Nic Monisse heads to the Sharjah Architecture Triennial to explore how the city is shining a light on adaptive reuse – and unusual materials. Elsewhere, a Christie’s auction produces some bright sparks. We also meet the Swiss entrepreneur who helped to shape Le Corbusier’s career and learn how to make a style statement on the streets of New York.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Reduce, reuse, adapt

The second edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, a platform for design in Asia and Africa, is now in full swing. Curated by Lagos-based architect Tosin Oshinowo, it examines how a culture of reuse and reappropriation in the Global South can help to deliver more sustainable and resilient buildings across the world. The projects on show are impressive – and so is the setting of the event.

The triennial is spread across several repurposed buildings in Sharjah. Al Qasimiyah School was designed in the 1970s and decommissioned as an educational institution in 2010s; it now serves as the event’s headquarters and main exhibition space. The abandoned Al Jubail Fruit & Vegetable Market (pictured, above), an open-air structure from the same era, is hosting exhibitions in its shady arcade. In the Old Slaughterhouse nearby, you’ll find a showcase by Nairobi-based architecture firm Cave Bureau. All of these structures were made using locally sourced materials and maintain a cool temperature even when exposed to the scorching Emirati elements. Despite these qualities, they were largely forgotten, unable to compete with the city’s shiny, newer buildings that rely on glass, steel and air-conditioning to function.

The decision to give them a new lease of life reinforces the aim of the event. “We want you to ask questions about how we design, build and reduce our carbon footprint,” says Oshinowo on a tour of Al Qasimiyah School. Her statement and the locations of the triennial shows that in many places, especially in the Global South, we have already found ways to build sustainably. It’s a reminder that looking back at simpler solutions from the past is sometimes the best way to build a better future. Not yet convinced? Visit the Sharjah Architecture Triennial before it wraps up in March 2024 and see for yourself.

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

Design news / Andreas Murkudis, Germany

Bright sparks

A pop of colour from Belgium has arrived in the Berlin shopfront of fashion and design retailer Andreas Murkudis. Willem Cole, an artist from Ghent, has teamed up with his longtime friends Hannes Van Severen and Fien Muller of design studio Muller Van Severen for a show that pairs artworks with the duo’s furniture. Muller Van Severen pieces, such as the cobalt-blue Wire C #1 cabinet and seat-cum-shelves Installation S, are dotted around the room. Among them is the studio’s most recent collection, a series of angular vases for Italian ceramics brand Bitossi Ceramiche. On the walls hang Cole’s abstract drawings and mosaics in red, blue and yellow colourways.

Image: Thomas Meyer
Image: Thomas Meyer
Image: Thomas Meyer

The showcase is part of a joint-presentation between the creatives. Van Severen and Muller studied at Ghent’s Sint-Lukas School of Art, where they took a sculpture class that Cole taught. Andreas Murkudis later became one of Muller Van Severen’s first stockists in 2014, with the retailer’s gallery-like retail space providing a more natural setting for the designers’ playful furniture than a typical design shop. “We make functional objects but, for me, they are sculptural,” says Van Severen. “I almost don’t think of myself as a designer.” Playing with transparency, material and light, the distinctive pieces will be catching the eyes of passers-by at 77 Potsdamer Strasse until 13 January.

Fair play / Sharjah Architecture Triennial, UAE

Shifting sands

The Sharjah Architecture Triennial kicked off earlier this month and runs until 10 March 2024. On show are the works of 29 architects, designers and studios from 25 countries across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America. Together, they explore traditions of reuse and circularity in buildings in the Global South, where designers typically work in challenging environmental and socioeconomic conditions.

Image: Danko Stjepanovic
Image: Danko Stjepanovic
Image: Danko Stjepanovic

A highlight of the triennial is an installation by Angolan artist Sandra Poulson. Titled “Dust as an Accidental Gift” (pictured, centre), it references Luanda’s Kikolo Market, a place frequently covered in dust from the surrounding desert. By creating a replica of a market-like space in Sharjah, replete with clothes and other elements made from discarded cardboard and starch, Poulson hopes to remind her fellow designers of the need to account for place-specific environmental factors in their work.

The 3-Minute Corridor pavilion (pictured, top) by Indian design studio Wallmakers also uses dust and sand in its construction. Made from old tyres and filled with desert sand, it shows how unexpected materials can be combined to make surprisingly habitable spaces. The pavilion is well insulated by the rubber and sand, making for a cooling desert hideaway, and provides a perfect spot in which to stop off while on a tour of the triennial.

Image: Reuters

Words with... / Heidi Weber, Switzerland

Chairs and graces

Le Corbusier is one of architecture and design’s most iconic figures. Few people, however, are aware of the crucial role that Swiss entrepreneur Heidi Weber played in his work. Having opened Mezzanin, a furniture gallery in Zürich, in the late 1950s, Weber persuaded Le Corbusier to allow her to relaunch his long-abandoned 1929 furniture line. The collection consisted of the LC 101 reclining chair, the LC 102 Fauteil grand confort, the LC 103 armchair and the LC 104, a serpentine-shaped chaise longue. Weber then commissioned the architect to design what would turn out to be his last building, the Heidi Weber Haus – Centre Le Corbusier in Zürich, which opened to the public in 1967. Weber is the celebrated designer’s last living collaborator.

What gave you the idea of relaunching Le Corbusier’s furniture line?
I thought that his chair designs were remarkable examples of modernism. Many of the customers at my gallery were also interested in acquiring Le Corbusier chairs but the only examples that I could find were in terrible condition. Thonet Frères had done a poor job of manufacturing the original line, which was discontinued in the mid-1930s. But I was convinced that Le Corbusier’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest architects would make his chairs easy to market and also enhance his public stature, something that he was very conscious of.

How did you first contact him?
I met the Swiss architect Willy Boesiger, who was a friend of Le Corbusier’s and had been working with him at his Paris atelier. I told him that I was interested in buying one of Le Corbusier’s oil paintings so Boesiger kindly arranged a meeting with him. I visited him at his cottage in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in August 1957, where I paid CHF10,000 for one of his works of art. Because we had such a nice rapport, I felt confident enough to arrange a second meeting with him the following month to convince him to relaunch his furniture line.

How did Le Corbusier react to your proposal?
At first, he was very reluctant and it took some convincing on my part. He finally gave me his original plans and that was the beginning of our collaboration. We worked very hard on improving his original concepts and it took us about a year to complete the prototypes. I set up a small artisanal factory, where we began producing the new chair series with the help of a team of craftsmen. They prepared the leather and tubular-steel frames that were key to his designs.

As a young entrepreneur, what did you learn from working with Le Corbusier?
He was a genius who hated to waste time and paid very little attention to the business or practical side of things. He was constantly creating, either sketching designs for buildings or spending several hours a day painting. My entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm were exactly what he was searching for in a partner. They gave him a sense of security.

For more interviews with top figures in design, tune in to ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Anje Jager

From the archive / Wall sconces, Germany

Leading lights

A recent Christie’s auction has proved that the market for collectable design is reaching art-world heights – and prices. Modern Reign: Tribute to the Maharajah of Indore was small but significant: the pieces up for grabs once furnished Manik Bagh, a modernist palace in India, designed in the 1930s by Eckart Muthesius. This pair of wall sconces, one of which had been expected to fetch up to €150,000, eventually sold for more than three times as much.

A casual observer might wonder what would justify splashing six figures on a pair of lamps. After all, the sconces are made from a metal alloy rather than silver and the craftsmanship, while exquisite, could be recreated. The value comes from the fact that they lit up what was perhaps the world’s most sumptuous example of Bauhaus architecture, the result of a meeting between a maharajah and a Dessau-inspired architect in Oxford. A piece of design history should not come cheap. Whether the new owner ever dares to switch the lamps on is another matter.

Image: Kevin Frankental

Around the house / Drinks Cabinet, The Netherlands

On fine form

Amsterdam-based furniture brand Lemon has released a new drinks cabinet to celebrate the work of mid-century Italian architect Franca Helg. Designed by the brand’s creative director, Kevin Frankental, the Winston Drinks Cabinet is made from a mixture of walnut and oak wood and features a mirror inside. Frankental admits that the inspiration for the piece, with its irregular, hexagonal form, came from seeing a sideboard designed by Helg and her long-time collaborator Franco Albini. “I was immediately captivated by the form of her design,” he says.

Frankental’s ambition was to create something that would suit a contemporary interior but could also last for generations. “The first version of the cabinet that I designed was for my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday,” he says. “Capturing timelessness was important, as well as an architectural form that had restraint at its heart. The plan is to be making negronis from the cabinet in 20 years’ time.”

In the picture / ‘New York Style’, USA

Urban outfitting

Sydney-based creative Giuseppe Santamaria has been capturing the evolution of street style across the world for more than a decade as part of his photography project “In This Town”. His latest offering, New York Style, focuses on the city that he first fell in love with as a university graduate in 2006. The pictures, which explore the dress sense and attitude of its residents, are accompanied by interviews with the subjects about their favourite “third space”: somewhere that is neither home nor work. The result is a publication that is part fashion chronicle, part guidebook, with a list of recommendations for the best bars, restaurants, cafés, shops and galleries to visit.

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

Published by Smith Street Books, Santamaria’s love letter to New York spans neighbourhoods from the Upper East Side to Williamsburg. “I found myself in Dumbo, Brooklyn, ready to call it a day, when I suddenly spotted this striking young woman with an effortless, chic style,” says Santamaria. “I thought that I would try to capture one more portrait. I found out that it was her first day in the city and that she had moved from Puerto Rico to become a model. It was a serendipitous moment and it gave me a perfect ending to the book. That’s what New York is all about. Young people make their way here every year and bring with them an energy that reinvigorates the city.”


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