Wednesday 29 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 29/11/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Strong foundations

A chair inspired by yoga, a magazine about a single colour and a new use for the Warsaw Citadel – it’s all in today’s Monocle Minute Minute on Design. Elsewhere, we speak to Swedish interior and product designer Martin Brudnizki, whose superlative hospitality projects take cues from Cecil Beaton, and sample Alcova’s online shop. We begin with Stella Roos explaining why Rimowa believes that design can be its own reward.

Opinion / Stella Roos

Eyes on the prize

In 1957 the Aluminum Company of America launched a clever marketing campaign. To promote the many applications of its marquee metal, the corporation asked 20 designers to create prototypes that made use of it. Among those commissioned were Charles and Ray Eames, who came up with the Solar Do-Nothing Machine: a pedestal packed with colourful pinwheels, powered by small photovoltaic panels. As its name suggests, the toy had no practical purpose but the design was one of the first to employ solar electricity.

I was reminded of this nugget of design history when I heard that the world’s favourite aluminium-luggage brand, Rimowa, had announced the second iteration of its design prize. The LVMH-owned luggage-maker is inviting students from German universities to submit ideas addressing the topic of mobility. A cohort picked out by a jury of the country’s top tastemakers will be provided with materials, mentorship programmes and a dedicated workspace. Seven finalists will be awarded prizes at a ceremony in May, with the winner given €20,000.

For a legacy brand, a well-organised prize is a great investment. It creates a buzz around its products and is an opportunity to nurture young talent. As the Eames example shows, there’s nothing wrong with publicity that puts fledgling creatives to work. “The company gets a lot of visibility and it’s good for young designers,” says jury member Regine Leibinger, co-founder of Berlin-based architecture practice Barkow Leibinger. And it’s a win-win for the jury and the public too. “You see the next generation of designers and how they think and work,” says Leibinger. “That’s where the future is.”

Indeed, the best part of initiatives such as Rimowa’s is that they create a platform for designers to put their more oddball ideas into the world. In last year’s inaugural Rimowa Design Prize (pictured, above), the finalists’ ideas included stylish prosthetic limbs and a way to light roads using algae. The proposals might not necessarily be commercially viable but are given the time of day either way. And as with the Eames’ Solar Do-Nothing Machine, we might look back at them a few decades from now and deem them prescient or even groundbreaking.

Stella Roos is Monocle’s design correspondent. For more analysis and fresh insights, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Project / Trevarefabrikken, Norway

Worth the wait

Trevarefabrikken, an old carpentry and cod-liver-oil factory in Norway’s Lofoten archipelago, is now prospering as a hospitality and cultural hub. Four friends purchased the dilapidated concrete property in the remote Arctic Circle village of Henningsvaer in 2014. With the help of London-based studio Jonathan Tuckey Design, they have gradually transformed the premises into a hotel with an ocean sauna, yoga studio, café and restaurant. The architectural plan has been implemented over time with the help of family members, craftspeople and the local community.

Image: Andrea Gjestvang
Image: Andrea Gjestvang
Image: Andrea Gjestvang
Image: Andrea Gjestvang

Utmost respect has been paid to the structure’s industrial origins. Local and retained materials feature throughout, such as the restored white tiling and reclaimed bricks, while some of the original machinery has also been preserved. All timber elements, including the furniture, panelling and shutters, were sourced from nearby islands. “Our work with Trevarefabrikken not only involved physical work to the historic building’s fabric but also presented an opportunity to reconnect the building to its natural surroundings and the community,” says Jonathan Tuckey Design’s Dan Stilwell. “Through the careful selection of materials and considered interventions, we were able to highlight the character and heritage of the existing architecture.”;

Design News / Polish Army Museum, Poland

About turn

For decades the Warsaw Citadel, near the centre of the Polish capital, has been largely closed to the public. A 19th-century fortress built on the imperial order of a Russian tsar, it has a long and, at times, harrowing history. But Varsovians are now able to return to the citadel, thanks to the construction of a new public building within its walls: the Polish Army Museum, which has been designed by WXCA Architectural Design Studio. “We wanted to create a site for the capital’s residents and visitors for cultural events and everyday activities,” says Marta Sekulska-Wronska, CEO of WXCA.

Image: Marcin Czechowicz
Image: Marcin Czechowicz

The new museum comprises eight blocks united by a shared green roof, enhancing the verdant surrounding parkland. WXCA’s architects were sensitive to the original features of the fortress and its history during the design process too. Chevron patterns on the surface of the museum evoke military motifs, while the walls feature a coloured concrete that alludes to the red brick of the Citadel. Space for reflection was key too. “It was important for us to create a sense of tranquillity,” says WXCA architect Pawel Wolanin. “We wanted the interior of the museums to have a slightly sacred atmosphere. During the planning stage, we imagined people whispering inside.”

For more on the Polish Army Museum, pick up a copy of Monocle’s December/January issue, which will be on newsstands tomorrow.

Words with... / Martin Brudnizki, Sweden

Bright young thing

Martin Brudnizki is a Swedish interior and product designer with studios in London and New York. Since establishing his namesake firm in 2000, Brudnizki has built a reputation for delivering outstanding hospitality projects, with a portfolio that includes the Splendido in Portofino, The Beekman in New York and Chiki in Mexico. He is also behind And Objects, a furniture and homeware brand that recently opened its first retail space on London’s Pimlico Road. Here we talk to Brudnizki about his recent projects and how designing for hospitality is not too dissimilar to designing for homes.

How do you approach designing hospitality spaces?
The process always starts with mapping out a layout. Through that, we can determine the way that people will move through the space. If we create a clear and obvious route, customers know exactly what they’re supposed to do. But sometimes we design awkwardness into the layout [to create moments of surprise and engagement]. On top of that, there is the structure of the interior architecture. We don’t have a “house style” but if you remove all finishes from our products and projects, all you would be left with are line drawings, which would all be similar. We have a certain approach to all our projects but we dress them in different ways.

Your studio recently completed the Vesper Bar at The Dorchester in London. Tell us about your design process for the project.
When The Dorchester opened in the early 1930s, the hotel commissioned a promotional book called A Young Man Comes to London. I started to research it and found that it was illustrated by the photographer and painter Cecil Beaton, which sparked my interest in the Bright Young Things group – a term given by the press to the young, bohemian aristocrats and socialites of London – and the interior design of the time. There were lots of mirrors, mahogany furniture, everything was painted white or pickled. It was all very avant garde. We took all these stories and used them to create the Vesper Bar. So, in order to look forward, we had to look back.

What are the similarities between designing hospitality spaces and designing homes?
It’s very similar in the sense that when we are creating the design narrative, we talk to one person and allow them to guide the process. We look at the building and see what style it is too. Is it done in a classical style? Is it modern? In both hospitality and domestic design, we also look at how people move between the spaces. We review all of these elements with the client, then tweak it according to their experience. For example, if there is a married couple and one of them gets up before the other, it is important that they can go seamlessly into the bathroom, then into a dressing room and then into a corridor, without going back into the bedroom. We want to bring solutions to our clients, to help improve their lives.

For more from Brudnizki, tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Illustrator: Anje Jager

From The Archive / Spindleback Chair, USA

Seating enlightenment

This lounge chair might not be suitable for performing a downward dog but it was inspired by yoga. Its designer, George Nakashima, had worked on a building project in India, where he befriended a Hindu ascetic who put the architect, who was born in the US to Japanese parents, in touch with his spiritual side. After the Second World War, Nakashima built a home and studio in rural Pennsylvania, where he spent the later part of his career expertly crafting timber furniture. The designer often likened his design approach to yoga, which he learnt in India, and spoke of his practice in Buddhist terms, writing that the work of a carpenter is to give a tree a second life and “shape the wood to find its true potential”.

This lounger made in 1962 showcases Nakashima’s ideas. Made from solid American black walnut, the Spindleback lounge chair and ottoman are built by working with the natural imperfections of the wood and using traditional Japanese joinery techniques. Since Nakashima’s death in 1990, his children have continued small-scale production of his furniture in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The pieces can also be dropped off there for repairs if their owner happens to try anything other than a savasana.

Around The House / Alcova design shop, Italy

Filling the gap

Alcova has established itself as one of the most exciting events during Milan’s Salone del Mobile design event. This annual exhibition allows experimental and emerging design talent from around the world to showcase their furniture and objects. Alcova takes place in “activated” spaces that have long stood abandoned; the 2023 edition was staged in a former abattoir. But if you don’t want to wait until April for your next dose, fear not. As well as spreading its wings beyond Milan with a showcase at Miami Art Week in December, Alcova has launched an online shop.

Alcova Design Shop stocks a mix of products, often produced in small batches, from established and new designers. Highlights include modular Seats System furniture from Alcova favourites Swedish Girls, maximalist orange-fibreglass T4 chairs from UMA (pictured, on left) and colourful but simple lamps from France’s Unknown Untitled (pictured, on right). The aim is to grow the collection gradually with regular new releases made in collaboration with designers too. “The shop is a way to directly connect our exhibitors with our growing audience all year,” says Alcova co-founder Valentina Ciuffi. “It’s a new virtual dimension based on an even more curated selection and the periodical launch of drops by designers in our network.”

In The Picture / ‘The Colour Journal’, France

Bolt from the blue

Eerie, cyan-tinged photos, a private collection of blue-hued Polaroids owned by Helmut Newton, and tales of Californian swimming pools are just some of the stories found in the inaugural edition of The Colour Journal. The 436-page issue, which uses the colour blue as a thematic starting point for its featured stories, was dreamt up by Paris-based creative director Benjamin Grillon when he was working on Le Monde d’Hermès, the French house’s brand magazine. “The creative directors in my industry all have their own fashion magazines as an outlet and showcase for their talent,” says Grillon. “I could have set up my own but I realised that the world didn’t need another fashion magazine.” And so, The Colour Journal was born.

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

The reportage in Grillon’s new publication is similar in style to the investigative articles found in magazines such as Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. But instead of applying journalistic rigour to one topic or industry across the publication’s pages, Grillon uses a single colour as a uniting thematic force. It’s a refreshing approach to the specialist magazine and, in this first issue, allows readers to explore the creation of Yves Klein’s International Klein Blue and discover the Algerian oasis of Biskra. Five more issues are set to follow, with the themes of red, yellow, green, white and black.


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