Wednesday 28 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 28/2/2024

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Faith in the future

Take a pew for this week’s dispatch as we head to Denmark to get our hands on a church-inspired minimalist chair and pick up a lamp made from car tailpipes. Plus: we check in with award-winning designer Mario Cucinella, who’s working to make buildings more eco-friendly. And, on that note, here’s Nic Monisse…

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Green house effect

As I wrote in a column a few weeks ago, the quality of design programming on US channels such as HGTV is pretty poor. That’s why the Showtime comedy The Curse, starring Emma Stone and Nathan Fielder, is so exciting. It follows a couple’s efforts to build eco-conscious housing in the small community of Española, New Mexico. Their mirror-clad, airtight homes have robust insulation and are kitted out with a selection of sustainable appliances and white goods, giving the residences a high energy-efficiency rating.

But the designer duo almost immediately hit speed bumps when tenants move in. One throws out the new induction hobs and puts a gas cooker in their place; another requests the installation of an air-conditioner. Some simply complain that they don’t want a toilet that doubles as a washbasin, no matter how much water it might save. In short, the designers’ ambition is too radical for their clients. It’s a reminder that while profound changes are needed to combat environmental challenges, they will only work if people are willing to stick to them.

The show suggests that instead of green renovation projects that completely upend residents’ understanding of how a home works, small tweaks, such as switching out single-pane windows for insulated options or installing discreet solar panels on a roof, might be more effective. Such features won’t infringe on people’s quality of life and are much more likely to receive uptake. They could also pave the way for bigger shifts. A slower, gentler approach is surely better than a radical quick fix that is ultimately abandoned. The only flaw? It wouldn’t make for exciting television.

This column features in Monocle’s March issue, which is available on all good newsstands now. For more news and analysis, subscribe to Monocle.

The Project / Escadinhas Footpaths, Portugal

Step right up

Escadinhas Footpaths is a colourful network of pedestrian walkways in Porto’s seaside municipality of Matosinhos that links the hillside neighbourhood of Monte Xisto to the banks of the Leça river. Designed by local practice Paulo Moreira Architectures, the project was nominated last year for the Mies van der Rohe Award, an EU-backed prize that recognises works of conceptual, social and cultural excellence. Moreira’s intervention involved the rehabilitation of existing stepped footpaths through the addition of new handrails and benches, as well as a fresh lick of paint.

Image: Ivo Tavares
Image: Ivo Tavares

The architect, who successfully applied for funding for the project from the Portuguese government, also oversaw repairs to the riverbank and designed a new web of footpaths that carve their way through a ruin on the neighbourhood’s outskirts, transforming the dilapidated site into a vibrant yet calm spot for visitors. “I’m always looking for ways to improve invisible areas,” says Moreira. “I am curious about the strangeness of these spaces and how they could become something more.” The result in Matosinhos is a colourful work that shows what architects can achieve when they proactively seek out public funding for projects. In doing so, they can get on with work that has a meaningful effect on the built environment without having to wait for commissions from clients who share their ideals.

Design news / Karimoku Case, Japan

Bringing it all back home

The welcoming feeling of a traditional Japanese home inspired lifestyle brand Karimoku Case’s latest project: a house in Tokyo’s Minami-Azabu neighbourhood. The project is part of the company’s Case Study programme, for which Karimoku Case has partnered with architects across the globe to create interior projects and custom-made furniture designs, that eventually become part of the brand’s permanent collection. So far, nine other projects have been created, including a coffee shop in Shibuya, a restaurant in the Swedish province of Halland and a luxury guesthouse in Tokyo.


The new residence is the work of Tokyo-based studio Keiji Ashizawa Design, who worked with Copenhagen’s Norm Architects to create bespoke pieces manufactured by Karimoku’s timber workshop. Japanese Zelkova wood has been used throughout to create a series of tables, chairs and bedroom furniture in organic shapes. “The material and colour of this wood create the kind of calm and nostalgia that you would find in an old Japanese house,” says Keiji Ashizawa. “There is a lightness to the furniture that works well in modern housing.”

Image: Julius Hirtzberger

Words with... / Mario Cucinella, Italy

Waste not, want not

Bologna-based architect Mario Cucinella is the force behind his eponymous practice, whose work is deeply rooted in sustainability and social responsibility. Its design for Santa Maria Goretti church in Italy recently won the World Architecture Festival’s prize for a completed religious building. Here, Cucinella tells us about his work and the most pressing issues facing the architecture industry today.

Are clients keen to understand what sustainability means or is it something that you have to educate them about?
It’s a little bit of both. Being more sustainable is a goal for many private and public clients. Awareness about ecology and sustainability in buildings and cities has grown significantly over the past 20 years. Clients don’t always know what sustainability means, however, so we help them to understand what it looks like in practice. Some people say that they want to construct a zero-energy building, for example, but that’s not possible. Instead, we try to design buildings that have less of an effect on the environment.

How do you reconcile the need to be conscious of the environment with the desire to build new things?
That’s a dilemma for any architect. An interesting solution is to repurpose existing buildings. Many structures constructed between the 1960s and 1980s were built very poorly, so there’s an opportunity to redesign them. It’s the most sustainable course of action: the architecture is already part of the city and all of the infrastructure is there. Much of being an architect is about finding a balance between renovating existing buildings and designing new ones because we need things such as schools and universities.

What excites you about the future of architecture?
I recently completed a project that I’m very proud of. It involved building three small structures in Brovary, a city close to Kyiv. This was not about the architecture but about the creation of a new community. The future of architecture is about making people happy.

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

Illustration: Anje Jager

From The Archive / TL103 Lamp, USA

Coming up tails

Many iconic Italian lamps have been the result of designers repurposing or riffing on industrial components. Take the Castiglioni brothers, who crafted the Toio lamp using a car headlight, or Gianfranco Frattini, whose Boalum light was inspired by a vacuum hose. A similar flash of inspiration struck Californian entrepreneur Jim Bindman in the 1970s when he visited a factory in Los Angeles that manufactured car tailpipes. “I immediately saw a lamp,” says Bindman. He commissioned the factory to make the bent chromed pipes in two sizes – one for a desk lamp and one for a floor lamp – and sold the finished pieces through his fledgling Glendale-based lighting company, Rainbow Lamp Corporation.

The TL103 became a hit, with thousands sold through mail order. Since it was produced locally, the lamp was far more affordable for Americans than the Italian pieces whose aesthetic it emulated. It was also kitted out with three light settings and state-of-the-art touch controls. “It was like something out of the space age,” says Bindman. The TL103’s success demonstrates that an entrepreneurial mindset sometimes matters more than a design-school education – an outlook that carried Bindman comfortably into retirement.

Image: Fredericia

Around the House / Fredericia Klint chair, Denmark

High praise

Many consider architect Kaare Klint as the founder of modern Danish design – quite an achievement, given how ubiquitous the movement has become. His Bauhaus-influenced minimalist approach inspired many of his students at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts, including Børge Mogensen. In 1955, Mogensen went on to work for Fredericia, a design company founded in 1911. To mark the 100th anniversary of the academy’s furniture-design department, which Klint founded, Fredericia is paying homage to its rich history by reimagining one of the master’s best-known pieces.

First conceived in the 1930s, the Kirkestol (church chair) takes its name from Grundtvig’s Church in Copenhagen, a building designed by Klint’s architect father, Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint. The wooden chair features rounded legs and polished lines, and is inspired by US Shaker and southern-European church styles that prize simplicity. The new model, named the Klint Chair, follows the same design principles as the original and is made from sustainably sourced oak and paper cord. Available from March in oil, soap and black-lacquer finishes, it’s a piece that will be a great conversation starter in your home – or at church.

In the Picture / ‘EM2N City Factory’, Switzerland

Giving it the works

New book EM2N City Factory poses a seemingly simple question: “Are cities everything that they can be for the people who live in them?” For Mathias Müller and Daniel Niggli, who co-founded Zürich-based architecture firm EM2N in 1997, the answer is yes – but they need architects to design them holistically. Enter the notion of a “city factory”, a place where work and life combine to create a vibrant urban landscape.

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

The monograph, published by Park Books, reflects this idea in its collage-like structure. Maps of buildings tucked beneath viaducts and master plans of schools in constrained urban environments are juxtaposed with photos and writing drawn from 25 years of the studio’s work across Zürich, Berlin, Brussels and Hamburg. “We hope that our book will appeal to different people: not just architects but also spatial planners, landscapers and anyone who is interested in the built environment,” says Müller.


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