Wednesday 20 March 2024 - Monocle Minute On Design | Monocle

Wednesday. 20/3/2024

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Matt Harrington

Driving seat

It’s all go in this week’s dispatch as we drop in on an exhibition that traces Brazil’s design history and visit a sleek urban-development project in the Netherlands. Plus: we learn about the playful art of curating exhibitions and how transatlantic tensions in the 1950s eventually prompted the creation of a classic car. But first, Grace Charlton hits the road – with a degree of caution…

Opinion / Grace Charlton

Vicious cycles

For a city that is so well designed – and filled with design-minded individuals – it’s a shame that Amsterdam’s urban designers haven’t come up with a solution for its bike-packed streets. The city has long been revered as the world’s capital of cycling and held up as a prime example of a metropolis that prioritises people-friendly transport.

Today, however, its streets are a tangled jungle of bike frames piled on top of each other, many of which can be found at the bottom of the canals or abandoned on bridges. On a recent city break, I found its central neighbourhoods almost impossible to navigate. Waiting for my flight home at Schiphol airport, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I no longer had to dodge a peloton of two-wheeled racers every time I wanted to cross the street. Cyclists rule Amsterdam’s roads, with bike lanes taking up as much space as those for cars. Meanwhile, pedestrians are squeezed onto narrow footpaths.

Many bike riders seem proud of their utter disregard of traffic lights, people walking or even common decency, often tailgating those in their path and never slowing down – parents with prams and the elderly, be warned. Over three days, I heard too many bike bells being rung passive-aggressively at people who were simply attempting to enjoy a stroll through the Negen Straatjes or Jordaan neighbourhoods.

It begs the question: in the same way that the city’s roads have been carved up to make way for bike lanes, should cyclists in the city now be forced to make more room for pedestrians? Or should cars be removed entirely for the benefit of those on two feet or two wheels? Either way, the current system is unsustainable. Perhaps the Dutch capital should look to Copenhagen and Barcelona, two cities with equally impressive bike infrastructure, for some urban design tips. The city could be improved by a little more pedestrianisation. At its best, a public space is just that: public, for all to share and use. Amsterdam could do with a reminder.

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

Design News / ‘Turning Tides’, USA

Part of the furniture

Turning Tides: Designing a Modern Brazil is a retrospective at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in New York and is open until 1 May 2024. The exhibition honours 75 years of Brazilian design and highlights masterpieces that date back to the 1940s, a period when the country experienced rapid economic growth and industrialisation. “We need to communicate the value and intelligence of Brazilian furniture to the world,” says São Paulo-based art advisor Maria Cecilia Loschiavo, who worked on the exhibition.

Image: Matt Harrington
Image: Matt Harrington

The pieces, created by designers such as Oscar Niemeyer, Lina Bo Bardi, José Zanine Caldas and Joaquim Tenreiro, are rooted in Brazilian traditions. “They integrate our material culture with our way of living,” says Loschiavo. From giant, curved wooden coffee tables to smaller contemporary couches and benches, the furniture illustrates the country’s growth and modernisation. “It tells you a little bit about the history of Brazil’s transformation,” adds Loschiavo.

The Project / Mercado, Netherlands

Putting on a front

Design studios De Zwarte Hond and Loer Architecten set out to redevelop a compact, urban site in Groningen’s northern quarter, an area of the city dominated by warehouses, in 2023. The result is Mercado, a mixed-use building that consists of two main components: retail spaces on the ground floor and 41 luxury apartments above. “We worked with the council to develop a narrative for the area centred around walking,” says Henk Stadens, partner at De Zwarte Hond.

Image: Jussi Puikkonen
Image: Jussi Puikkonen
Image: Jussi Puikkonen

Lush greenery overhangs the building’s façade and animates its exterior. “We noticed that people appreciated the structure’s sense of generosity,” says Stadens. “The richness of the building, which is communicated through plants, ceramic tiling and height variation, captivates people. Often, their reaction is just to come up to Mercado to touch it.”;

For more on Mercado, pick up a copy of Monocle’s March issue. The property-focused issue features a host of exciting and inspiring new developments across its pages.

Image: Taran Wilkhu/British Council

Words with... / Jayden Ali, UK

All to play for

Architect Jayden Ali is the founder of JA Projects, a London-based practice that sits at the intersection of design, performance and art. This year, Ali designed Entangled Pasts: 1768-Now at the Royal Academy of Arts and The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure at the National Portrait Gallery in the UK capital. Here, he tells us how he creates showcases for different mediums.

How do you make visitors feel as though they are active players in exhibitions?
Visitors are performers. They have the choice to engage with various objects in the room. Take Fashioning Masculinities, an exhibition that ran at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2022. At the end of the show, people ended up alongside a giant mirrored wall, where they became part of a video and the works surrounding them. Being a performer is not a form of scripted reality. No one is telling visitors how to act; it’s more about nudging them in a certain direction and seeing how they might respond.

How do you design a space that works for different mediums?
For me, it’s about revelling in the cacophony of conversation between mediums and affording them enough space to breathe, scream and whisper alongside each other. We want to support this variety and not restrict ourselves by having a preference for one medium over another. With The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure at the National Portrait Gallery, I mainly worked with 2D pieces. I didn’t use many different mediums and that’s challenging in a different way.

Can you talk about how you play with light, texture and surface decoration?
When I first sketched out the concept for Entangled Pasts: 1768-Now at the Royal Academy of Arts, I thought that it would be cool if the space went back and forth between light and dark, so visitors knew that they were moving through a world of opposites and extremities. I’m always trying to make things cinematic, which goes back to the idea of the visitor being a performer.

For more from Jayden Ali, tune in to episode 648 of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Rudy Guénaire

Around The House / Beau Rivage chair, France

Chair force one

French designer and entrepreneur Rudy Guénaire has joined forces with Paris-based online design marketplace Monde Singulier to create a five-piece furniture collection fit for a captain of the air or sea. The Croisière collection features lacquered mirrors inspired by the windows of the first long-haul aircraft from the 1970s, while the wood-and-velvet Vaporetto to Murano bench resembles a Venetian boat. The pieces are tied together by their considered approach to materiality and pared-back palette.

We have our eye on the handsome, Bauhaus-inspired Beau Rivage chair, which is made from tubular steel and upholstered in pearl-white Alcantara fabric and cream or matte-brown leather. The chair evokes the designs of Europe’s interwar years, as well as the work of designers such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who travelled to Chicago to craft skyscrapers in the 1930s. Guénaire’s collection is a thoughtful homage to the golden age of travelling in style.

Illustration: Anje Jager

From The Archive / Scaglietti Corvette, USA

Brake from the past

Car owners in the US and Europe have always been prone to a little transatlantic envy: Americans prize European brands, while Europeans admire American old-timers. This mutual fascination led to the creation of the Scaglietti Corvette. In 1959, Texan oil magnate Gary Laughlin had enough of waiting for spare parts to arrive from Italy for his Ferrari. Still, he wouldn’t be caught dead driving a US-made Chevrolet. But what if a General Motors engine could be disguised as an Italian looker? Laughlin called up Sergio Scaglietti, the owner of Ferrari’s carrozzeria in Modena, and commissioned him to build a bespoke frame that could be fitted onto a Corvette chassis.

More than a year later, three Scaglietti Corvettes arrived in Texas. But there was a hitch: the luxury Frankensteins were barely fit for the road. The aluminium front was so thin that, “You could stick your thumb through it on a warm day,” reported Road and Track magazine. During Laughlin’s first drive, the front threatened to fly off. The tale teaches us a lesson: don’t be a snob about locally made goods. The 1960s Corvettes weren’t so bad after all.

In The Picture / ‘The Order of Landscape’, Portugal

Natural wonder

João Gomes da Silva’s more than 30 years of experience as a landscape architect have recently been documented in a new work titled The Order of Landscape. The book, which is published by Monade, offers an introduction to Gomes da Silva’s design techniques, as well as projects such as the Serralves Art Museum landscape park, Lisbon’s waterfront Ribeira das Naus and Madeira’s Praia Formosa Promenade.

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

The publication is also a thoughtful exploration of how form, space and time play a role in landscape architecture. Readers will find a total of 156 images taken by editor João Carmo Simões within the book, as well as 24 technical drawings and Gomes da Silva’s selected writings about nature, all of which are sure to prompt plenty of contemplation and reflection next time you’re on a walk through the woods.


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